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Data breaches put domestic abuse victims' lives at risk after leak exposes locations to alleged abusers

DOMESTIC abuse victims have been put at risk after data breaches exposed their locations to their alleged abusers, a watchdog reported today.

The Information Commissioner has revealed that it has reprimanded seven organisations in the past 14 months over the breaches.

The leaks took place at a law firm, a housing association, an NHS trust, a government department, local councils and a police service.

The ICO’s report cited four cases of organisations revealing the safe addresses of the victims to their alleged abuser. 

In one case, a woman contacted social housing provider Bolton at Home for help escaping her husband due to alleged domestic abuse.

However the organisation left a message on her husband’s phone, with details of the new address she planned to move to. 

In another, a leak from Jackson Quinn solicitors disclosed the home address of two adopted children to their birth father, who was in prison on three counts of raping their mother.

Wakefield Council was handling child court proceedings in another case, when it sent the woman’s address, where she lived with her two children, to the children’s father.

The mother was described as fearful of the father due to a history of ongoing domestic violence and a break-in to her previous accommodation.

She had to be moved immediately on the same day as the data breach. 

Organisations had also disclosed the identities of women seeking information about their partners to those partners.

In one case, a woman asked South Wales Police for information about her partner’s history of violence and the force informed him that she had asked.

Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, described the lapses as “extremely dangerous.” 

Information Commissioner John Edwards underlined the need for more training to reduce the risk of greater harm. 

Women’s Aid chief executive Farah Nazeer said that such data breaches “can be a matter of life or death” for those experiencing domestic abuse.

She said: “Women and their children are at significant risk when leaving an abusive partner and reaching out to public services — such as the police, councils, hospitals, lawyers, housing and benefits teams — for help.

“These highly concerning data breaches have undermined women’s safety, had severe consequences for women and children’s lives, and show just how urgently public services need to improve their understanding and responses to domestic abuse.”

More than 1.7 million women suffer domestic abuse each year, according to the crime survey for England and Wales.


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