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Domestic Abuse Bill has ‘significant gap’ as it fails to protect migrant women, campaigners warn

by Bethany Rielly

AMENDED domestic-abuse legislation still has a “significant gap” because it fails to protect many migrant women, campaigners warned today.

They warned that domestic abuse will continue to force women with no recourse to public funds onto the streets unless the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill is extended to include them.

The government announced an amendment to the Bill that would make non-fatal strangulation a specific offence punishable by five years’ imprisonment. 

The move comes after campaigners warned that perpetrators are avoiding punishment because strangulation can sometimes leave no signs of physical injury. 

The amendment also aims to strengthen laws on controlling or coercive behaviour and to expand legislation targeting revenge porn: material shared without the subject’s consent in order to cause embarrassment or distress.

But Women’s Aid was disappointed today that the new laws “continue to exclude migrant women from equal protection and support.” 

“This remains a significant gap in the Bill that must be fixed if it is going to work for all women,” the charity said.

It urged the government to ensure that protections are extended to migrant women so that all survivors can access public support, otherwise “migrant women will continue to face homelessness and destitution.”

Domestic-abuse groups have repeatedly raised concerns that the Bill, currently making its way through the Lords, excludes abused migrant women who have no recourse to public funds.

The rule, part of the government’s hostile-environment policy, makes it difficult for migrant women to flee abusive partners because they cannot access refuges, universal credit or social housing. 

But 331 Tory MPs voted last year against introducing an amendment to the long-delayed Bill that would have created an exemption to the rule.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England & Wales Nicole Jacobs said of the amendment: “These changes are a huge win for domestic-abuse victims, charities and campaigners, and I am delighted that the government has listened and acted.

“Nevertheless, the government must still go further to make this Bill genuinely ‘landmark’ by increasing the provision of services in the community and ensuring protections are extended to all victims and survivors, regardless of their immigration status.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “This Bill provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen our response to domestic abuse and its many forms.”

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