Last Thursday, on the 29th April 2021 The Domestic Abuse Bill gained royal assent becoming the Domestic Abuse Act. The Act brings into force a number of legislative and non-legislative changes that go a long way in strengthening the response to domestic abuse.

For the first time in history, there is a legal definition of domestic abuse, one that explicitly recognises children and young people who experience domestic abuse as victims. We are hopeful that the new definition will lead to a cultural change on the collective response to families, recognising the trauma that they experience as a result of abusive behaviour.

The Act also establishes in the law, the post and office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, who is already driving transformative change for survivors and working to eradicate the post-code lottery of services that survivors currently experience.

The Act strengthens the opportunities for survivors to access housing by placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges or other forms of social accommodation. The Act also ensures that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse are automatically classed as being in ‘priority need’ for homeless assistance.

Measures introduced by the Act seek to strengthen protections and support for victims within the criminal and civil justice system. In the family and civil courts, abusers will no longer be able to directly cross-examine their victims and victims will have increased access to special measures in all court rooms. The police will be given additional powers, including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices / Orders to help reduce offending behaviours, which can include positive conditions, forcing perpetrators to engage with interventions such as seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The Act creates a new criminal offence of non-fatal strangulation and extends existing law to include the offence of threatening to disclose intimate images, and abolishing the ‘rough sex’ defence in cases involving death or serious injury. The law on coercive and controlling behaviour has also been strengthened, and the co-habitation requirement removed meaning it now covers post-separation abuse and abuse from family members who do not live together. The existing Claire’s Law guidance has also seen changes and is now placed on a statutory footing.

So many survivors, services and campaigners have worked incredibly hard to make sure that the bill went as far as it possibly could to protect survivors of abuse and disappointingly, important amendments were not included in the final Act. Crucial calls were made for the bill to go further in ensuring all survivors, regardless of immigration status are able to access specialist domestic abuse services, for a serial perpetrator register, and for a duty to be placed on local authorities to provide community domestic abuse support.

Rachel Millar, from Safer Places said “We want to take this opportunity to celebrate all that the bill has achieved, and to thank our clients and all of the survivors, services and campaigners whose words have helped to achieve such long-awaited changes that will make a real difference to the lives of survivors and their families. We are mindful of the gaps that are left within the Act and are committed to working with survivors to ensure that they have access to services and their voices heard".