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The government is proposing to create a new post of Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner with the responsibility of holding the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse.

The plan, in the Queen’s speech following the June 8 General Election, was contained in a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill outlining the government’s commitment to tackling the problem.

Monitoring response

With concerns that not enough has been done in the past to respond to domestic abuse, the role of the new commissioner would also be to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, and monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities.

The proposed legislation will also define domestic abuse in law; create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order regime; and ensure that if abusive behaviour involves children, courts will have sentencing powers that reflect the life-long impact abuse can have on the child.

Transforming the approach to domestic violence

In addition, the bill will include measures to protect women and girls from crimes committed overseas and allow the UK to ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women, known as the Istanbul Convention.

Justice Secretary David Liddington said the government was determined to prosecute those who commit these “deplorable” crimes and increase the number of convictions at a time that prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse are at the highest levels ever recorded, with 100,930 prosecutions in 2015/16, leading to 75,235 convictions.

The Government has stated that the purpose of the Bill is to “transform our approach to domestic violence and abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue their abuser.”

Role for substance misuse workers

Domestic abuse often involves several agencies beyond health professionals, police and social workers and is an area where substance misuse workers, mental health professionals and probation officers may work with offenders and victims.

A quarter of women experience domestic abuse but it is often compounded by other issues that require intervention: 47% of women experiencing domestic violence have mental health needs; 11% have drug misuse issues, 12% have alcohol misuse issues, and 5% have been involved with probation. And as many as 90% of women experiencing domestic violence report that their children have witnessed or been in the next room during an incident of physical violence.

An estimated two million people suffer domestic abuse every year in England and Wales, with two women killed by their current or former partner every week.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul” the response to the issue of domestic violence.

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