The rise in domestic violence has been one of the hidden horrors of the pandemic. Charities like Refuge, which run the government-funded National Domestic Abuse Helpline, have reported a 200% increase in calls since the first lockdown, with many victims coming forward to report abuse for the first time.
I am determined to give victims the support they need, here in Cheltenham and beyond, to escape their abusers and bring them to justice.
That’s why last week I was delighted to sign off on £40m of funding to strengthen organisations such as The Survivors Trust, Rape Crisis England, SafeLine and the Male Survivors Partnership. The money will help recruit staff, keep helplines open for longer and adapt to remote counselling where necessary – ensuring help remains available for those who need it. It will also go towards training Independent Sexual Violence Advisors to support complainants as they navigate the court system.
We have such strength in this area, including through Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service. We need them to continue their vital work.
This funding comes alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill which I have been jointly responsible for piloting through the House of Commons. Expected to become law in the spring, this important legislation creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which includes economic abuse, and also outlaws the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence where murderers seek to escape responsibility for their actions by arguing that that their partner’s death was ‘rough sex gone wrong’.
I am also looking carefully at whether to ask Parliament to outlaw threats to publish intimate images, which can have such a devastating impact on victims. Non-fatal strangulation too may well become a new criminal offence.
We are also reviewing the way the entire justice system deals with rape, speaking to survivor groups, experts and those working on the front line to transform the response to this horrific crime. This important piece of work will be published later in the year. We will leave no stone unturned.