This week I have been taking the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament as Bill minister. Tackling domestic abuse and violence against women has been a personal priority since I entered Parliament.
In 2017 my Private Member’s Bill (with Richard Graham MP) saw the law changed to double the sentence for the vile offence of stalking. That campaign was prompted by the awful case of local GP, Dr Eleanor Aston, who was stalked for seven years by her patient, as well as the brutal murder of Hollie Gazzard at the hands of her former partner.
Since then I have worked on additional measures, including the new offences of controlling and coercive behaviour, and forced marriage.
Now we’re addressing another piece of the jigsaw. The Domestic Abuse Bill is ground-breaking and will create, for the first time, a legal definition of domestic abuse. It recognises that domestic abuse isn’t just physical or sexual. It can be financial, verbal and emotional.
The Bill will also introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders. It can also require them to undertake perpetrator programmes.
The Bill creates a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner, with tough new powers to seek information from statutory bodies and hold government to account. I am keen to see the Commissioner get to work on scrutinising the delivery of community based domestic abuse support programmes. £20m has been channelled by the Ministry of Justice via Police and Crime Commissioners. But we need to evaluate whether they are meeting needs and delivering for survivors.
Finally, I am personally determined to tackle the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, whereby defendants seek to avoid liability in court on the grounds that the dead victim consented to the violent behaviour. The Bill will ensure that the law is made clear on this crucial point.