Human Rights Watch Submission to the House of the Lords

Briefing on the Need for Urgent Amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill

November 2, 2020

Introduction:

  1. Human Rights Watch is pleased that the government of the United Kingdom has undertaken to strengthen its approach to domestic violence through the development of the new Domestic Abuse Bill (HL Bill 124 ).[1] This has rightly been termed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that the United Kingdom is a leader in protecting victims of domestic abuse and holding perpetrators to account.[2]
  2. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned, however, that the Bill in its current form does not ensure protection and essential services, including shelter, for survivors of domestic abuse regardless of their immigration status, and does not provide survivors with insecure immigration status a path to legal residency if they are not on spousal visas.
  3. Victims of violence on non-spousal visas and those with No Recourse to Public Funds remain ineligible for a path to legal residency under the Domestic Violence Rule and for shelter and other public services under the Destitution and Domestic Violence Concession, intended to provide access to limited benefits for Domestic Violence Rule applicants awaiting decisions on indefinite leave.
  4. The government’s envisioned pilot scheme to fund accommodation and assess needs, currently planned to last around four months, does not adequately address urgent long-term gaps in provision of safe shelter and other time-sensitive services for women with No Recourse to Public Funds, and its information-sharing requirements may in fact put women at risk for “immigration enforcement action” by the Home Office.[3] 
  5. Such omissions could lead to the exclusion of many migrant and asylum-seeking women from life-saving support while potentially contributing to impunity for their abusers. This is also at odds with the Council of Europe Convention on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), despite the government’s commitment to ensure compliance with the Istanbul Convention with regards to provisions for migrant women in the Domestic Abuse Bill.[4]
  6. We ask that the House of Lords take urgent action to remedy any inadvertent omissions by amending the legislation in line with recommendations put forth by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Southall Black Sisters, and End Violence Against Women.
  7. Human Rights Watch research around the world has shown that migrant and asylum-seeking women are among those most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including here in the UK.[5] Their exclusion from shelters and other services puts them at continued risk of injury and even death, and contributes to stereotypes that create further barriers to help, as we documented in Turkey.[6] Migrant women in Belgium told us their fear of deportation prevented them from reporting abuse or seeking help and said that lack of access to shelters caused them to return to their abusers or even to live on the streets.[7] Human Rights Watch has documented time and again how access to protection and services allows women and girls to escape abusive relationships and literally saves lives, including in Hungary[8], Kyrgyzstan[9], Algeria[10], and Russia.[11]
  8. Failure to ensure that women without secure immigration status can report violence without having their information shared with the Home Office and without a path to regularization may deter them from accessing help due to fear of arrest, detention, or deportation. Problematic guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council acknowledges that immigration status can increase vulnerability to abuse and that a policy of information-sharing with the Home Office may deter them from reporting crimes even as it instructs police to share information with the Home Office if they “suspect that a victim/witness is an immigration offender.”[12] The guidance also makes clear there is no guaranteed protection against arrest, detention or deportation for victims whose information is shared with the Home Office.
  9. Increased reports of domestic abuse around the globe during lockdown measures linked to the Covid-19 pandemic have highlighted the need for comprehensive government measures to prevent and respond to such violence.[13] The UK is no exception: Human Rights Watch documented how the pandemic exacerbated long-standing barriers to help for marginalized women facing domestic abuse in the UK, including migrant women.[14] The time is ripe to ensure all women can benefit from the protections of new domestic abuse legislation.

Concluding Recommendations

We endorse the recommendations put forward by organizations with deep expertise on violence against women in the UK and ask that the members of the House of Lords urgently put forward and support amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to do the following:

  1. Ensure equal access for all survivors of domestic abuse to comprehensive services, welfare systems and legal tools that provide protection from abuse, without discrimination on any grounds, including immigration status;
  2. Include a provision establishing safe reporting mechanisms and eliminating risk of detention, arrest, or deportation for all survivors attempting to report abuse or access essential services;
  3. Extend eligibility for the existing Domestic Violence (DV) Rule and Destitution Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC) to all migrant women experiencing or at risk of abuse, including migrant women not on spousal visas.
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[1] Domestic Abuse Bill, HL Bill 124, https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/58-01/124/5801124.pdf (accessed October 23, 2020).

[2] “Theresa May says domestic abuse bill ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity,” BBC News, October 2, 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49910926 (accessed October 23, 2020).

[3] Support for Migrant Victims (SMV) Pilot Scheme: Support for Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse with No Recourse to Public Funds Draft Bid Prospectus, October 2020, https://www.contractsfinder.service.gov.uk/Notice/Attachment/6a020ac9-c166-4bd7-9a2c-c9bbe367df0e (accessed October 23, 2020), paras. 18, 38-39.

[4] The Government Response to the Report From the Joint Committee on the Draft of the Domestic Abuse Bill, Session 2017-19 HL Paper 378 / HC 2075: Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, July 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/817556/CCS0619467038-001_Domestic_Abuse_Bill_Print_WEb_Accessible.pdf  (accessed October 23, 2020), para 150.

[5] Human Rights Watch, Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK, March 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/03/30/hidden-away/abuses-against-migrant-domestic-workers-uk; Human Rights Watch has also documented violence and abuse against migrant and asylum seeking women in countries including Oman, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/07/13/i-was-sold/abuse-and-exploitation-migrant-domestic-workers-oman; the United States, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/05/15/cultivating-fear/vulnerability-immigrant-farmworkers-us-sexual-violence-and#3594; Tanzania, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/14/tanzania-migrant-domestic-workers-oman-uae-abused; and Singapore, https://www.hrw.org/news/2005/12/07/singapore-domestic-workers-suffer-grave-abuses.

[6] Undocumented women are excluded from state-run shelters in Turkey. The head of one shelter told our researcher: “They are usually prostitutes, so they would not go to shelters.” Human Rights Watch, "He Loves You, He Beats You": Family Violence in Turkey and Access to Protection, May 2020, https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/05/04/he-loves-you-he-beats-you/family-violence-turkey-and-access-protection

[7] Human Rights Watch, “The Law Was Against Me”: Migrant Women’s Access to Protection for Family Violence in Belgium, November 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/11/08/law-was-against-me/migrant-womens-access-protection-family-violence-belgium  

[8] Human Rights Watch, Unless Blood Flows: Lack of Protection from Domestic Violence in Hungary, November 2020, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/11/06/unless-blood-flows/lack-protection-domestic-violence-hungary#5219

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Call Me When He Tries to Kill You”: State Response to Domestic Violence in Kyrgyzstan, October 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/10/28/call-me-when-he-tries-kill-you/state-response-domestic-violence-kyrgyzstan

[10] Human Rights Watch, “Your Destiny is to Stay with Him”: State Response to Domestic Violence in Algeria, April 2017, https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/04/23/your-destiny-stay-him/state-response-domestic-violence-algeria

[11] Human Rights Watch, “I Could Kill You and No One Would Stop Me”: Weak State Response to Domestic Violence in Russia , October 2018, https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/10/25/i-could-kill-you-and-no-one-would-stop-me/weak-state-response-domestic-violence

[12] National Police Chiefs’ Council, Information sharing with the Home Office where a victim or witness of crime is a suspected immigration offender, 2020, https://www.npcc.police.uk/Guidance%20on%20Info%20Sharing%20with%20Home%20Office_Website%202020.pdf (accessed October 23, 2020).

[13] “Women Face Rising Risk of Violence During Covid-19: Leave No Woman Behind in Governments’ Response,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 3, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/03/women-face-rising-risk-violence-during-covid-19

[14] “UK Failing Domestic Abuse Victims in Pandemic: Enact Legislation Protecting Those Most At Risk,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 8, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/08/uk-failing-domestic-abuse-victims-pandemic