The most dangerous domestic abusers are set to face being listed on the violent and sex offender register as well as electronic tagging as part of a host of new reforms announced this week by the government.
The reforms, which have been broadly welcomed by specialist domestic abuse charity Refuge, aim to stop abuse before it takes place.
Through the use of an electronic tag – which is being trialled in three areas of the UK – abusers could be prevented from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home and made to attend a behaviour change programme.
Controlling or coercive behaviour will also be put on a par with physical violence for the first time, meaning offenders sentenced to a year or more imprisonment or a suspended sentence will automatically face tougher control and monitoring by the police, prison, and probation services. The Home Office said a range of agencies will have a legal duty to cooperate to manage the risks posed by these dangerous offenders.
What’s more, while the government pursues this legislation, offenders sentenced to a year or more for controlling and coercive behaviour are recorded on the violent and sex offender register so as to avoid them “[falling] through the cracks”.
“As well as extra support for victims, we’re making it a priority for the police to tackle violence against women and girls and toughening up the way offenders are managed – preventing more of these crimes from happening in the first place, and bringing more perpetrators to justice,” said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Sunak’s government is also set to require police forces to treat violence against women and girls as a “national threat”, putting it on the same level as threats like terrorism, serious and organised crime, and child sexual abuse.
On top of this, the National Police Chiefs’ Council is writing to every force in England and Wales to reiterate the expectation that forces must proactively identify the most dangerous domestic abusers in their area to prevent them from committing further crimes. To support this, the Home Office will help develop a new risk assessment tool so that police forces can quickly identify domestic abusers most likely to commit the greatest harm – even where they have no conviction – and stop them in their tracks.
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said the announcements “make a clear statement about the seriousness of these crimes and mark a commitment across multiple government departments to tackle violence against women and girls and domestic abuse”.
However, she added that “radical and bolt action” is needed immediately to address the “epidemic of violence against women and girls in this country”:
“While many of the measures announced today are well intentioned. Refuge remains concerned that they will fall short of those good intentions by not looking to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse and male violence. Adding the worst offenders of coercive and controlling behaviour to a register won’t, for example, help women spot the signs of coercive control. Early intervention is needed so survivors can recognise these behaviours in their partners.”
Davison added that the words around marking VAWG as a national threat feel “empty”:
“Refuge hears time and again that perpetrators are breaching Non-Molestation Orders and the police are not acting. What meaning is there to a ‘national threat’ or ‘policing priority’ when forces do not intervene when a survivor is in danger?
I’m afraid I can’t, with confidence, believe that this will make a difference when women’s trust in the police is already so woefully low. More than four in five people who experienced domestic abuse did not report it to the police, and the most recent CPS statistics show that referrals from police, charges and prosecutions for domestic abuse have all decreased in the last year compared to figures recorded in 2020/21. The current system is failing survivors – a sticking plaster measure like this won’t change that.”
She concluded by reiterating several “ready-made policy solutions” that Refuge believes will make a “real difference”:
“[Refuge’s policy recommendations include] adding a VAWG Code of Practice to the Online Safety Bill, the immediate suspension of police officers accused of VAWG crimes, or prioritising changes to the Child Maintenance System to reduce post-separation economic abuse. Now is the time to make these interventions. Women cannot wait.”