Domestic abuse survivors will soon be able to cast their anonymous vote more easily in the UK, the government has confirmed.
Many survivors don’t currently register to vote due to the fear their abuser will find their details and track them down.
The current system in place requires a court order from a survivor, or have their application supported by a senior independent witness (such as a police superintendent), making it rather difficult.
But under new plans announced on Sunday (3 September) the law will be changed to increase the number of people who can act as witnesses, to include doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and refuge staff, making it easier for women.
The required police rank will also be lowered to inspector. Furthermore, the type of order currently expected will be expanded to include domestic violence protection orders and female genital mutilation protection orders.
In February, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a draft domestic abuse bill to help survivors and their children, saying reforming the law was a “key priority”.
Women’s Aid – a UK-based charity that helps women and children of domestic abuse – has greatly welcomed the change after campaigning for it through Right to Vote, saying it will help women to “regain their voices”.
The charity’s chief executive Katie Ghose said: “For too long these women have been silenced because it was too dangerous for them to sign up to an electoral register, which would reveal their location, and too difficult for them to register anonymously.
“For them, anonymity is a matter of life or death; with the very real threat of being hunted down by their perpetrator.”
Mehala Osbourne, domestic abuse survivor and founder of the Right to Vote campaign, added:
“I was denied a vote whilst living in a refuge, and I never realised how much having a vote meant till it was taken away. I had already been through enough, and to be disempowered even more was so difficult. I am so proud to have started the campaign that has led to these proposed change. Survivors in the future will not be denied their voice and democratic right to vote.”
Recent statistics have shown one in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse over the course of their lifetime. Two women are killed each week by a current or former partner. In the year leading up to March 2016, 1.2 million women reported experiences of domestic violence.
Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, said: “Ensuring every eligible person is able to vote is a matter of social justice. Every voice matters and this government will continue to encourage our record levels of democratic participation by ensuring we have a democracy that works for everyone.”
If you have suffered from domestic abuse of any kind, visit www.refuge.org.uk for support and information.You can also contact Woman’s Aid here, or call the 24 Hour Freephone National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid, on 0808 2000 247.