UK citizens who commit domestic violence abuse anywhere in the world could face prosecution in Britain, under new legislation aimed at preventing violence against women and protecting victims.
The measure is being introduced to allow the UK to ratify the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that requires governments to take tangible steps towards ending domestic and sexual violence against women.
It means perpetrators of certain offences may be sentenced in a British court of law regardless of where the crime happened, the Guardian reports.
Home secretary Amber Rudd said, “These measures will help us bring justice to women who experience these abhorrent crimes anywhere in the world and shows perpetrators there is nowhere to hide.”
More than 1.8 million adults aged 16 to 59 were the victims of domestic violence last year, and domestic abuse incidents accounted for one in every 10 of all crimes recorded by the police.
One in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, and two women are killed every week by a current or former partner.
The secretive, insidious nature of offences committed mean they can be difficult to both report and prosecute. On average a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police.
The UK’s move to ratify the Istanbul Convention – also known as the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – was pushed through parliament by SNP politician Eilidh Whiteford earlier this year.
Writing for Stylist, Whiteford said it was important to make the terms of the convention legally binding in Britain, as they are in 22 other European countries including France, Spain, Serbia and Romania.
This is all the more crucial, she argued, because of the impact of budget cuts on local services that support domestic abuse victims.
“Thanks to the government’s austerity agenda, deep cuts to local public services threaten the future of refuges and other women’s support services like rape helplines,” Whiteford wrote.
“Changes to housing benefit rules will make it harder for women to leave violent partners. A shortage of refuge places, and too few affordable homes available mean that many women stay in dangerous, sometimes life threatening situations because they have nowhere else to go.”
The UK already complies with many measures listed in the Istanbul Convention. Under her tenure as home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May – who says the issue has “personal importance” for her – introduced more stringent laws that criminalised coercive control and enforced domestic violence protection orders.
But extra legislation is needed to cover crimes committed by British citizens abroad.
These will be included in the new draft domestic violence bill outlined in the Queen’s speech earlier this month.
The bill will also establish a domestic violence and abuse commissioner to oversee how the crime is tackled locally. It will introduce sentencing guidelines that reflect the devastating effect of domestic violence on children, and put an end to direct cross-examinations of victims by their alleged perpetrators in family courts.
Whiteford dedicated her effort on pushing through the Istanbul Convention to one of her constituents, Sarah Scott, who waved her right to anonymity after being brutally raped.
“Sarah, this bill is for you and for every person who knows at first hand the brutal, life-shattering reality of sexual violence and has had the courage to claim courage and fight for it,” she said, earlier this year.
“Thank you for helping us all be a bit braver and a bit stronger in the fight for equality and human rights - and more determined than ever to end this abuse once and for all.”
Although this new measure will help tackle victims of domestic violence overseas, some non-British women living here in the UK are still more vulnerable to domestic abuse and lack support services afforded to others, especially when their immigration status is uncertain.
If you or anyone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, seek help and support with refuge.org.uk
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