Domestic Abuse Victims in Family Courts September 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding domestic abuse victims in family courts [and the associated Women's Aid 'Child First' campaign].
Women's Aid and other charities do incredible work, not only in delivering services but in raising the profile of these issues at a national level, and in making sure the message of prevention and support is heard.
It is important to press the Government on what steps it is taking to reduce the number of child deaths related to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence or abuse should be given the protection they need to keep them and other family members, including children, safe.
I know the Women's Aid report 'Nineteen Child Homicides' makes a number of recommendations, including that domestic abuse is identified and its impact fully considered by the family court judiciary and that survivors of domestic abuse attending the family court have access to protection measures, similar to those available in criminal courts. Women's Aid is calling for the Government to end the practice of survivors of domestic abuse being cross-examined by their abusers in the family courts.
On 15 September 2016 a debate took place regarding this issue in the House of Commons. I was pleased to hear the minister is taking the issue seriously and will shortly be meeting with the chief executive of Women’s Aid to discuss action. I urge him to act quickly and decisively on the matter before more and more women and children are affected.
I know that an associated 38 Degrees petition has been signed by over 33,000 people and calls on the Government and family courts to 'ensure there are no further avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact with a perpetrator of domestic abuse'.
The manifesto I stood on at the last election pledged to widen access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence, which I know is a key issue. More widely, I am concerned that domestic violence and violence against women increased rapidly between 2009 and 2014, and that since 2010 17% of specialist refuges in England have been lost. It is imperative to hold the Government to account on this record.
There is advice and support available for anyone wishing to leave an abusive relationship or anyone who has concerns around child contact - the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Helpline is 0808 2000 247.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for giving me your views.