The Domestic Abuse Commissioner welcomes the introduction of the Non-Fatal Strangulation offence which comes into force today (June 7th) but says a co-ordinated implementation strategy is needed by Government, so the new offence has the impact that is so desperately needed.
Nicole Jacobs said today: “This offence must not be allowed to sit on the statute book as words with no action to roll it out.”
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is calling for a cross-Government co-ordinated strategy to ensure that the offence is properly understood and utilised. Training and guidance is needed for all elements of the criminal justice system, as well as wider statutory bodies, so the new crime can be effectively implemented across England and Wales, and we can start to see perpetrators be brought to justice and victims safeguarded.
She added: “We know that there is an interest from many professionals who work with domestic abuse victims, but it is essential that different agencies work together with a shared understanding of the new offence and how to implement it. The Government must spearhead a structured and holistic approach that brings together all relevant agencies.”
The Commissioner is worried that without a more co-ordinated approach the offence will not be used as widely as it should be which will mean victims are let down and perpetrators are not held to account. Without clear training and guidance, police officers, front-line workers and others may be unaware of the new offence, and we may continue to see non-fatal strangulation under-charged as ‘common assault’, or not be investigated or prosecuted at all.
A wide range of campaigners, MPs, Peers and victims and survivors campaigned tirelessly to ensure that the Non-Fatal Strangulation Offence was included in the Domestic Abuse Act.
An estimated 20,000 people in the UK are strangled each year yet up until now perpetrators were often not charged, or if they were it was with a minor common assault charge.
The violence of strangulation and suffocation is widespread. It is used to control mostly women, and it increases seven-fold the risk of those being controlled to go on to be killed. It can also have potentially serious long-term medical consequences including memory loss, brain damage, stroke, miscarriage, as well as devastating psychological effects.
The new offence, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, marks a significant step forward to protect domestic abuse victims and that is why it is vital that it is used to hold perpetrators to account.
“This will only happen if there is proper training for police and other agencies, so they are able to recognise the signs to look out for and then get the forensic evidence needed to prosecute. These could bloodshot eyes, or bleeding in the ear or jaw pain or a swollen tongue instead of marks around the neck,” Ms Jacobs explained.
A group of volunteers with an expert interest in the issue has been working together to try to raise awareness about the new offence.
Ms Jacobs said this group, which she Chairs, had been fundamental in helping to raise awareness about the new offence but said it should not be down to volunteers to pioneer this work.
This volunteer group has raised money to fund two afternoons of training with 4000 professionals signing up so far but Ms Jacobs that it should not be down to the third sector to organise and fundraise to provide this training.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner said it is inspiring to see this group working together but the Government now needs to take action to ensure there is co-ordinated training for a wide range of agencies including criminal justice, health and social work amongst others.
“The Government is right to have introduced this new offence. It’s vital for strangulation and suffocation to be tackled but now we need action not words to make sure the new offence makes a real difference to victims and survivors,” Ms Jacobs added.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
 In the UK 37% of high-risk victims who were clients of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) who had reported some physical abuse have experienced strangulation or attempted strangulation. This amounts to 20,000 victims in the UK whose cases had a MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference) where there was physical abuse between April 2019 – March 2020 (figures from the charity Safelives).