Many people have worked tirelessly to see a Victims Bill and I welcome the draft legislation published today. This Bill aims to centre the voices of all victims including those who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse and offer these survivors more support.
The draft legislation marks a step in the right direction to ensure that victims receive the help they need to go through the criminal justice system but also the wider, holistic support that survivors need to help them rebuild their lives, regardless of whether they wish to report to the police.
I believe a significant provision in the draft Bill will be the legal duty on Police and Crime Commissioners, Local Authorities and health bodies to co-operate so there is a cross agency, integrated approach to support victims of domestic abuse.
The importance of multi-agency working is critical to ensure victims and survivors receive wrap around support and are provided with a consistent response across the various organisations that they encounter. This must be under-pinned by sustainable long-term funding so that every victim can receive the help and support when they need it, and where they need it.
It is very welcome to see that the draft legislation establishes a statutory definition for the community-based services provided by Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) to ensure that these vital roles are more consistent.
IDVAs help domestic abuse victims and survivors to navigate their way from abusive relationship to safety by helping them get access to housing, mental health support for them and their children as well as support through the courts and probation services amongst other services.
However, the Bill must go further. We need to recognise that no one size fits all and we must ensure that this type of support is also embedded in ‘by and for’ specialist services so that Black and minoritized, LGBT+, Deaf and disabled survivors also get the help they need to navigate their journey out of domestic abuse.
The importance of wider community-based services can’t be underestimated for survivors of domestic abuse. Advocacy alone will not deliver the help and support that victims need to recover from domestic abuse, and we need to look more broadly at a range other support services.
These community-based services include mental health support and counselling for victims and children, access to helplines, practical advice, perpetrator interventions and support through the criminal and family courts.
With this in mind, I am disappointed that the draft Bill does not include a legal duty on statutory agencies to provide community-based services. This is something that I will be working hard to address as this legislation goes through its Parliamentary journey.
I will also be asking the Government to create a national fund of £262.9m over three years for ‘by and for’ specialist organisations. These are organisations run by minoritized groups that provide specialist support for the communities they serve.
I look forward to engaging with the Justice Select Committee and the Government more broadly to discuss how the Victims Bill could go further to support all victims of domestic abuse.
This legislation provides us with another significant opportunity to ensure that no victim or survivor is left behind when it comes to accessing support and services. It’s one that we should all seize upon.