Domestic abuse victims will be given more protection

21 January 2019, 01:29 | Updated: 21 January 2019, 05:51

New legislation will give victims of domestic abuse more protection and help them to come forward, the government has said.

There is also a focus on improving support for children living in abusive environments with a new £8m fund.

Domestic abuse all too often remains hidden behind closed doors.

Speaking out takes immense courage, and the point at which a victim escapes is when they are most at risk.

We spoke to one young woman who grew up with a violent father. Some of Sarah's earliest memories are of him attacking her mother. And it went on for years.

"I can remember my mum being on the floor in front of the police saying, 'just let them take me' because she couldn't take it anymore." Sarah said "I used to cry myself to sleep thinking what would happen to us if he actually killed my mum."

Sarah broke down in tears almost as soon as we began speaking about her childhood. I asked if there was anything in particular she was remembering to make her so upset. Her reply, "The feeling of not being loved."

The violence and control became so bad Sarah and her siblings were escorted to school by police officers. They lived with trauma and fear until their father was sent to prison.

Leading children' charity Action for Children said the impact of domestic violence continues long after survivors are removed from their abusers.

"Living in a household where abuse takes place is hugely traumatic for children and we must recognise them as victims, not just witnesses," they said.

"Research shows children who experience domestic abuse are more likely to become involved in an abusive relationship themselves, or to suffer mental and physical health problems."

The cost to people's lives is clearly devastating. But the government has now also revealed the economic cost of this abuse in England and Wales is £66bn a year.

To help tackle the crime the government's new legislation will include a first-ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.

The bill also aims to transform the response in the justice system, crucially banning the distressing practice of domestic abuse victims being cross examined by perpetrators in the family courts.

"We're defining domestic abuse for the first time across government," crime, safeguarding and vulnerabilities Minister Victoria Atkins told Sky News.

"So that the police, judges, local authorities, everyone who's involved in tackling this crime understands what it can involve.

"But most importantly it gives victims the certainty of knowing that if they're suffering domestic abuse, whether that's physical violence, economic or other kinds of abuse that we will help them."

It's estimated two million adults experience domestic abuse each year. That's almost 6% of all adults. Women are twice as likely to be victims than men.

While these new measures are being welcomed by domestic abuse charities and campaigners, some say much more needs to be done to support mental health and recovery from abuse.

Suzanne Jacobs, the chief executive of Safe Lives, said the mental health services would need adequate resources to respond to the long-term effects of domestic violence.

"We're seeing really severe chronic impacts of domestic abuse long after the abusive situation is theoretically over," she said. "We need the mental health world to respond."