Domestic Abuse Bill: The changes being introduced and do they go far enough to protect women?

  • By ITV News Digital Content Producer Kat Clementine

It's been hailed as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to improve the country's response to domestic abuse.

And the landmark legislation has become law after peers ended their stand-off with the Government following concessions.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is "set to transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need" according to safeguarding minister, Victoria Atkins MP.

The Domestic Abuse Act, signed into law after gaining royal assent on April 29, will "provide further protections to the millions of people who experience domestic abuse".

So what are the success of the bill and how will they change the lives of women in the UK? Here, we look at some of the changes being made and explore whether they go far enough to protect women.

Controlling and coercive behaviour

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent on the abuser by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.

ITV Wales Weather Presenter Ruth Dodsworth previously said she “wouldn’t be alive” if she didn’t ask for help after her husband subjected her to almost a decade of both emotional and physical abuse. Jonathan Wignall was jailed for three years after a nine-year campaign of controlling behaviour, harassment and stalking against her during their marriage.Controlling or coercive behaviour was made a crime under the Serious Crime Act 2015. But now the offence will be extended to acknowledge that perpetrators can continue to abuse their victims when they no longer live together.

Abuse comes in many forms and many perpetrators use controlling or coercive behaviour - whether they are in a relationship, live with their partner - or not.

Non-fatal strangulation

Another amendment to the Bill, brought by campaigners, will make it an offence to intentionally strangle another person or do any other act that affects a person’s ability to breathe - and could result in up to five years in jail.The Centre for Women's Justice highlighted that without the specific offence for non-fatal strangulation, it could be difficult to prove intent for an offence of attempted murder, so instead, in the majority of cases, prosecutions could only be brought for an assault offence.

Ban on cross-examination of survivors in court

The bill will stop perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in the civil and family courts in England and Wales.

This amendment was campaigned for by Resolution, The Law Society and Women’s Aid as cross-examination has a "traumatic impact on victims". It also "diminishes their ability to give evidence, preventing them from effectively advocating for their child’s best interests and safety".

Love Island star Zara McDermott joins Refuge to campaign for people threatening to share intimate images to be made a crime. Credit: PA

Revenge porn

‘Revenge porn’ laws – introduced by the government in 2015 – will be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress.More than 900 abusers have been convicted since revenge porn was outlawed but Ministers say they are determined to further protect victims, with those who threaten to share such images facing up to two years behind bars.

Love Island star Zara McDermott joined calls to change 'revenge porn' laws to include threats after being on the receiving end of such abuse herself. She said: "I know exactly how damaging it can be. I’ve heard from countless other women that they too have had similar experiences. This change in the law really could make a difference to the lives of so many women."

Priority need for housing

The Bill will enshrine into law that all eligible homeless victims of domestic abuse will automatically have ‘priority need’ for homelessness assistance, which has been hailed as a "result" by charity Women's Aid.

Protection of migrants

However, the Bill falls short as it does not protect migrants who are suffering from abuse. "It is a huge disservice to the many migrant survivors who have shown such courage in coming forward," says Janaya Walker, Legal, Policy & Campaigns Officer at Southall Black Sisters.

"The decision to reject our amendments effectively enshrines a system whereby a woman’s access to support and safety when fleeing violence, is determined by her background and immigration status.

"We are clear that without equal protection, the Bill is neither landmark nor transformational, it is discriminatory. Nonetheless, our fight for equal protection continues and our doors remain open to all those who need us."

One survivor, 'Farah', who came to the UK with her father, suffered abuse at his hands which increasingly became more and more violent - even being choked and struck with a belt.

Farah said: "I started getting really scared - scared he might accidentally kill me one day.

"I made many calls to the council, and even the national domestic violence helpline and many other organisations for people who suffer domestic violence. They all said the same thing. I had no right to public funds so they couldn’t and wouldn’t help me."

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports on how migrant women fleeing domestic abuse are being let down by the government

Thankfully, Farah was taken in by Southall Black Sisters, but she adds: "I guess that no recourse to public funds means that it is ok for me to be violated, physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of people like me being treated like I was."

"Migrant women are among the most vulnerable domestic abuse victims in society", says Andrea Simon, Director of End Violence Against Women, as they are often "unable to report abuse to the police for fear of detention or deportation.""They are often left with the unbearable choice of destitution or returning to their abuser, because only 4% of women with no recourse to public funds will be able to access refuge accommodation. "The government completely resisted putting support to migrant women on an equal footing with other victims of domestic abuse in the legislation, despite this being wholeheartedly supported by a majority of the House of Lords."

National register

The Government also voted against a serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators register.

"More could have been offered to address those offenders who repeatedly abuse victims and to acknowledge the abuse disabled women face at the hands of their carers," Andrea Simon, Director of End Violence Against Women, said.

"The lack of specific measures means that the legislation has missed the mark when it comes to transforming support for the most marginalised victims of abuse."


Despite having a statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in ‘accommodation based’ services, the Bill does not use the word “refuge” at all, which means they may miss out on vital funding.

Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation of England, said: "We are disappointed that the Act does not go further in delivering the changes survivors and our life saving network of member services need.

"We now need the guidance and regulations underpinning this duty to make crystal clear that local authorities must fund under this important duty specialist women’s refuges, which deliver expert support to survivors and their children."

If any of these issues have affected you, here's how you can get help and advice:

  • Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

  • Women's Aid has a range of direct services for survivors, including a live chat service and an online Survivors’ Forum.

  • The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. Contact on: 0808 801 0327.

  • Galop runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse specialist helpline. Contact: 0800 999 5428. Email:

  • Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages about identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.