CRIME FILE: Wales could bring in domestic abuse bill

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. (7734026)

Domestic Violence (7734021)

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. (7734023)

First published in News

This week Welsh politicians are talking about domestic violence but some campaigners fear not enough emphasis is being placed on helping women affected by abuse, as EMMA MACKINTOSH reports.

LEGISLATION to confront domestic abuse, gender-based and sexual violence has this week been put to members of the National Assembly for Wales.

According to the charity Women’s Aid, there is no reliable national data on the general incidence of domestic violence in the UK, but in 2011/12, 1.2 million women and 800,000 men reported experiencing domestic abuse.

On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner, accounting for around a third of all female homicide victims.

There are around 500,000 victims of sexual assault reported each year, 85 to 90 per cent of whom are women.

Welsh Government has responsibility for some, but not all, areas of government dealing with violence and abuse within communities in Wales due to devolution, but if successful, the Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill would bring with it a ministerial adviser working directly with politicians in the Senedd to tackle the three types of violence, the first role of its kind in the UK.

Lesley Griffiths AM, minister for local government, has submitted the Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Bill to recognise the wide reach of such abuse – but that violence against women accounts for a disproportionate number of incidents, she said.

Despite this campaign groups have criticised the latest version of the Bill for not focusing enough on women.

Last year Wales Violence Against Women Action Group produced a briefing paper for Assembly Members highlighting the need for the Bill to be gender-specific.

It criticised multiple changes of name, and focus, of the Bill for not following international definitions of violence against women.

“It is vital to understand the gendered nature of the violence/abuse we are seeking to tackle as a society,” said the 2013 briefing. “It is not gender-neutral, and neither should government policy and legislation be.

“Violence is entirely unacceptable whether the perpetrator or victim is male or female. Some argue that the focus of the forthcoming Bill is skewed far too much towards tackling violence against women and not men.

“We argue that it should reflect the reality of violence in our communities,” said the group. “The prevalence of gender violence is so heavily skewed towards women victims that to ignore this would not be reasonable, and could lessen the focus we need to tackle violence against women and girls.”

This week Lesley Griffiths insisted the proposed Bill is “an important step forward” in protecting vulnerable people against violations of their basic human rights.

“The wide reach of this legislation looks at all aspects of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence,” she said, adding that in 2010 Welsh Government published a strategy for tackling all forms of violence against women, placing a responsibility on everyone from individuals to public sector organisations to “make a stand” against such abuse and violence.

The Bill was laid on the same day the Welsh Government launched its “Make A Stand” campaign to raise awareness of the issue, and was given White Ribbon accreditation for its commitment to stand against domestic abuse and violence against women through the involvement of men and boys.

Funding given to Hafan Cymru has been ramped up to extend the coverage of healthy relationship lessons in schools across Wales, with a view to ensuring schools address gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence, said the AM.

Should the Bill pass through the Assembly, it will place a responsibility on the public sector to improve their responses to these issues; promote awareness of, and to prevent, protect and support victims; strengthen leadership and accountability for dealing with such crimes; and improve the consistency, quality and join-up of service provision in Wales.

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