Thanks to vital work in the Commons and now Lords, important changes have been made to the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill – through both advocacy and amendment. This will have a huge impact on the lives of women and children but there is more to be done to tackle gender-based violence and misogyny.
Stalking is murder in slow motion, and we must treat it as seriously as other crimes. No woman should have to live in fear of their life. That is why I have tabled an amendment to proactively identify, assess and manage serial and repeat high-risk and high-harm domestic abusers and stalkers. Formally backed by a cross-party alliance of other peers, it would also ensure a more coordinated approach to data collection on perpetrators.
A few pockets of good practice already exist, including a new pilot scheme in Sussex set up to identify and target specific stalkers for psychological therapy. It is great that the local police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, was awarded Home Office funding specifically for intervention and evaluation.
Perpetrators travel but information about them remains static. It is widely recognised that the current system is not working, and guidance is being issued.
But this really should be happening throughout the country and serial perpetrators should also be included on the VISOR (Violent and Sexual Offenders) database. It should be a matter of national policy, laid down in statute so that women are protected wherever they live, rather than the rather random locally-driven set up that we have now.
As a result, there is no coherent and consistent sharing of information across police services and other agencies. Perpetrators travel but information about them remains static. It is widely recognised that the current system is not working, and guidance is being issued.
Government-funded strategies are being implemented by charities, but my fundamental view is that the state has the prime responsibility for the protection of its citizens and this needs a degree of consistency across the board, as well as systems for ready exchange of data.
A failure to properly focus on perpetrators – the men who have caused the terror and violence – will mean that many women and children will continue to be unprotected.
Some have suggested my amendment would lead to confusion, should a separate group of offenders be identified. The reality, however, is that it would provide clarity and ensure that domestic abuse, coercive control, and stalking were included in risk management discussions.
Ministers, meanwhile, say the problem is a deficiency in practice not the process while acknowledging inconsistencies in the sharing of information. Given such recognition that victims and their families are being failed, why not accept an amendment that would ensure all of the necessary services had the tools and data available to minimise the gaps.
Notwithstanding the clear progress that the Bill as it stands signals, a failure to properly focus on perpetrators – the men who have caused the terror and violence – will mean that many women and children will continue to be unprotected and remain at risk.
That is why the government must go the extra mile and make this landmark legislation properly fit for purpose.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is principal of Somerville College, Oxford and a former leader of the House of Lords