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Proposed domestic abuse laws must be strengthened to give more protection to children, campaigners say.

Barnardo’s and the NSPCC said measures due to be published on Tuesday were “disappointing” and risked perpetuating a situation in which children were the “hidden victims” of domestic abuse.

However, Women’s Aid welcomed a new legal obligation on councils to provide secure refuges for victims.

The Home Office said many of the proposals were “widely supported”.

While the majority of the measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill will apply only to England and Wales, it will create a specific new criminal offence in Northern Ireland of controlling or coercive behaviour, already on the statute book in the rest of the UK.

Certain provisions in the bill also apply to court proceedings in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Campaigners say action to help the nearly two million victims of domestic abuse in the UK each year, two thirds of whom are women, is long overdue.

The Conservatives first proposed tougher measures in their 2017 election manifesto but legislative progress has been slow.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was among several proposed laws which fell by the wayside last autumn after Boris Johnson suspended Parliament and MPs subsequently voted for an early general election.

The government is now bringing back the legislation, saying MPs will be presented with an “enhanced” package of measures that will “protect victims and punish perpetrators” of this “horrendous” crime.

Proposed measures include a pilot scheme that requires 300 people convicted of domestic abuse to take regular polygraph tests after their release from prison, similar to an idea mooted for monitoring terrorists.

There will also be a ban on perpetrators cross-examining their victims during family court proceedings and a legal duty on councils to find safe accommodation for domestic abuse victims and their children.

Women’s Aid said this could be a “life-saving” move, but only if it was accompanied by guaranteed funding for specialist women’s services – including for “marginalised” groups in society, which it estimates will cost about £173m a year.

‘Hidden victims’

While welcoming many of the initiatives, children’s charities warned that some families with children risked “falling through the cracks in support”.

“The bill risks dividing victims into ‘haves and have nots’,” said Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan.

“Children are the hidden victims of domestic abuse, suffering trauma that can last a lifetime.

“I’m disappointed that while the Domestic Abuse Bill may improve access to refuges, it will not help the majority of victims and children who remain in the family home.”

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Campaigners say refuges need to be properly funded

The NSPCC’s senior policy officer Emily Hilton said it was “extremely disappointing that the bill in its current form fails to protect children from the devastating impact of living with domestic abuse, leaving thousands at continued risk because the help they deserve is not in place”.

The Home Office said the UK’s new domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, would consider what support the government can provide children who have been affected by domestic abuse.

The legislation will also enshrine a new definition of domestic abuse in law that recognises economic abuse – when a perpetrator controls a victim’s finances – as a specific type of the crime. It will also acknowledge the use of technology to target a victim.

Court protection orders banning perpetrators from contacting a victim or forcing them to take part in alcohol or drug treatment programmes may also be introduced.

Support for migrant domestic abuse victims will also be reviewed while ministers will consider what more can be done to stop the so-called “rough sex” defence being used by perpetrators in court.

The Home Office said many of the measures in the bill carried over from the last Parliament were “widely supported” by charities, MPs and law enforcement agencies.

It added that the proposed lie detector tests, to be used on those deemed most likely to re-offend, have been “successfully used” with sex offenders since 2013.



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