New domestic violence laws will be pushed forward after it emerged a charity providing a "safe place" to female abuse victims has been in such demand that it has had to open a second facility.
News of the Jersey Women’s Refuge expansion was revealed by Deputy Louise Doublet during a hearing of the Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel - a group of politicians tasked with analysing the work of the Home Affairs Minister and his department.
The Women’s Refuge is the only independent domestic violence charity in Jersey and helps women and their children who find themselves subject to domestic violence.
It has seven private bedrooms and operates a 24-hour service every single day of the year to provide a safe-place women can move into, as well as support and advice to those who don't stay at the refuge.
Pictured: The Jersey Women's Refuge help-line saw a "significant up-tick in calls" during lockdown.
At the end of May, Ben Robins, the charity’s chairman, reported that the pressures of life in a lockdown environment had caused “a significant up-tick in calls to our helpline”.
But the demand has now increased so much that the charity is having to open a second home, as Deputy Doublet reported.
While questioning the Home Affairs Minister over the progress made on the upcoming Domestic Abuse Law, Deputy Doublet representative stressed the importance of bringing forward the piece of legislation by highlighting how the charity’s activity has increased recently.
“With... the Women’s Refuge having to open a second home and with the influx of people needing to use the refuge over the lockdown period, I am of the opinion that this legislation should be prioritised even over work that is nearly finished,” Deputy Doublet said.
Pictured: Deputy Doublet urged the Minister to “act with the urgency that the issue really necessitates”.
While the Domestic Abuse Law was due to be presented to the States Assembly before the end of the year, Home Affairs Minister Constable Len Norman announced it would not be ready before next year as the officer who was working on it was called back to her original department as a result of the pandemic.
She has now been hired by the Home Affairs Department on a contract and will be focusing on the legislation full-time.
Assuring that it was “a very important law and absolutely the top of my priorities”, Constable Norman said the piece of legislation would be ready, hopefully, within the first quarter of 2021. However, he added that it could be delayed up to the second quarter.
“It’s such an important area, it has such an impact on so many people’s lives, on children, on men and women in the family and even the wider family so it’s really important for us that this comes forward,” the Minister commented.
Pictured: Constable Len Norman, the Home Affairs Minister, assured the Domestic Abuse Law was "absolutely the top of my priorities".
The Minister also promised to bring the legislation forward quicker if possible, following several prompts from Deputy Doublet, who urged him to “act with the urgency that the issue really necessitates”.
“We have the resource to deal with it now, which we didn’t have pre-covid,” Constable Norman said.
“It’s all in place, a lot of the consultation has been done. We are getting to the stage of producing law drafting instructions.”
Questioned about the content of the law, the Minister revealed it would include coercive and controlling behaviour, which he said is one of the aspects he personally wanted to be included.
Nathan Fox, Head of Policy for Criminal Justice, explained that most British jurisdictions have some provision for coercive and controlling behaviour, but that Jersey was looking more closely at the Scottish model.
Pictured: Jersey is looking at the Domestic Abuse Act which is in force in Scotland.
The Domestic Abuse Act, which came into force in April 2019, introduced the offences of psychological domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.
It is the only UK legislation which allows sentencing courts to take into account the harm that can be caused to children growing up in an environment where domestic abuse takes place as an aggravating factor.
The Act also requires courts to consider imposing a ‘Non-Harassment Order’ on an offender convicted of a domestic abuse offence to protect their victim from further abuse.
Mr Fox explained that those involved in the criminal justice system feel that when an offender comes before court for an assault in domestic premises, they are "only ever seeing the tip of an iceberg”.
Making it a crime to carry out coercive and controlling behaviour on an individual, as well as recognising domestic abuse as a specific offence in itself as opposed to a species of assault or some other offence, would therefore help reflect the victim’s experience, rather than a single moment.
Pictured: Physical violence is just "the tip of an iceberg” when it comes to domestic abuse.
“That individual moment of physical assault, even though it’s the crime and issue, even though it’s the offence that is being dealt with by the criminal justice system at that time, it’s not really the meaningful harm,” he added.
“It’s not the only thing that’s happened. It doesn’t reflect necessarily the harm being done to the individual.
“It might be quite a minor assault, there are of course sometimes serious assaults, but it could be a very minor assault and the criminal justice system isn’t in a position, without some treatment of coercive and controlling behaviour to either understand in itself or properly deal with the totality of the experience the victim has gone through in the relationship.”
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