PM to crack down on 'hidden scandal' of child victims of domestic abuse

Tougher sentences will be handed down to perpetrators of domestic violence against children under plans being set out by Theresa May to tackle the "hidden scandal".

Under the Conservative proposals a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill will create an aggravated offence allowing harsher punishments for cases involving children.

A new domestic violence watchdog will also be established to speak up for victims and hold the police and criminal justice system to account.

The Prime Minister said: "The last seven years of Conservative government have delivered real steps towards tackling domestic violence - we are punishing more perpetrators, and helping more victims get refuge and justice.

"But we will launch a relentless drive to help survivors find justice and increase the number of successful prosecutions.

"This hidden scandal, that takes place every day in homes across Britain, must be tackled head on. And we must respond to the devastating and lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on children, who carry the effects into adulthood."

Despite a downward trend, there are still around two million victims of domestic abuse every year, with huge regional variation in the police response.

There have been large rises in victim reporting in recent years, but estimates still suggest only a fifth of victims report their abuse.

The Tory plans would introduce a statutory definition for domestic violence, providing legal underpinning for everything in the new act.

The Conservatives claim the new definition, which will be informed by victim support groups, experts and agencies, will help survivors understand more easily if they have a basis for a complaint, and assist police and the CPS pursue offenders with greater chance of successful prosecution.

A new domestic violence and abuse commissioner will be created to be a victims' champion and monitor the response of the system.

Proposals for the new domestic violence regime were set out in the Tory manifesto, which also pledged support for victims to leave abusive partners and a review of funding for refuges.

Diana Barran, chief executive of domestic violence charity SafeLives, welcomed the plan for the new watchdog.

She said: "We need a practical and visible commissioner who can work with specialist services, local commissioners, policy makers and crucially with survivors.

"The commissioner needs to have both the legitimacy and resources to drive forward change. With only one-in-five survivors contacting the police, any future response must go beyond the criminal justice system and ensure that survivors and their children can live safely at home and rebuild their lives."

Sandra Horley, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, said: "On any given day, Refuge supports almost 5,000 women and children fleeing domestic violence.

"We hope that a dedicated commissioner and new Act will bring the sea change that is needed to give victims the protection they need and deserve. Refuge welcomes any initiatives or legislation designed to meet these ends."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid said: "The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a step change in the identification of and response to domestic abuse by public sector agencies, and set in motion a cultural shift in the way that our communities recognise and react to survivors.

"Women's Aid is pleased to see the Prime Minister's continued commitment to tackling domestic abuse through the creation of a domestic violence and abuse commissioner to monitor how statutory agencies are working towards ensuring women and children can stay safely in their homes, including both the provision and the commissioning of local specialist support services.

"The Prime Minister is right that it is time for a more robust response to domestic abuse, triggered earlier, and ensuring both control of the perpetrator and a route to support for victims and their children.

"We hope for an end to women and children forced to flee for their lives while perpetrators walk free and continue their coercive control through the family courts."

Liberal Democrat election campaign spokeswoman Jo Swinson said: "Domestic violence and abuse is a horrific stain on our society and still all too often a hidden crime.

"Everything that can be done must be done to eradicate it once and for all. But let us be clear actions speak louder than words and Conservative cuts to local authorities have meant that funding for domestic abuse services have suffered, with some services having to refuse referrals from victims due to a lack of capacity."