Changes to common assault legislation added to the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill this week will see the time victims of domestic abuse have to report crimes extended.
Updated 5 January: New measures extending the length of time domestic abuse victims have to report a crime have been added to the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill this week (4 January) after a months-long campaign by domestic abuse charities and survivors.
The changes – which were agreed in October last year – will extend the timeframe for a charge to be brought against someone for common assault or battery from six months to two years.
Other changes to the bill announced today include the introduction of a breastfeeding voyeurism offence, which will make taking non-consensual photographs or video recordings of someone breastfeeding a specific offence punishable by up to two years in prison.
The legislation will cover both situations where the motive is to “obtain sexual gratification” and where it is meant to cause “humiliation, distress or alarm”.
In a statement, Ruth Davidson, the CEO of the domestic abuse charity Refuge, called the changes to the time limit a “huge win” for domestic abuse victims.
“Too many women have been ‘timed out’ of accessing justice, with the arbitrary six-month time limit. It can take many months, even years, for survivors of abuse to feel ready and able to report their experiences. This change means thousands of women will have access to justice that they had previously been denied.”
Taking to Twitter to celebrate the news, Victims Too organiser Erica Osakwe – who campaigned alongside Refuge, the Centre For Women’s Justice and Women’s Aid Federation of England to make the changes – added: “We have won! The law in England and Wales will change to support victims of domestic abuse.”
The PCSC bill – which has been met with backlash online and on the streets for containing legislation that represents “a serious threat to the right to protest” and will put Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups at risk – is currently in the report stage in the House Of Lords.
As reported 23 October: After a months-long campaign, the government has agreed to change the law to allow victims of domestic abuse more time to report a crime.
There is currently a six-month time limit for a charge to be brought against someone for common assault, but Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that the timeframe will be extended to up to two years.
Victims of domestic common assault, which includes being pushed, threatened or spat at, are sometimes reluctant to report incidents and the cases can be complex – which is why campaigners say the police should be given more time before having to bring charges.
As the BBC reports, the clock starts from the date of the incident, and within the next six months, a victim needs to have come forward and the police have to have carried out their work to secure a charge against the alleged perpetrator, or the case will be dropped.
The BBC had previously revealed that over 13,000 cases in England and Wales had been dropped in five years because the six month limit had been breached.
Leading domestic violence campaigners have also spoken out in support of the decision.
Refuge CEO Ruth Davison said in a statement: “As Refuge we work with women every day who know just how hard it can be to report domestic abuse – they might not yet have fled their perpetrator, they may fear repercussions, or they might not yet have processed the assault they experienced. Couple that with trust in police being at an all-time low, means the conditions for survivors to come forward is incredibly challenging.
Refuge has campaigned along with Centre For Women’s Justice, Women’s Aid Federation of England, and survivor Erica Osakwe for this change. This amendment, when it comes into practice, will make an enormous difference to survivors of domestic abuse and will help offer much greater protection to women and girls.”
Campaigner and organiser Erica Osakwe also tweeted a statement about the victory: “After one year of campaigning, I’ve officially changed the law in England and Wales. You had six months to report common assault and now it has been extended to 24 months. To the survivors and to anyone who ever doubted themselves, this is for you,” she wrote.
The positive change is expected to come as part of the otherwise controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament and proposes new police powers when it comes to protests, in spite of mounting warnings over human rights and questions over whether police want or need the powers.
The wide-ranging authoritarian legislation also cracks down on trespassing, which puts Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups at risk and threatens to push rough sleepers deeper into homelessness, which has prompted widespread social media protest to “Kill The Bill”.
In the UK, the domestic violence helpline is 0808 2000 247. Alternatively, contact Women’s Aid or Refuge for advice and support.
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