The government is facing mounting fury after voting against measures that would place serial stalkers and domestic abusers on a national register – despite suggesting they were likely to support the measures after the death of Sarah Everard.
Tory MPs voted against a number of amendments to the domestic abuse bill on Thursday, which would have placed serial domestic abusers and stalkers on the current Violent and Sex Offender Register (Visor).
MPs also shot down amendments supported by the House of Lords that would have given family our judges training on sexual abuse and provided greater protection to migrant victims of domestic abuse.
The stalking amendment gained overwhelming support in the upper chamber last month and Priti Patel, the home secretary, hinted that the government was likely to support the measures, telling MPs: “There is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed. There is no question about that at all … I will be very candid: we will look at all measures.”
Following Sarah Everard’s death, government sources told the Sunday Times that the move had the backing of Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, while an online petition urging the government to introduce a stalking register has attracted close to 250,000.
However all abut two Conservative MPs voted against the amendment; it was defeated 351 to 227, frustrating survivors of domestic abuse and stalking and campaigners.
The Tories have voted against putting stalkers and domestic abusers on a national register, giving migrant women equal protection, and requiring family court judges to have domestic abuse training. Partisan games over women’s lives. https://t.co/lftJI450hq— Frances Ryan (@DrFrancesRyan) April 16, 2021
“Domestic abuse remains underreported and only a small proportion of survivors see criminal sanctions against their perpetrator – a register could have been a useful tool,” Sophie Francis-Cansfield, a senior campaigns officer at Women’s Aid told the Guardian.
“We have to find ways to proactively hold perpetrators to account and prioritise survivors’ safety.”
Domestic abuse campaigner David Challen – whose mother, Sally Challen, spent decades as a victim of her husband’s coercive and controlling behaviour – said ministers were putting lives at risk by not creating a register to monitor abusers.
“Abusers and stalkers commit a pattern of violent acts across multiple victims, this register was a vital opportunity to track and stop this violence,” he said.
Migrant women were excluded from protections offered under a new government bill, which Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters said was “deeply troubling”. The group is taking part in a government pilot to support migrant women and address an “evidence gap” around the need for support.
“Copious evidence already exists,” she said. “The pilot is no substitute to the need for meaningful, long-term measures of protection for some of the most vulnerable women in our society. We will not be celebrating the bill when it becomes law because it is not a bill for all women.”
Jess Phillips, the shadow domestic violence minister, claimed the decision to vote against the amendments revealed a government “hellbent on working with a clearly broken system that leaves violent criminals without management and has already left many women for dead”.
The decision to exclude migrant women from protections offered to other victims in the bill showed the government was being “driven by ideology rather than reality”, she added.
“Foreign students, people working in our care system and across our country completely legally have been offered up a narrow system that will inevitably leave many with no choice but to return to violence and abuse,” Phillips said.
A government spokesperson said: “There has been no U-turn. The Lords amendment is not calling for a register, but instead changes to multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA).
“The government agrees that high-harm domestic abuse perpetrators need to be effectively monitored and supervised, which is why serial and high-harm domestic abuse offenders are eligible for management under MAPPA. Adding a new category of offenders automatically eligible for MAPPA risks adding complexity to those arrangements without any gain.”