Migrant domestic abuse victims must be supported too - bishops

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said migration status was being "weaponised".(Photo: Facebook/Diocese of London)

The Bishops of London and Gloucester have called for greater support for migrant domestic abuse victims who may be too afraid to seek help because of their immigration status.

Speaking at the second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill in the Lords on Tuesday, the bishops suggested that the legislation needed to go further to ensure protection for all victims of domestic abuse. 

They warned that under the current system, not everyone who needs to escape an abusive relationship can currently access support, and that immigration status was being "weaponised".

"This is particularly true for women with insecure immigration status, because of course that insecurity is exploited by an abuser," said the Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek.

"Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the UK continue to have no access to the welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services."

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said it was "paramount" that immigration data is not shared between the police and the Home Office.

READ MORE: Faith or freedom? Christian domestic abuse victims need not make that choice

"Safe reporting mechanisms must be established for survivors accessing vital public services, so that they can safely report abuse to the police, social services and others with confidence that they will be treated as victims, without the fear of immigration enforcement," she said.

"The alternative is a licence for continued abuse, where migration status is weaponised against the victims of crime. We must do better than this." 

Other areas of concern raised by the bishops included greater recognition of the link between domestic abuse and women in the prison system. 

"English criminal law in its current form does not sufficiently recognise the need to protect survivors of domestic abuse who are driven to offend, whether in self-defence or with relatively minor offences, resulting in women being caught in the revolving door of imprisonment," said Bishop Treweek.

"I therefore support the call for a new statutory defence and an amendment to the law on self-defence to be added to the Bill for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse." 

Bishop Mullally also called for a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation.

"As has been noted, unlike other forms of domestic abuse, non-fatal strangulation and suffocation have the characteristics of being extremely physically and psychologically harmful, but often with no external signs," she said.

The Bishop of Gloucester added that while faith communities were not exempt from the reality of domestic abuse, there were many people of faith "who wish to play their part in being part of the solution, and indeed are already doing so".