Anger as Tory MPs vote against register for stalkers and domestic abusers – The Guardian

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The government is facing growing anger after voting against putting serial stalkers and domestic abusers on a national register, despite briefing they were likely to support the measures following the death of Sarah Everard.

Conservative MPs voted against amendments to the domestic abuse bill on Thursday that would have placed serial domestic abusers and stalkers on the current Violent and Sex Offender Register (Visor).

MPs also voted down House of Lords-supported amendments that would have given family court judges training on sexual abuse and provided greater protection to migrant victims of domestic violence.

The stalking amendment gained overwhelming support in the Lords last month and the home secretary, Priti Patel, suggested 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.”

After the death of Sarah Everard, government sources told the Sunday Times that the move also had the backing of the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, while a petition urging the government to introduce the stalkers’ register has attracted almost 250,000 signatures.

All but two Conservative MPs voted against the amendment to add persistent stalkers and domestic abusers to a national register. It was defeated 351 to 227.

Domestic abuse and stalking survivors and campaigners were disappointed and frustrated, said Sophie Francis-Cansfield, the senior campaigns and policy officer at Women’s Aid.

“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,” she said. “We have to find ways to proactively hold perpetrators to account and prioritise survivors’ safety.”

The domestic abuse campaigner David Challen, whose mother, Sally Challen, spent decades as a victim of her husband’s coercive and controlling behaviour, said the government was putting countless 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.

The decision to exclude migrant women from protections offered under the new bill was “deeply troubling”, said Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, which is taking part in a government pilot project 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, said the decision to vote against the amendments pointed to 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 was “driven by ideology rather than reality”, she said, adding: “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.”

Lucy Hadley, the head of policy and campaigns at Women’s Aid, said it was “deeply disappointing” that the government had rejected the Lords’ amendments to give migrant women equal protection, adding that currently just 4% of refuges in England could accept a woman with no recourse to public funds due to immigration status. “All survivors must have the right to seek help and live a life free from abuse – regardless of their immigration status,” she said. “This law has been deemed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect all survivors, but there is much more to do.”

The government’s decision to vote down a requirement for all family court judges to have training on domestic abuse and sexual violence was “unbelievable”, said Dr Charlotte Proudman, an expert on gender-based violence and family law.

“I’m devastated,” she said. “The government’s harm report and three domestic abuse appeals show that the family courts are failing women and children leaving them in situations of harm.”

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.”

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