By Emma Batha
LONDON, April 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Britain passed "life-saving" domestic abuse legislation on Thursday that campaigners say will protect millions of women, hold more abusers to account, and clamp down harder on revenge porn.
About 2.4 million people, mostly women, experience domestic abuse every year, according to the government.
The legislation comes amid wider efforts to tackle the issue after lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 left many women trapped at home with violent partners.
"This is a fantastic and ground-breaking day," Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The new law will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of domestic abuse victims, and definitely save lives."
The act establishes a new offense of "non-fatal strangulation," closing a loophole that campaigners say has let some abusers escape justice for choking attacks — which can cause brain damage, strokes, and other serious injury.
Men who throttle their partners risk five years in prison.
The act also makes it a crime to threaten to share intimate images — or "revenge porn" — with a sentence of up to two years.
Domestic abuse charities said the legislation's explicit recognition of economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse for the first time was “transformational.”
Economic abuse, in which someone may restrict a partner's access to money and other resources, can prevent them leaving a dangerous relationship.
The new law also stops defendants in murder trials from relying on a defense of "rough sex gone wrong."
Campaigners said Britain was the first country to outlaw the "rough sex" defense.
The issue gained global attention following the 2018 murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Grace Millane, whose killer said she died accidentally during consensual sex.
Other new provisions in the law include imposing a legal duty on local authorities to provide shelter for abuse victims, a ban on abusers cross-examining victims in family courts and the creation of domestic abuse protection orders.
Interior minister Priti Patel hailed the new law as "long overdue," saying in a statement it would ensure "perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes are brought to justice."
The act — which applies to England and Wales — also establishes the post of domestic abuse commissioner to hold local and national government to account in their handling of an issue that affects an estimated 1.6 million women a year.
Domestic abuse charity Refuge said the legislation, while progressive in many respects, was "far from perfect" and failed to protect many migrants, who cannot access benefits and may be afraid to report abuse to police.
"This is a missed opportunity to ensure all women experiencing abuse are protected," said Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison.
Refuge said it was also worried about a 50 million-pound ($69.78 million) shortfall to finance shelter.
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)