Legislation, which has been making its way through the House of Lords, will see perpetrators of non-fatal strangulation face up to seven years in jail.
Strangulation is known to be a high-risk indicator in domestic abuse cases which result in homicide but the offence is routinely under-prosecuted and is often only charged as common assault – which means it is equivalent to a slap or a blow which leaves a bruise – or not charged at all.
The bill, which starts the report stage next week, with Royal Assent expected in the spring, will also criminalise threats to share revenge porn, with those who threaten to post such images facing up to two years in jail.
This comes after The Independent recently reported calls about threats to share intimate images to the national revenge porn helpline more than tripled between 2017 and 2020.
Natasha Saunders, who suffered domestic abuse, said: “My perpetrator threatened to share my intimate images with friends and family. He did so to attempt to further control and abuse me.
“I was terrified of the consequences and it had a huge impact on me. I am now free from my abuser but every day I know that there are millions of women experiencing the things I was forced to endure for so long.
“I am so pleased that the government has not only listened to survivors of domestic abuse but also acted on what they heard. This is a huge victory for women like me”.
Perpetrators and victims will also no longer have to be living in the same address for the law to apply. The overhaul comes after a government review found people who escape abusive partners often continue to face psychological torment after they flee.
Lisa King, of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, said: “This is a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images and we are thrilled that the government has recognised the need for urgent change.
“Our research found that one in seven young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”
She hailed the legislation as a “victory for women and girls” and testament to the “power of working together for change”.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, said: “We’re absolutely delighted the government is criminalising post-separation abuse.
“By doing so, victims will receive the recognition they need and deserve. Post-separation abuse is a devastating form of coercive control and the economic abuse elements of this can continue for decades. Legislation is the first essential step on the path to eradicating it and preventing future homicides.”
Lord chancellor Robert Buckland QC said the legislation delivers a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to bolster the response to domestic abuse.
“From outlawing non-fatal strangulation to giving better protections in court – we are delivering the support victims need to feel safer while ensuring perpetrators face justice for the torment they have inflicted,” he added.
Victoria Atkins, the safeguarding minister, said: “The domestic abuse bill is a game-changing piece of legislation that will help millions of people who are subjected to many different forms of abuse.
“Controlling or coercive behaviour is an insidious form of domestic abuse that can destroy lives.”
The legislation also introduces the first-ever statutory definition of domestic abuse to include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour that is not physical.
It also means perpetrators will no longer be able to directly cross-examine victims in family courts. The legislation comes as the chancellor is expected to pledge £19m at the budget to address domestic abuse.
The Independent recently reported cash-strapped services have been forced to turn away victims fleeing abusive partners – with leading services warning bed shortages push survivors into homelessness or into returning to their abuser where they face further torment.
Providers say they have long been battling severe economic uncertainty due to austerity measures forcing refuges to close or cut their services, but surging demand for help during the pandemic has compounded an already fragile financial situation.