Abusers who throttle their partners will face five years in jail after ministers bowed to campaigners to include it in the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill.
It will make non-fatal strangulation and suffocation a criminal offence amid concerns that many perpetrators receive lenient sentences because they are charged only with common assault.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, said that the bill would be expanded to make threats to disclose naked and intimate images with the intention to cause distress a criminal offence.
Laws governing controlling or coercive behaviour will be strengthened to no longer make it a requirement for abusers and victims to live together. A government review found that people who left abusive partners could often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour after separation.
The measures were added to the bill after peers tabled amendments in the Lords and are expected to be on the statute book by the end of this month.
Victims and women’s groups have argued that existing domestic abuse laws are not sufficiently punitive. The Centre for Women’s Justice has argued that strangulation is a gender-specific crime, which is often a precursor to even more serious crimes.
In 2018 about a third of female killings in the UK were a result of strangulation or suffocation, compared with 3 per cent of male killings. People accused of non-fatal attacks are often charged with common assault, which has a maximum sentence of six months.
Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, said the changes “will better support victims and will save lives” but called for ministers to go further. She added: “The government must still go further to make this bill genuinely landmark, by increasing the provision of services in the community and ensuring protections are extended to all victims and survivors, regardless of their immigration status.”
The government had signalled that it would not make non-fatal strangulation or suffocation a specific offence but peers, led by the former victims commissioner Baroness Newlove, argued that it should be included in the bill to ensure that it reaches the statute book sooner.
Although disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress became an offence in 2015, under the new rules those who even threaten to share such material could face two years in prison. The charity Refuge has been lobbying for the change, supported by the former Love Island contestant Zara McDermott, a victim of revenge porn.
McDermott, 24, said she was “thrilled” about the amendment. “My life when I left the Love Island villa was turned upside down as a result of the sharing of intimate images.”
Buckland said: “We are delivering the support victims need to feel safer while ensuring perpetrators face justice for the torment they have inflicted.”
Separately, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is expected to announce a package of £19 million in the Budget on Wednesday to help to tackle domestic abuse.