WITH one-in-four women and one-in-six men in the UK experiencing domestic abuse at some point in their lives, domestic abuse is sadly all too common a crime. Andrew Woo (pictured above), of Brewer Harding & Rowe Solicitors, explains what you can do if you are affected…

Am I being abused? What constitutes an action being defined as domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse can affect anyone from all walks of life irrespective of background, gender class and age. It is a complex area which sadly is often misunderstood or gone unrecognised.

Domestic abuse manifests itself in many ways, all of which are capable of being equally damaging. The most recognisable forms of domestic abuse are physical or sexual assault but doesn’t have to leave physical marks and scars. It can include emotional or financial abuse. There are many types of behaviour which can constitute domestic abuse including manipulation, isolation from friends or family and use of threats or humiliation which harm, frighten or punish. It can be a single incident or a pattern of behaviour.

I no longer live with my partner – can I still be subject to “domestic” abuse?
If you have lived together in the same household as a couple you can still be experiencing domestic abuse even if you now no longer live together. Unfortunately leaving does not always stop the abuse and many people are still exposed to such conduct when they leave the relationship. It can be emotional, physiological or often financial.Isolating a person or controlling their finances or where they go, who they see, what they wear or eat, are all forms of domestic abuse. It can begin at any stage during a relationship or after a relationship has ended. If you no longer live together but feel ‘trapped’, perhaps having your money or child arrangements controlled by your partner, then you are being subjected to domestic abuse.

How can the law protect me and why should I seek support from a solicitor?
There are no excuses for domestic abuse, regardless of what your current/former partner is saying. If you are suffering abuse, please do not suffer in silence. Seek support, a variety of measures can be taken in order to help ensure your safety and to protect you and/or your children.

  1. Domestic abuse is classed as a crime – if you are in immediate danger you need to call the police. Through the criminal justice system, the police can institute criminal proceedings for harassment or assault for example and impose bail conditions upon those charged.
  2. Talk to a specialist family law solicitor. Family solicitors are specialists in this area and will provide advice in confidence. They may be able to diffuse the situation and can apply for a civil injunction to help protect you and your children. An injunction is a court order that normally lasts for a set period of time that requires someone to do or not to do something. There are 2 main types of order that can assist:

Non-molestation Orders / Protection From Harassment Orders
These can prevent someone from being violent or threatening violence against you and can be extended to protect your children. They can also include prevention of intimidation, harassment, or pestering. Breach of a Non-molestation Order is an arrestable criminal offence in itself and can therefore result in immediate action by the police.

Occupation Orders
This order dictates who can and can’t live in the family home and can also restrict access to the surrounding area as well.

I’m worried about how my abuser might react – can I take action without them being made aware?
If you need protection from your abuser immediately, in urgent circumstances your solicitor can issue an ‘ex-parte’ non-molestation application. In this situation you won’t have to tell the person you want protection from. This can be issued on the same day. This may afford some breathing space for you before your abuser gets notice of the case (which the Court will later require)and the chance to answer the case against them.

If you are frightened of your partner and tread on eggshells out of fear of their reaction and you’re worrying about the consequences, it’s abuse. The turmoil of being in this situation can be relentless but if you’re not ready to call the police or talk to a Solicitor, you can get support via a specialist professional agency.

In North Devon dedicated support is provided to victims of domestic abuse specialist advisors employed by North Devon Against Domestic Abuse, who provide support for victims in a wide variety of ways, including in the process of police prosecution from the moment an offender has been arrested to the point the court proceedings have ended. Splitz also provide support to victims of domestic abuse to help them come to terms with and overcome their difficulties and challenges. They are a fantastic service and accept self-referrals.

I don’t have the means to meet costly legal bills. Is there any financial support available?
If you’re trying to leave an abusive relationship, the last thing you want to worry about is how you’re going to pay for legal protection from domestic abuse.

Although legal aid has been restricted in recent years, it is still available for many victims of domestic abuse. However, there are only certain Solicitors that offer legal aid. In North Devon there are only 4 firms of Solicitors who have a legal aid contract and unfortunately only one with a contract in Bideford, being Brewer Harding & Rowe. While this may seem daunting, if we act as your solicitors, we can help you through the process of applying for legal aid.

Most solicitors also offer a free initial consultation.  During such a consultation you’ll get an idea of where you stand and the options available to you.

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