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. Gail Salway (pictured above), of Everys Solicitors, explains what you can do if you are affected…
Am I being abused? What constitutes an action being defined as domestic abuse?
The meaning of ‘domestic abuse’ has evolved over the past few decades, and it is now widely accepted in today’s society and law that domestic abuse can take many forms.
The Government defines domestic violence and abuse as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
In some cases, it will be obvious when a person’s actions amount to domestic abuse, for example if they are physically or sexually violent to the victim. However, other abusive behaviour can be harder to identify.
Emotional abuse, for example, can be committed through constantly belittling and putting the victim down, unfairly attributing blame, reducing self esteem and confidence, punishing the victim by not talking, or cancelling plans for no reason. Emotional control often results in the victim changing their own behaviours, due to the actions of the abuser.
Controlling behaviour is defined as ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.’
Examples of controlling behaviour include preventing the victim from seeing friends and family, or making it difficult and awkward to do so, restricting finances, restricting use of a car for no good reason, preventing them from working, reading texts and monitoring calls, reading post, insisting on knowing where the victim is and what they are doing, telling them what they can and cannot wear.
Coercive behaviour is defined as‘an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.’ This also includes stalking and harassment.
If you are unsure as to whether you are the victim of domestic abuse, a key question to consider is have you changed the way you do things, as a result of your partner’s behaviour or reactions? If the answer is ‘yes’, there is a good chance that you are experiencing domestic abuse. If you are aware that your partner behaves and reacts in a more intense way to your friends’ partners, there is likely to be something wrong.
I no longer live with my partner. Can I still be subject to “domestic” abuse?
Domestic abuse is not limited to current and existing relationships. It is possible to experience domestic abuse from an ex-partner where you were in a relationship but have separated. Domestic abuse can also occur between relatives, for example young adults towards parents/ grandparents, aunts and uncles and between siblings.
Domestic abuse occurring after separation can include attempts to continue to control you in some way, stalking, harassing, punishment and threats of violence. Even persistent unwanted communication, even if pleasant in nature, can amount to domestic abuse.
How can the law protect me and why should I seek support from a Solicitor?
In 2015 the Government introduced an offence of Coercive or Controlling Behavior. It carries a maximum 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both if the abuser is found guilty. This allows victims of non-physical abuse to obtain justice.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, it is possible to obtain an injunction from the Court known as a Non-Molestation Order. This is an Order which prevents the abuser from contacting the victim in any way, whether directly or through a 3rdparty, from using threats or violence against the victim or from being within a certain distance of the victim. If the abuser breaches this Order, they will commit a criminal offence and can be arrested by the Police.
It is also possible to obtain an Order to force the abuser to leave the home and prevent them from returning to the home. This is knows as an Occupation Order. A Court will apply a balance of harm test and will look at the housing needs and financial resources of both parties, as well as the possible affect of not making an Order on the applicant and any children involved.
It is advisable to seek the support of a Solicitor who can advise you of your legal rights and the options available to you, as well as funding options. If it is considered appropriate, a Solicitor can write a letter to the abuser to warn them to stop the abusive behaviour and threaten legal action if the behaviour continues. This is often enough to make the abuser stop their behaviour and can save the time and money and energy of Court Proceedings.
I am worried about how my abuser might react – can I take action without them being made aware?
There are some situations in which it will not be suitable for a Solicitor to notify an abuser of their involvement, or indeed that Court Proceedings are being issued. This will be where the abuser is likely to escalate their behaviour and place you or anyone else at a greater risk of harm. In such circumstances, it is possible to make an application to the Court for an injunction without the usual notice to be given to the abuser. This is known as an Ex-Parte application.
If an Order is made, the abuser will be served with the Order by an officer of the Court. The Court will list another hearing, usually a matter of days after the initial hearing, in which the abuser will be given an opportunity to defend the application. This is to enable the abuser to exercise their right to a fair trial. The benefit of an Ex-Parte application, is that you are protected during the time leading up to the contested hearing.
I don’t have the means to meet costly legal bills. Is there any financial support available?
Although the majority of Legal Aid offered by the Government has been cut, Legal Aid is still available for victims of domestic abuse in certain family Proceedings. Legal Aid for Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders is means tested, and in order to be eligible, you will need to show that your income and capital are below a certain threshold.
You will need to produce 3 months worth of pay slips and bank statements as evidence of your means. Those on income support benefits, however, will be automatically eligible for Legal Aid, and will only need to produce written confirmation of such benefits.