Despite many programmes and initiatives to educate and reform those who might resort to abusive and destructive behaviour, domestic violence remains one of the greatest problems in domestic life. It should never be tolerated and the criminal and family law is available to help protect victims.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse covers a wide range of types of behaviour which have an adverse effect on the person at whom it is directed.
The Government defines domestic violence as
"Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."
Behaviour which is abusive and comes within the scope of domestic violence is not only the use of physical violence. It also involves more subtle, but just as damaging, psychological behaviour. This can take many forms, such as obsessive and intrusive controlling conduct which deprives the victim of their free will.
What are the effects of domestic abuse on the victim?
First, victims of domestic violence can be physically injured, often in a very serious way. In the UK, more murders arise from incidents between cohabiting partners (whether married or not) than any other single category or group of people. Victims of murder are nearly always known to the perpetrator.
Even if the physical injury is not fatal, it can be serious and may require medical treatment. In alarming cases, the victim visits the doctor accompanied by the perpetrator and attempts to cast a web of deception over the way in which the injuries occurred. This in itself is a form of domestic abuse, where the victim is placed in a position where all sense of free will has been removed.
Emotional or psychological harm
Just as worrying and damaging, many victims do not sustain obvious physical injury but are emotionally or psychologically harmed. This behaviour can result in:
- An increasing conviction in the mind of the victim that everything was her/his 'fault';
- An unwillingness to believe or accept that the behaviour of the perpetrator was unacceptable and abnormal;
- A removal of contact between the victim and her/his friends and family and an increasing feeling of paranoia by the victim
- An inability to talk about the problem
- If there is a recognition that there is a problem, an unwillingness to address it.
Can children be affected by witnessing domestic abuse?
It is not only the direct victim who can be adversely affected by domestic abuse.
It is now well established from detailed research that a child or children exposed to domestic abuse, even indirectly, can be adversely affected. Social services departments often regard domestic abuse between parents as being one of the primary reasons to consider safeguarding measures for the children of the household.
It is not only the potential for physical involvement in the future which can harm children. It is also the fact that children, who have seen parents behave in that way, can assimilate such behaviour into their own views of how domestic life is or can be lived. There can be a vicious and perpetuating circle of abuse extending from one generation to the next.
What can I do if I am a victim?
Most victims of domestic abuse feel ashamed, although of course nothing they have done can ever justify such a response from their partner. It can take much bravery on the part of the victim to take active steps for their own protection and that of the children.
There is much advice available to those who need it, most of which can be obtained without their partner’s knowledge.
Speak to a friend.
Telephone a helpline (such as “Refuge” 0808 2000 247).
Visit the local CAB, who will usually have an expert on the topic available.
Visit a Police Force, most have domestic violence units where confidential help is available.
Find a refuge
In some cases, for reasons of the personal safety of the victim and the children, it will be necessary for the victim to move (often only temporarily) to a refuge where immediate safety can be guaranteed.
Domestic abuse is a crime. The victim can be prosecuted. In serious cases there is no good reason why this should not happen. The Police will take reports of such behaviour seriously. Whether or not a prosecution will follow usually depends on the evidence that is available.
Consult a solicitor
There is a range of laws which are available to protect victims of domestic abuse.
These include obtaining:
- A family court injunction directed to the perpetrator ordering that behaviour to cease
- An order requiring the perpetrator to move out of the family home
- An order preventing the perpetrator from entering into an area close to the family home, the workplace of the victim or the school attended by the children
- An order preventing the perpetrator from removing the children from the care of the other parent except on terms set out in the court order
- An order regulating where the children are to live.
A breach of any such orders could lead to arrest and criminal conviction, with the possibility of a custodial sentence.
Domestic abuse is serious and is taken seriously by the law.
Increasingly it is recognised that it is something that can happen in any household, from any background.
Our Domestic Violence Solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with cases where domestic abuse is a problem. If you are a victim and do not know how to handle the situation, we should be happy to advise you in complete confidence.