Many of us, when first entering into a relationship, could never imagine a dark cloud of abuse descending on it. However, statistics on domestic show just how widespread the situation is. The truth is that domestic abuse is at crisis level, with 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime.
The government defines domestic abuse as:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:
- psychological abuse;
- physical abuse;
- sexual abuse;
- financial abuse; and
- emotional abuse
The government has made preventing domestic abuse as one of its top priorities and the law has moved forward exponentially in recent years in an attempt to tackle the issue.
In March 2014 the government began to implement its domestic violence disclosure scheme after a number of successful pilots within Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire and West Mercia police force areas. The scheme consists of two concepts: the right to ask and the right to know. Currently anyone can contact their local police force and ask them to check the Police National Computer for any historic issues of domestic abuse. The police will then disclose information where it is legal to do so and necessary to protect the person asking for it.
Other developments include a new criminal offence which was created last year under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. The new law covers cases where abuse isn’t necessarily physical but coercive and controlling in nature. It protects people by criminalising the use of controlling or coercive behaviour that makes the other person fear violence will be used against them and/or causes them serious distress or alarm that affects their day-to-day activities. The Crown Prosecution Service, the public body responsible for criminal prosecutions, has stated that it intends to pursue abusers that control their partners by dictating what they wear, monitor their use of social media or prevent their partner from socialising with friends and family.
A promising case was heard by the Court of Appeal this week may change the way in which domestic violence is treated by the family law system. The case was brought by the charity Rights of Women who were disputing legal aid rules which require victims of domestic abuse to produce evidence of abuse which is less than 24 months old. The charity made the case that up to 40% of victims would be unable to present such evidence and therefore an injustice would be done. Campaigners also claimed that the rules exclude the victims of spousal financial abuse. The court held that current guidelines are ‘invalid’ and the Ministry of Justice has stated they will “carefully consider” the rulings.
The recent changes in the law may go some way in tackling the issue but this is cold comfort to those currently trapped in the grip of an abusive relationship. The hardest hurdle to overcome is to talk about it, something that mustn’t be overlooked. Vulnerable victims are imprisoned in their own homes, monitored and controlled by someone who is supposed to love and care for them. Imagine someone with no finances of their own, they are told what to wear, where to go and to whom they may speak, they are threatened with violence for the slightest infringement of a warped moral code. It takes a degree of unfathomable courage to overcome these seemingly insuperable barriers and many victims remain in the dark out of fear of reprisal or being disbelieved.
Grayfords provides confidential legal support to victims of domestic abuse. One of our caring solicitors can let you know what your rights and options are whilst providing the utmost degree of support, sensitivity and confidentiality. Call 0800 222 9500 8am to 8pm for a free initial consultation.
by Lewis Sweeney
This article was written by Lewis Sweeney, a guest blogger of Grayfords.
Lewis is a law student who studies at the University of Westminster.
He is in the process of completing his LLB and has aspirations of becoming a barrister.