We all know the term “domestic abuse”. However, do we know what it means or who it is really happening to? Domestic abuse is, unfortunately, taking place all around us and yet very few of us will be aware of it happening to our friends or family as it usually occurs behind closed doors. For many divorce solicitors, this therefore means that some of our clients will be victims of domestic violence but may not openly speak about it.
The statistics on domestic abuse are shocking. According to Refuge 1 in 4 women in England and Wales experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. 1 in 6 men experience it in their lifetime. Every minute, police in the UK receive a domestic abuse call. On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police. 20% of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse. These are horrifying figures.
When researching the statistics to support this piece, we also looked to our own data and experiences of our clients. Of the group of Family Law clients who completed our unique client questionnaire, 29% reported that domestic abuse had been a feature in their relationship. Troublingly, of this group, over a third were still living with their spouse. As family lawyers, we are always aware that there can be hidden issues behind the breakdown of a relationship, however these figures have shocked us perhaps more than the national statistics, as these are individuals we have met…families we have acted for and supported.
The Government defines domestic abuse as:
Any incident 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:
The term domestic abuse covers a wide range of behaviours and does not always mean that there is physical abuse. A large proportion of the cases I deal with have an element of domestic abuse within them. My clients are sometimes reluctant to discuss the abuse or address it. They simply want to leave the relationship and get out of the situation as quickly and easily as possible.
Domestic abuse is not confined to any one type of person, it can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, religion, race. The victims have often been isolated by the abuser with their links and access to friends and family being restricted. They describe living in the home with the abuser as ‘like walking on eggshells’ when they never know what behaviour will set the abuser off.
The person suffering from domestic abuse can feel embarrassed – how can an educated man or woman have found themselves in this situation? How can a man be under the control of a woman who is so much physically smaller than him? These are common feelings. It is also usual to feel that no one will believe that this apparently charming person could behave in this way behind closed doors.
Domestic abuse and divorce – taking the next steps
The idea of going to court to get an injunction to stop the abuser contacting the victim or forcing them to leave the house is a terrifying thought for most people experiencing domestic abuse. I can help a person experiencing domestic abuse to obtain these injunctions but it is not the right resolution for everyone. Often, even taking the step of speaking to a solicitor about their situation can be as much as they can manage at the time.
Often my clients need to build the confidence in themselves again before they can take the next step and leave their abusive partner. What I can do at a first meeting is talk through the options, let you know there are choices and perhaps most importantly, reassure you that all those threats you may have heard from your partner are untrue. Such as :
- If you leave you lose your rights to the house
- If you make me leave I won’t pay the mortgage and you won’t get to stay in the home
- You can go, but you can’t take the kids with you
- No one will believe you
- It’s your fault this is happening
These are threats that are regularly made towards my clients and with my knowledge of our legal system I am equipped to deal with them. There are answers and solutions that will protect you.. As an example; there are ways to ensure that your abuser continues to pay the mortgage. If you are compelled, for reasons of safety to leave your home I will ensure this does not mean losing your rights of ownership. I will ensure that your children’s needs will be my first priority and not be determined by the perpetrator who remains living in your home.
There is good support out there for you if you are experiencing domestic abuse. If you are thinking of leaving your abusive partner then make sure you access appropriate support alongside the advice I will provide as a family law specialist. Local services include:
SDAS – http://southerndas.org/
Worth – http://www.worthservices.org/
Freedom – http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/
If you are in an abusive relationship and want to know more about the support available to you if you leave or divorce your partner, contact me for a confidential, non-judgemental chat.
Confidential, supportive advice from our domestic abuse accredited specialist