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The charity Refuge has reported that the National Domestic Abuse hotline has experienced a 25% increase in calls and online enquiries since the COVID-19 lockdown started.
Everyone has been told to leave their home only to buy essentials, such as food or medicine, or to exercise. Many workers are being furloughed and many of those that are still working are doing so from home. Visits from friends of the family who live in other households are not allowed. All of these measures place victims of domestic abuse, and their children, at heightened risk as they find themselves isolated and trapped in their home with their abuser.
Women’s Aid defines Domestic Abuse as ‘an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.’ Domestic abuse is unacceptable in any circumstances and there is help out there if you need it. So what should you do if you’re experiencing Domestic Abuse?
Firstly, call the police. They have the power to arrest the perpetrator and remove them from your home. What do you do if you are worried about your abuser overhearing your call? It is not true that the police will respond to a silent 999 call. After you call 999, press 55 when you are prompted to inform the police that it is a genuine emergency. This alerts the call handler that you need help and the police will respond.
The police may take criminal action against your abuser. They may also support you in obtaining a Restraining Order, which is an order from the criminal court that provides you with protection from the perpetrator.
The police will often advise you to see a solicitor and take legal advice about obtaining a civil injunction. There are two types of orders that can be made in the family court:-
Non-molestation Orders – These prohibit the respondent from harassing, intimidating, pestering or using violence against you. If a respondent breaches the non-molestation order it is a criminal offence and the police will arrest the abuser. Non-Molestation orders are sometimes used when a person wants to, or has to, continue to live with their abuser.
Occupation Orders – The court can make an order requiring your abuser to leave the home and not return, or to stay away from your home, or to allow you back into the home if you have been locked out. It can also be used to restrict movement within the home, for example, to prevent your abuser from coming into your bedroom.
Both of these orders can be applied for without notice to your abuser, which means that your abuser will only find out about your application once the Judge has considered whether you need emergency protection.
When deciding whether to make an order that requires a person to leave their home, a Judge must consider where they will go and whether the action is proportionate. This is made more difficult when hotels are shut and households are being asked not to mix, so there may need to be some creative thinking around living arrangements. A Judge may still find it reasonable for a respondent to be expected to move in with family members if it is necessary to protect an applicant’s safety.
There is also a network of refuges in the UK which are generally set up to house women, and sometimes children, who need to flee domestic abuse. These refuges are remaining open where possible. That said, it may be preferable for the abuser to be the one to leave the house if possible, especially where there are children of the family who would benefit from the stability of remaining in the family home at this unsettling time.
There are national and local services that can provide you with support and advice if you a victim of domestic abuse:-
Refuge – https://www.refuge.org.uk/
Women’s Aid – https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247
Rise – https://www.riseuk.org.uk/
Safe in Sussex – https://www.safeinsussex.co.uk/
This blog was originally written by Lauren Guy. For a confidential consultation with a member of our specialist family law team please contact us.