Our Family team speak with clients on a daily basis who have experienced or are currently experiencing various forms of domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse does not discriminate on grounds of gender, age, ethnicity or economic status. It can happen against anyone, and anyone can be an abuser. Yet it remains a sad truth that women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to have experienced sustained physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or violence which results in injury or death.
To coincide White Ribbon Day 2021 – a campaign which seeks to end male violence against women – this article considers domestic abuse in all of its forms and provides information on some of the support and legal options which are available to anyone who may need them.
What is domestic abuse?
There is still a preconceived notion that abuse only occurs in a relationship when one person physically attacks the other. This is not the case.
Certainly, the term domestic abuse can encompass physical violence; however, it also includes coercive control, gaslighting, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. In all cases, it is about the abuser having power and control over their victim.
It is also important to remember that, whilst domestic abuse is often thought of in terms of abuse within couple relationships, it can also occur between family members.
Very sadly, there still a stigma associated with being a victim of domestic abuse and victims will often feel ashamed or in fear of judgment if they speak out and ask for help, particularly if they have been isolated from their support network. Some will feel embarrassed for not spotting the “red flags” in their own relationship or confused by their part in the abuse, having been told repeatedly by their abuser that they are to blame for what happened or that they imagined the whole thing. Domestic abuse is never the fault of the victim.
There are many organisations that can provide confidential help and guidance regarding any concerns you may have for your own safety, or that of a loved one. We have provided details of some of these at the end of this article.
The “epidemic within the pandemic”
Although there is limited official data so far on the impact of the pandemic on domestic abuse, there can be little doubt that the lockdown measures, which resulted in many women being isolated and confined with their perpetrators, increased exposure to violence and abuse. The massive increase in appeals for help from those suffering domestic abuse during this period exposed the scale of the problem.
Between April 2020 and February 2021, Refuge recorded an average of 13,162 calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline every month; an increase of more than 60% on the average number of monthly contacts at the start of 2020. 72% of these were from women who said they were experiencing violence and abuse, and nearly a fifth said their abuser had threatened to kill them.
In evidence to the Justice Committee, Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said the experience of other countries such as China and France meant it had been “obvious” that domestic abuse was going to be an “epidemic within the pandemic.”
Government support and national initiatives
Since April 2020 the Government have pledged more than £85 million emergency funding to support vulnerable people, fund safe accommodation and bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support.
The Government also launched a public awareness campaign, #YouAreNotAlone, which aimed to reassure victims of domestic abuse that police and specialist services remained open during the pandemic.
In January 2021, shortly after England entered its third lockdown, the Government announced it had partnered with UK pharmacies to launch the ‘Ask for ANI scheme’ (Action Needed Immediately) to help victims. Participating pharmacies are supposed to display posters or other visible material to show that they have trained staff available. If you approach a member of staff and ask for ANI, that staff member will assist you into a private consultation room and help you with your next steps, whether that be contacting the police or accessing support through a domestic abuse organisation.
In April 2021, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 came into force, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse for the long-term. Speaking about the new legislation, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "Our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill will bolster the response to domestic abuse on every level, strengthening protections for victims whilst also ensuring perpetrators feel the full force of the law." Writing in The Sun, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, warned that “legislation won’t change things overnight, but it paves the way for a new beginning.”
Any incident of domestic abuse should be reported to the police so that it can be fully investigated. However, the majority of abuse goes unreported with many victims living in fear of the repercussions if they do so.
If a victim is too afraid to contact the police, there are a number of remedies available in the civil and family courts which can afford protection without resorting to criminal proceedings. In some cases, a Non-Molestation Orders and/or an Occupation Order may be appropriate.
- A Non-Molestation Order prohibits a perpetrator from contacting a victim by any means. If such an Order is breached it is a criminal offence.
- An Occupation Order defines/regulates the rights of occupation of the home, which is often shared with a perpetrator.
If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, support and advice please do not hesitate to contact our Family Team on (0191) 384 2441 for a confidential discussion. All members of our team are experienced in dealing with high conflict cases and are committed to providing advice which is pragmatic, non-judgmental and tailored specifically to the needs of the individual client.
Further information and support can also be found on the following websites:-
- Standing Together
- The National Domestic Violence Helpline
- Women’s Aid
- The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (commonly known as Clare’s Law) which allows anyone who has concerns about a partner or anyone who is worried about a family member to ask the police if their partner has a history of domestic abuse.
If you are worried that someone might see you have visited these websites, the Women’s Aid website provides details on how to cover your tracks online.