Nobody should have to live with domestic abuse. The abuse can be physical, sexual, financial, psychological, or emotional. It is mainly carried out by men towards women, but also happens in same-sex relationships, and by women towards men. If you are afraid of your partner, or feel that your partner is controlling you, then you may be suffering domestic abuse. Many victims of abuse have low self esteem as a result, and may (wrongly) believe they are to blame for the abuse they suffer.
The organisation, Refuge, cites the terrifying statistic that two women each week in the UK die as a result of domestic violence. More information is available on the website at www.refuge.co.uk, and the organisation operates a 24-hour helpline for those affected, on 0808 2000 247.
Rights of Women is another useful organisation, which offers free legal advice for women affected by abuse in the home, as well as advice about a host of other issues. It can be found at www.rightsofwomen.org.uk, and provides free downloadable advice sheets.
Both civil and criminal law offers protection to those suffering domestic abuse. The law is complex, and sufferers are best to seek legal advice. It is possible to obtain free and confidential legal advice from law centres and various other legal advice providers. For those living on benefits or a low income, legal aid may be available.
In emergencies, the police can offer immediate assistance, and can arrest the abusive partner for minor assaults or causing fear as well as more serious physical violence. They can, for example, make an arrest if the abuser has made threats with a knife or punched a wall.
One of the advantages of calling the police is that the incident will be recorded, and kept on report. This could be useful should there be future abusive incidents.
If the abuser is arrested, then they may be made subject to bail conditions, such as not to contact the person who has been abused.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which prosecutes crime in England and Wales, takes domestic abuse very seriously and has a positive prosecution policy on it. That means the person who complains of domestic violence cannot necessarily withdraw the charges at a later stage.
A court can issue an injunction against the abusive partner. This is a court order compelling the partner not to do something, for example, not to come within a mile of the abused person’s house or to contact them or their children.
Another option is for a court to issue a non-molestation order, which protects the victim and their children from violence and harassment. It is not necessary for there to have been physical violence, and intimidation or pestering is enough. A non-molestation order can be applied for even where the abused partner continues to live with the abusive partner.
It is a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order, and the maximum penalty is five years in prison.
An occupation order is another option for the court. This can be used where the partners continue to live together. Using this option, the court can, for example, order the abuser to move out of the home and stay away; order the abuser to keep a certain distance from the home; order the abuser to stay in certain parts of the home at certain times; order the abuser to let the abused partner back into the home; and order the abusive partner to pay the rent, bills or mortgage.
A ‘power of arrest’ can be attached to the occupation order, which means the police can arrest the partner if they breach the conditions. With or without this, however, it is possible to have the abusive partner arrested and punished.
It is a criminal offence to harass someone or make them fear that violence will be used against them. It is possible to have a court place a restraining order against the person and claim compensation from them. This is often used for stalking offences, and is available under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Domestic abuse is serious, and should not be suffered in silence. Even where a victim’s situation may seem desperate, there is always help on offer and it will be possible to find a way through. Domestic violence organisations advise that abuse usually gets worse, and can escalate quite quickly. It is therefore advisable to seek help as quickly as possible.
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