Dealing with abusive relationships
Domestic abuse can come in many forms, which can all be equally terrifying. It can be emotional, psychological, physical, sexual or even financial.
The violence can also vary in duration, sometimes being fitful but in other cases regular. The abuse can be actual or threatened.
Any situation where a person harms another person with whom they have a relationship is classed as domestic violence. Men can be the victims of domestic violence just as well as women, and as well as children, elderly people are particularly vulnerable.
If you have been suffering domestic violence (or you know someone that has) then the worst thing you could do is to keep it a secret. Domestic violence is unacceptable and there are laws protecting you from it. You should start by perhaps confiding in friends, relatives, or colleagues, or any other sympathetic ear that you can find. This will help you rationalise your situation and evaluate the options you have. These options are to:
- try to stop the violent behaviour of the person harming you
- leave home (temporarily or permanently)
- try to get the person harming you to leave your home
- call the police
- take legal action.
It is advisable to seek advice from professional organisations on which option to take. Trying to avoid legal action may be difficult but may also be the most desirable option for those who do not want to inflict punishment upon their abuser. Individual circumstances can vary enormously and the advice here can only ever be generic.
If you have sustained injuries due to domestic violence, it is essential to get them treated and recorded, as the evidence will strengthen your case if you go to the courts.
If in the midst of a particularly violent incident where you feel your safety is at risk, you should call the police on 999 or 112 (use 112 when using a mobile so that they can trace your call). It is their obligation to protect you and ensure your safety, so they will make sure that you come to no harm and tell you about places where you can go to be safe, if necessary. The aggressor may also be arrested.
If you decide that it is best to flee your home then you will need safe accommodation. If you don’t have friends or relatives that you can safely stay with, the local authority can provide you with emergency accommodation, which is usually in the form of a bed and breakfast hostel. Women have the further option of lodging at a women’s refuge, where children can be also accommodated.
Make sure you take all your important documents (passport, bank details, children’s health records, etc) and that you have enough money and clothes to survive. If you feel you have to abandon your children to remain safe this does not affect your rights as a parent, but contact the police to ensure their safety, or a solicitor if you want to be reunited with them.
For reasons such as these it is best to plan your escape well in advance. However, in the most desperate of situations this may not always be possible.
After you have taken the necessary action to ensure you short-term safety you can turn to the law for longer-term protection. Family solicitors can help you through civil law, while the police can help you by means of criminal law.
Solicitors and Legal Action
If you want to keep your abuser away from you, or if you want to permanently separate from them in the case of an abusive marriage, then you can seek legal advice, preferably from an experienced family law solicitor. This is particularly important if there are children involved, as disputes over their custody are likely to ensue. When you meet with the solicitor it may also be prudent to take a friend a long for moral support if the experience has left you feeling emotionally frail. The solicitor should also be able to give compassionate advice on any other aspect of the abuse if necessary.
In domestic violence cases it is possible to qualify for legal aid without meeting the usual criteria, so make sure the solicitor checks whether you are eligible.
If you want to keep the abuser away from you, the solicitor can try writing a stern letter, but if this fails you may be able to take out an injunction (or court order) against the aggressor. This can be done by applying to the civil court – it is possible to do this independently, but you are on safer ground with an experienced solicitor in your corner.
Under the Family Law Act there are 2 types of injunction available, namely non-molestation order and occupation order.
A non-molestation order, as the name might suggest, is a means of precluding the abuser from hurting you, making threatening behaviour towards you and prohibiting any other sort of malicious behaviour, such as intimidation, harassment and pestering. It also prevents the abuser threatening through another person. A breach of a non-molestation order is now a criminal offence. You can also attach a power of arrest to an existing non-molestation order.
An occupation order governs who can live in a family home and can prevent an individual from entering your home and even bar them from the surrounding area. This might be suitable for somebody who can no longer tolerate living with their abusive partner but does not want to be forced out of their home. It is not a criminal offence to break an occupation order, but a power of arrest can be attached.
For the best advice on taking out an injunction, you should consult a specialist family solicitor. Feel free to use our free Find a Solicitor service to find an affordable family law expert in your area.
Note that to be eligible for an injunction you must be an ‘associated person’ of the offender, which means you are related in one of the following ways:
- married or in a civil partnership
- cohabitants, current or former
- parents of the same child (or people with parental responsibility for the same child)
- in an “intimate relationship of significant duration”, despite not living together
- you formally agreed to marry each other
- you are both involved in the same family proceedings (e.g. divorce or child contact).
Both types of injunction are usually imposed for a fixed period of time such as six months, but can be prolonged. No restriction exists on the length of time for which a non-molestation order can be extended, but occupation orders can only last for longer than 12 months if you have a legal right to stay in the home, for example as the owner, tenant or spouse of the owner or tenant.
If somebody has physically assaulted you then they have a committed a crime and can be arrested by the police. In doing so, they can protect you and your children from your violent partner or intimate companion.
A good first step is to call your local police station and ask to speak to the local community officer. They will help you decide what to do, advise you on how to stay safe for the time being or assist you if you wish to make a formal complaint against your abuser.
Alternatively, you can call to report the abuser if you are in more immediate danger.
After they are arrested, the police will conduct an investigation into the matter, with which they will require the help of the victim. It is then up to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide whether or not the offender should be sent to court. Subsequently to your reporting of the domestic violence, a community safety officer may visit you to ensure your safety and give further advice.
In cases where there is evidence of particularly violent or long-lasting abuse, the offender may be given a prison sentence. Alternatively they will be given a fine or told that they will be sent back to court if they behave abusively again. If the abusive person is given bail then protective orders can be issued, preventing them from approaching the home of the victim or trying to initiate contact with them or their children.
Those suffering from domestic violence may well benefit from counselling. The following services are available for those in need of a sympathetic ear:
If you are somebody who has fallen into abusing somebody and you feel you need help, there are a number of groups who may be able to come to your aid.
Share your experiences
Please note: The views expressed in community areas of this site do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Law on the Web, its owners, its staff or contributors.
Domestic abuse can destroy families and shatter the confidence of people who do not know why they have been singled out. There are many potential causes and reasons why a domestic relationship may become abusive.Find out more
Family law is the body of legislation which governs family life and people’s most important relationships and experiences. The majority of solicitor’s services in the area of family law are related to divorce and the breakdown of these personal relationships.Find out more
Domestic violence affects households all over the UK. As well as physical abuse the definition of domestic violence has been stretched to include “any form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse which takes place within the context of a close relationship”.Find out more