Is Domestic Violence Finally being Taken Seriously?
If you or a family member is in immediate danger, please call 999. Further support can be found at http://www.refuge.org.uk/ or by phoning the free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
In the 2017 Queen’s Speech, the British government announced a draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, committing to bring in legislation to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse.
Domestic violence is the scourge of every society. There is a prevailing myth that it is a problem of the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither money, social position or fame can protect victims of an abuser.
- The abuse Tina Turner suffered at the hands of Ike Turner is well-known. Turner’s ex-husband nearly killed her on more than one occasion by brutally beating her repeatedly and forcing sex on her.
- Actress Amber Heard obtained a temporary restraining order against her former husband, Johnny Depp, alleging her Oscar-nominated husband assaulted her after a drunken argument in their LA apartment. Her filing said Depp, “began obsessing over something that wasn’t true” and “became extremely angry”, throwing a phone at Heard, striking her cheek and eye “with extreme force”.
- In 2013, Nigella Lawson was photographed being grabbed by the throat by her then-husband, Charles Saatchi, at Scott’s Restaurant in Mayfair. A bitter divorce followed.
In addition, around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse. Those who witnessed domestic abuse as a child are more likely to experience domestic abuse as an adult.
Why don’t you just leave?
Wealthy women (and men in an increasing number of cases) are sometimes subject to harsh judgement following allegations of domestic violence; “They have money, why didn’t they leave?”
But it is not that simple. Domestic violence is almost always coupled with controlling behaviour, designed to isolate the victim from friends and family. Many women have no access to money, despite their apparent wealth. And lifestyle plays a huge factor. Often there are school fees to pay; and as any parent knows, ripping a child out of a school they love, be it state or private, is a heart-wrenching decision, and not one that is made lightly.
There is strong protection available for domestic violence victims, including the ability of victims to obtain:
- A Non-Molestation Order - designed to protect you from actual or threatened physical violence from your abuser. Your abuser will also be banned from stalking or pestering you. The protection offered by a Non-Molestation Order against domestic violence can be extended to your children.
- An Occupation Order – provides you the right to occupy the property you shared with your abuser and restrict or prevent your abuser from entering the home.
In addition, a new law introduced in 2015 made it a criminal offence to subject someone who you are in an intimate relationship with to controlling or coercive behaviour.
However, although there are laws and court orders available to protect victims of domestic violence, those subject to abuse, thanks to their self-esteem being crushed and having been isolated from friends and family, lack the support needed to get help.
This is something the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill aims to address.
Features of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill
Briefing notes produced by the Government on the announcements in the Queen's Speech state that the purpose of the Bill is to, "transform our approach to domestic violence and abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state and justice system will do everything it can to both support them and their children, and pursue their abuser."
The main measures of the Bill are to:
- to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse
- to give the justice system greater guidance and clarity about the devastating impact of domestic violence and abuse on families
The draft measures will bring forward proposals to:
- establish a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities, and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse
- define domestic abuse in law to underpin all other measures in the Bill
- create a consolidated new domestic abuse civil prevention and protection order regime
- ensure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, then the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child
Will the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill make a difference to victims?
The 2015/16 Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates 7.7% of women and 4.4% of men reported having experienced any type of domestic abuse in the last year. This is the lowest level since the survey began. Undoubtedly, this is positive news. Unfortunately, official figures can only be gleaned from cases of domestic violence which are reported to the police. And it is common knowledge that a significant amount of physical, emotional and sexual abuse within families goes unreported.
Establishing support for victims is essential. You cannot leave your abuser if you have nowhere to go. The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill goes some way to address this need, but more needs to be done in the form of education and awareness to ensure victims feel it is safe to escape their situation. In addition, everyone in the community, regardless of socio-economic status, faith and race must get behind the message that domestic violence is never OK.
It is only through a cultural shift in our attitudes to domestic violence and abuse, will we see real change.
Rosie Bracher is specialist family law solicitors based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on all matters involving children and family law. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team.