Domestic abuse – what can I do?
A lot of recent media attention has been focused on the subject on domestic abuse. This is a result of the Government’s mission to tackle domestic abuse and to offer people further protection.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological and financial abuse, together with coercive or controlling behaviours.
If you are experiencing any of the above patterns of behaviour, it is essential that you get the right help. Initially, this may involve obtaining support from a local domestic abuse charity. Examples include:
- Women’s Aid
- National Centre for Domestic Violence
- Men’s advice line
In cases where the domestic abuse is putting you at risk of immediate harm, you should contact the police in the first instance, particularly if you need to get out of an emergency situation. The police have some powers which they can use to protect you, such as arresting the perpetrator and taking you to a safe place.
The police can also arrange for a Domestic Violence Protection Order to be put in place which can prevent the perpetrator from returning to the family home, or from contacting you, for 28 days. Perpetrators of physical violence may also be charged with a criminal offence, such as assault or battery.
Obtaining an Injunction
Whilst the police can play a crucial role in protecting you in an emergency, their powers are somewhat limited. In most circumstances, the police have to take a reactive approach to domestic abuse, rather than a proactive approach. This is not always suitable in cases with a long history of consistent, serious abuse. In these cases, it may fall upon family lawyers to help put in place more preventative remedies. These include the following:
- Non-molestation orders – prevents a perpetrator from using or threatening violence, intimidating, harassing or pestering you. The length of such order is at the discretion of the court, but they are usually in place anywhere between 3 and 12 months. If a non-molestation order is breached, the police can be called as they have the power to arrest the perpetrator.
- Occupation orders – regulates who is permitted to live in the family home and can involve the perpetrator being prevented from returning to the house.
Both of the above injunctions can also restrict a perpetrator from coming within a certain distance from your house, place of work, children’s school etc., depending on the circumstances.
What happens in an emergency?
In some circumstances, it is not always appropriate to inform a perpetrator that someone is applying for an injunction against them. This may apply in situations where to do so would put the applicant at risk of further abuse, or might cause the perpetrator to deter or prevent the applicant from proceeding with their application. There may also be circumstances where a victim will be at risk of significant harm if an injunction is not granted immediately (e.g. if there has been a recent attempt or threat to someone’s life or health).
In cases such as this, an application for an injunction can be made without notice. In this case, the Respondent would not be told about the proceedings until the application has been considered by the court. Because the Respondent is not present at that hearing, the court may only make short term orders or potentially no order at that stage (if, for example, they felt they did not know enough to make an order without hearing from the Respondent first). The long term arrangements would then be considered at a second hearing, where the Respondent could attend and have their say.
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