Family solicitor Eleanor Slater answers some of the most frequent questions we are asked about domestic abuse.
What is domestic abuse?
There are many types of domestic abuse, some overlap, and it is usual for people who are suffering one form of abuse to suffer others as well.
Physical abuse is where you are physically harmed by the perpetrator, be that by punching, spitting, strangling and kicking you, or items being thrown at you. It can also include physical abuse on other family members and pets, to intimidate you.
Emotional/Psychological abuse is more difficult to define as it is not as clear cut. This will usually be through verbal abuse such as name calling, threats of harm or to cause you distress such as taking the children or causing a dip in your self-esteem. It also includes excessive contact, trying to turn your friends and family against you and persuading you to doubt your own sanity.
Coercive control. This covers a pattern of controlling behaviour to make you conform to their will. This includes controlling your appearance, what you wear and where you go, isolating you from friends and family so that they are all you have left, and usually also includes emotional/psychological abuse. This is all about the perpetrator being able to control you and manipulate you to their will.
Financial Abuse. This covers control through finances, it can be by not allowing you to work and keeping a tight hold of the money in the relationship, to prevent you from doing anything that they do not want you to, or from leaving them. It can also be by taking your wages or benefits from you when you receive them or monitoring your spending closely. The perpetrator may also run up huge bills for you to pay. Some perpetrators also use the family courts in relation to the children, so that you are forced to run up legal fees.
Sexual Abuse: This covers harassment or pressuring you, forcing sexual acts after physical assaults, rape and using sexually degrading language.
Recently there has been a rise in digital and social media abuse which would also be a form of domestic abuse. This includes stalking you on social media, putting false or malicious details on social media about you, and revenge porn.
Should I write down what is happening? Or log it in some way?
Absolutely, everything should be logged in some way, whether that is through an app which is hidden on your phone, your notes tab or a physical diary/notepad. If you do not want to keep it on you, then if you have a trusted friend, you could always send messages to them for them to keep for you. It can be difficult when you make the decision to get protection and at that point it is usually after a significant period of time during which you have suffered. Given this, you may forget some incidents which would be important for the Court or any support agencies that you access. A lot of the time with coercive control or emotional abuse, there are a lot of small incidents which taken individually may not be deemed to be an issue but when put together, show a pattern of behaviour which is abusive.
Who can I call to report it and what exactly will happen?
You should always report domestic abuse to the police, even if at that point, it is only to log it. The police are a first response team who will be able to assist you 24/7 and have the power to arrest the perpetrator, remove him or her from the property, or even just speak to them about their behaviour towards you.
You should also look at accessing support in your area as they can assist you moving forward.
If you require protection through the courts, then you should also contact a solicitor to discuss obtaining an injunction. The solicitor will be able to assess you for legal aid and advise you of the merits of an injunction.
I don’t think anyone will believe me if I say anything
Most people believe that if there isn’t a bruise, then you won’t be able to prove that there is abuse. This is not the case; over the past few years, coercive control and the emotional impact of verbal abuse has been highlighted by support agencies and in the Courts. Professionals who deal with domestic abuse are trained in all types of abuse and understand the effects of emotional and psychological harm, which often take longer to heal than physical injuries.
This is where the log of events will also be useful as it shows the patterns of behaviour.
If you are seeking an injunction, it will be for the Court to consider if you need protection in place. The terms of the order are usually things that the perpetrator shouldn’t be doing in any event, such as contacting you when you do not want them to or coming near your home.
I can’t afford legal help so am I trapped?
No, if you are not eligible for legal aid, and aren’t able to pay solicitors’ fees then you can make the application to the Court yourself. The Court staff are able to assist in providing you with the correct forms to fill in and the Judge will speak to you directly about your application and consider whether you need protection in place or not. They will also provide the papers to the respondent for you and manage the case effectively and with care around the issues being raised by you.