Domestic abuse accounts for 16% of all violent crime, yet it is the least likely to be reported. Although domestic abuse is more common in women (1 in 4), it will also affect 1 in 6 men in their lifetime.
Over the past 2½ years, listeners of the popular BBC Radio 4 programme, have been drip fed examples of Rob Titchener’s emotional abuse directed at his wife, Helen. They have avoided the standard depiction of domestic abuse which typically involves physical violence. The story focused on Rob’s systematic undermining of her personality. The climax to the harrowing storyline hit recently and saw a pregnant Helen trying to leave her husband. A violent scuffle ensues and Helen ends up stabbing Rob to death.
This story is the reality for many. What can the law do to protect victims of domestic abuse and prevent victims feeling powerless other than to respond with violence?
It’s important to recognise that abuse comes in many forms, it’s not just the obvious physical violence; it includes emotional, financial and psychological abuse.
The police should always be the first line of defence where there is domestic abuse within a relationship. They have the ability to prosecute aggressors and impose Restraining Orders as well as punish the aggressor with imprisonment, fines and community orders. The police can also continue to prosecute in cases where the victim has withdrawn their support.
In some cases, the strong burden of proof required for criminal cases may preclude the police from being able to initiate criminal proceedings. In those circumstances, victims can obtain civil protection by way of Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders, through the courts.
A Non-Molestation Order is used to prevent a victim from suffering further violence, threats of violence, harassment, intimidation and pestering.
An Occupation Order is used to regulate the occupation of a certain property and/or to exclude the aggressor from going near to the property. If there is a history of physical violence, the Court also has a duty to attach a Power of Arrest to the Order.
Although the availability of public funding has been severely reduced within family law, victims of domestic abuse are still eligible, depending on financial circumstances.
The Archers storyline has had a positive effect in terms of raising awareness of domestic abuse. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline increased by 20% from February 2015 to February 2016. Charitable donations have also increased considerably with one listener setting up a JustGiving page named after Helen Titchener with funds going to the charity Refuge.
Victims often suffer in silence. However, if the Archers storyline helps one listener find the courage to instruct a solicitor or access other forms of help, then the airing of such a difficult topic has been worthwhile.
Jolene Hutchison, Partner and Head of Family & Divorce Department, has assisted victims of domestic abuse for 13 years. If you’d like to speak in confidence to Jolene, you can call her on 01494 478603 or 07766 013352, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you, or anybody you know, needs help relating to domestic abuse call the 24hr free phone National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on 0808 2000 247 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.