Tackling domestic abuse in the 21st century
Domestic abuse, domestic violence, spousal abuse … these are all different terms to describe the same thing; one person trying to gain and maintain total control over another. Domestic abuse of any nature can happen to anyone. Unfortunately the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical.
Domestic abuse is not new to society. Throughout England’s history it is well documented that a husband was allowed to beat his wife, provided the diameter of the stick used was no wider than his thumb. This is where the phrase “rule of thumb” originates from. It was not until 1976 that legislation was finally made to try and tackle the problem of domestic abuse in the form of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act.
Unfortunately the problem still continues in today’s modern society. The British Crime Survey Statistical Bulletin published in January 2012 estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime. Quite often victims of abuse are reluctant to seek professional help for a number of reasons. Many feel they will simply not be believed by the authorities, whilst those who have suffered for a number of years believe that somehow it is their fault and they deserve the abuse.
The Spring 2017 budget referred to this issue. Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that a further sum of £20 million will be made available to support organisations working to combat domestic violence and abuse or supporting victims. This increases the total funding for implementing the government’s Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy to £100 million by the end of Parliament. On the new domestic violence fund, the Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“Tackling domestic violence and abuse is a key priority for this government. I attach a personal importance to this issue, through my time as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister. Our work in government has the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse. There are currently thousands of people across Britain who are reading this right now and who suffer at the hands of abusers. I know they feel isolated and do not know where to turn for help. Raising awareness as well as strengthening the law will prove crucial in the fight against this life shattering and abhorrent crime.”
Not all domestic abuse causes physical injury and it is important for people to try and recognise the signs in their relationship that all may not be well. The most telling sign is if a person is starting to or is living in fear of their partner. Spending every day feeling as if they have to walk on eggshells or constantly having to carefully watch what they say or do around their partner in order to avoid an argument, are all crucial signs that something is not right.
There are a number of legal options which a person can take to remove themselves or their partner from the situation. For anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse or is concerned their relationship may deteriorate to this, it is important to seek support from friends and professionals alike. It is important to take independent legal advice as soon as possible so all options can be explained in detail and the right option chosen for each particular situation. At Barker Gotelee in most circumstances we are able to offer a free and confidential consultation in a safe environment to discuss all the options available.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.