Physical and Emotional Abuse – You Can Escape | Family

September 23 , 2014
September 23 , 2014

Physical and Emotional Abuse – You Can Escape | Family

Physical and Emotional Abuse – You Can Escape | Family

If a man or a woman told you what to eat, criticised your appearance and the people in your life, and then punched you in the face on the first date, you would probably refuse to see them again.

And hopefully, you would contact the police to prevent this person doing something similar to another individual.

For this reason, the true character of physically and emotionally abusive people tends to emerge slowly, often months or sometimes years after an intimate relationship has begun.  If they showed their coercive and controlling characteristics at the start of a relationship, few people would grant them a second chance.

The comments we hear most often when clients come into our offices seeking to protect themselves and their children from an abusive partner is, “He/she was so charming in the beginning, almost too good to be true”.  However, clients often confess that they soon began to notice something was wrong with their relationship, but the signs were so subtle, and the emotional and physical violence developed so slowly, they did not realise they were in an abusive relationship until it was too late.

Last year a client, who I shall call Amy* came into my office, desperately seeking a non-molestation order along with an occupational order against her husband of less than two years. This is Amy’s story in her own words:

“He literally swept me off my feet. He was a smart, funny, well-educated professional guy, and I never thought in a million years that he would turn out to be controlling, insanely jealous and occasionally violent.. In hindsight, there were subtle clues of his temperament before we got married but I was bowled over by his affection and did not heed these warning signs.

It started with him telling me he did not like some of my friends so slowly I moved away from them. Then it moved onto us arguing about what I wore and where I would go out with my friends, so I stopped going out unless I was with him. One time he locked me in a room, verbally abused me all night and hit me because I had said I was going out and he told me if I went out, he would divorce me and start dating our neighbour who was an attractive, single lady. Lots of other incidents happened; once we went out for dinner and he screamed at me afterwards because a waiter had spoken to me. Another time, I accidentally spilt some drink in his car and he slapped me around the face. In another incident, we had returned from a friend’s barbecue and he grabbed me around the throat because I said I had a good time. He had turned into a monster and left me emotionally and physically scarred. It was so bad that whenever he moved I would flinch because I was so terrified.

It was horrible and my family urged me to leave him several times but I made excuses for him. I left him a few times but then went back again. He would always end up apologising to me for acting unreasonably and saying he would change. For some reason I believed him and always forgave him. But, I became a shell of my former, happy-go-lucky, confident self.

Within a year of being married, I had lost my friends, my confidence and my enjoyment of life. I was in a dark place and felt like I could not trust anyone anymore. I blamed myself and thought others would judge me. Even my work colleagues had noticed I was not myself. I was depressed and lonely and I knew something had to change if I wanted to be happy again. He was the one with the problem, not me. It took me a long time to decide, but one day I found the courage to leave him for good. I told him in a public place so I could escape from him if he tried to do anything. He told me if I was leaving him for another man he would find him and kill him, and then he would kill me too. There was no other man – he just could not accept that I wanted to be as far away from him as possible. I was terrified but I took a leap of faith – I was tired of being scared all the time and just wanted him out of my life.

Now, I am finally back to my old self again although with many scars and some terrible experiences. Standing up to him with professional help from Saracens was the best thing I ever did.”

Domestic violence, whether physical or psychological, affects both men and women, young and old, rich and poor.  This post is designed to inform you of the law surrounding domestic violence, the recent proposal to criminalise emotional abuse, and the steps you can take to protect yourself and your children.

If you are in immediate physical danger please phone the police by dialling 999.

You Are Not Alone

One of the main weapons an abuser employs at the start of their reign of terror is isolation.  It is difficult to abuse someone mentally or physically if they have family and friends who can see what is going on.  It is therefore easy for a victim to feel that they are alone, and the only ones foolish enough to find themselves in this sort of situation.

However, this is far from the truth.  Data collected by interviews conducted in the year 2000, provides one of the most accurate sources of information on the extent of domestic violence in the United Kingdom.  The Home Office Research Study 276, Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, by Sylvia Walby and Jonathan Allen,  states that in the year 2000 there were 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence against women and 2.5 million against men in England and Wales.

Although these figures are 14 years old, this report captured incidences of reoccurring abuse which many modern statistics fail to do.

Astonishingly, the report also found that 64% of women and 94% of the men who had been subjected to an act of domestic violence stated they did not believe the act committed against them amounted to a criminal offence.

Violence, intimidation, stalking, threatening and harassment are criminal offences, and you have the right to protect yourself from this type of abuse.

Even more concerning, one third of women and two thirds of men who had suffered from domestic abuse had not reported even the worst incident they had suffered at the hands of their abuser to the police.

Silence enables abusers; this is one of the reasons they work so hard to isolate their victims and destroy their sense of self-worth with threats and criticism.  However, the longer you delay taking action the more control your perpetrator will gain over you. If there are children involved who are witnessing the cycle of violence and abuse, their psychological as well as physical safety are being put at risk every day you delay taking action to protect yourself.

Steps to Take to Protect Yourself and Your Children

To protect yourself and your children from an abusive partner you can apply to the court for a non-molestation order and an occupation order.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

Non-molestation orders

A non-molestation order is a court order which makes it a criminal offence for an abuser to inflict or threaten violence, harass, intimidate or pester his or her victim or any relevant children.  In order to obtain a non-molestation order, your abuser must be an ‘associated person’.  An associated person is defined under s 62(3) of the Family Law Act 1996 as:

  • Partners and former partners
  • Family relations (including in-laws)
  • People who have lived together
  • People who have children together

Non-molestation orders are usually granted for a period of 6-12 months, but the period can be longer if required.  If the abuser breaches the order he or she can be fined, imprisoned (for up to five years) or both.

Occupational Orders

An occupational order is an order granted by the court which states who may live in, or visit, the family home.  Under s 33 of the Family Law Act 1996 the court can take a two-pronged approach, via section 33(6) or 33(7) when deciding whether or not to grant an occupational order.  In the case of Chalmers v John [1999], Lord Justice Thorpe stated that the first question the court had to ask itself when considering an application was, “Is the applicant (or any relevant child) likely to suffer significant harm attributable to the conduct of the respondent if an order is not made?” If the answer is yes then the court can move onto applying the ‘balance of harm’ test under s 33(7).  This test requires the court to balance the harm caused to the applicant, the respondent and any relevant children if the occupational order were or were not to be made.  In simple terms this means that if the harm caused to the applicant and any relevant children by not granting the order is greater than the harm caused to the respondent and any relevant children by granting the order, then the court must grant an occupational order to the applicant.

Even if the applicant fails to gain an occupational order under the balance of harm test, the court can still grant the order by considering certain core criteria if the applicant is entitled to occupy the property (i.e.: they own the property jointly with the respondent). The core criteria the court will consider includes:

  • The housing needs and financial resources of each party and any relevant children
  • The effect of the order on each party’s health and wellbeing
  • The relationship between and the conduct of each party

An occupational order can be granted for any length of time if the applicant has a legal right to occupy the house.  However, if the order is granted but the applicant has no legal right to occupy the house (their name is not on any deeds, etc) then the order can only be granted for six months, however, this can be extended at the end of the period.

Recent Discussions on Criminalising Emotional Abuse

Domestic violence is not just physical. In fact, some of the deepest scars can come from what is known as emotional abuse or ‘coercive control’.

Examples of coercive control include:

  • Monitoring a person’s movements
  • Refusing to allow a person access to a vehicle
  • Not allowing a person freedom of communication or association
  • Calling a person names, criticising or belittling them, threatening them or their loved ones, and/or using intimidation tactics
  • Controlling access to finances

It was reported last month, that the Home Secretary, Teresa May, is in consultation with police and various other organisations, with a view to strengthening the existing law by extending the definition of domestic violence to cover coercive and controlling behaviour as well as physical harm.  The Home Secretary has sought to widen the scope of the law after a report published in May of this year found that only 8 out of 43 police forces responded well to incidents of domestic violence.

Currently, legislation that covers stalking and harassment make coercive and controlling behaviour an offence, but there are no provisions making emotional abuse a crime in intimate relationships.  Bringing about this change in the law may result in a fall in the number of cases of physical abuse as study after study shows that a majority of physical abusers in domestic relationships begin coercing and controlling their partner’s behaviour long before the first blow is struck.  If victims have the confidence and legal ability to protect themselves before any physical violence begins, many lives may be saved.

If you and your children are experiencing physical or emotional abuse then please know that help is available and you have the right to live without abuse.  You can find out more information here or simply phone us on 020 3588 3500 to talk to our family department in the strictest confidence.

If you have any thoughts on this article then please feel free to comment below.  Your story may help others.

*Not her real name


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