Domestic violence is controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, violence or abuse between people aged over 16. It doesn’t matter what your gender or sexuality is.
It includes the following types of abuse :
- emotional abuse.
Anyone can experience domestic violence – it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman.
Harassment, stalking, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honor-based abuse are also types of domestic violence and abuse.
If you’ve been affected
If you are the victim of an abusive relationship, you might want to:
- get help from a charity or another organisation
- report the violence to the police
- leave home temporarily or permanently
- stay in your home and get the person who is harming you to leave
- take legal action
Whatever you want to do, there are organisations that can give you advice and help.
Reporting the violence to the police
Many kinds of domestic abuse are criminal offences and the police can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator.
Most police stations have Domestic Violence Units or Community Safety Units with specially trained officers to deal with domestic violence and abuse.
If the police arrest and charge a perpetrator, they will decide whether to keep them in custody or release them on bail.
There will usually be conditions attached to their bail to protect you from further violence and abuse. Make sure you ask for your crime reference number which you may need if you contact other agencies for help.
The Crown Prosecution Service will make the final decision on whether a perpetrator is prosecuted. Find more informatin on the criminal prosecution service on the Women’s Aid website.
The police can also give you advice on crime prevention and getting something called a police marker on your address, so an officer can get to your home as quickly as possible.
Finding somewhere safe to stay
You may need somewhere safe to stay, either alone or with your children. You could:
- stay at home – if you think this is safe
- stay with relatives or friends
- stay in a refuge
- get emergency accommodation from the local authority under homeless persons law – this will usually mean a bed and breakfast hostel
- get privately rented accommodation.
Finding a refuge
Refuges provide somewhere safe for people and their children to stay and think about what to do next.
Staff at refuges are specialised in dealing with domestic violence, and so can give a lot of emotional and practical support, for example, advice on benefit claims, which solicitors to use and, if necessary, how to contact the police.
Helpline staff will do their best to find you somewhere safe to stay that night even if the local refuge is full. They are also happy to talk about any questions they have about refuges.
Going to the local authority or Housing Executive
Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. You will qualify for help if you are eligible for assistance, legally homeless or threatened with homelessness and not intentionally homeless. You must also be in priority need. The local authority may also investigate whether you have a local connection with the area.
You will normally be considered to be legally homeless if it is not reasonable for you to occupy your home because of the risk or fear of domestic violence.
Local authorities, or the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, should deal sympathetically with applications from people who are in fear of violence. You can ask for a private interview, with someone of the same sex, and can take a friend with you for support.
The local authority (Housing Executive in Northern Ireland) may have a duty to provide emergency accommodation for you while it decides whether you are legally homeless.
If it is outside of normal office hours, you should telephone the local authority’s emergency out-of-hours number for help with emergency housing.
Going to privately rented accommodation
If you decide to go into privately rented accommodation you will be unlikely to be able to arrange it quickly – but it could be an option if you have time to plan your departure.
Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders
If you have experienced or been threatened with domestic abuse, the police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice and then apply to the magistrates’ court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order can protect you from further abuse, and if you live with the perpetrator, ban them from returning to the home and contacting you. If the perpetrator does not keep to the Order, they can be arrested and brought before the court.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order lasts for up to 28 days and gives you time to explore your options and get further support.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
Under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, you can find out about a partner’s history of domestic violence from the police. The police will give you information if it is necessary to protect you. The police can also warn you about an individual if they think you are at risk of domestic violence.
Getting help from a local domestic violence service or a solicitor
If you need further help, you should get advice from an independent domestic violence adviser or a solicitor who is experienced in family law.
A local advice agency, such as a law centre or Citizens Advice, should be able to help you find a local solicitor who is experienced in this area of the law. In England and Wales, you can also look on the Law Society website.
Legal aid helps you with your legal costs including advice and help if you have to go to court.
You should make an appointment as soon as you feel ready, and could take someone with you for support the first time you go. The initial interview will probably last quite a long time, during which the adviser should discuss with you what courses of legal action are open to you.
There are also lots of charities that help both men and women get help with abuse.
Financial abuse happens where a perpetrator uses financial means to control you and may include any of the following:
- stopping the victim working
- controlling the household finances including wages, benefits and bank accounts
- forcing the victim to hand over wages and money
- persuading or forcing the victim to take out loans and credit in her/his name.
If you have been pressurised or bullied to take out loans or credit in your name, the debt may be unenforceable – you should get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice.
Honour-based abuse is defined as an incident or crime which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and or community. Honour-based abuse happens where a person is punished by their family or community for doing things that are not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture. For example, you may be a victim of honour-based abuse because you:
- resist an arranged marriage
- resist a forced marriage
- have a partner from a different culture or religion
- live a westernised lifestyle
- want a divorce.
Honour-based abuse may include domestic abuse, sexual or psychological abuse, assault, forced marriage or sending someone back to their country of origin.
A forced marriage is where you are pressurised into it against your will. You may be emotionally blackmailed or physically threatened usually by your family. It is not the same as an arranged marriage where both parties agree to get married.
In England and Wales, forced marriage is a criminal offence. If someone forces you into marriage, they could go to prison for up to seven years.
Harassment and stalking
Harassment happens when you receive unwanted behaviour from another person which alarms or distresses you. Examples of harassment include malicious phone calls, threatening texts, threatening and insulting language and damage to property.
Stalking is a form of harassment and may include behaviour such as following, contacting or attempting to contact you, monitoring your email and internet, watching and spying on you and other similar behaviour.
It is a criminal and civil offence for another person to harass or stalk you. You can report the matter to the police. Many police forces have a specialist police officer who deals with harassment or stalking.
You may also be able to get an injunction in the civil courts to stop the harassment or stalking taking place and claim damages. If an harasser breaches an injunction, it is a criminal offence.