12 January 2021

Domestic abuse surges during the pandemic

By Zuzanna Pogorzelska, Solicitor, Hayes + Storr.

Domestic abuse has surged during the pandemic. The UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as the “shadow pandemic.” Train companies in the UK are offering free travel to refuges for men, women and children fleeing domestic abuse. According to Victim Support, over 11,500 more people than usual accessed their services between the 23rd March and 1st November 2020.

Additionally, law firms such as ours are experiencing the inevitable post-Christmas rise in divorce cases that sadly we have come to expect at this time of year.

What is domestic abuse?

Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality, or background.

In 2015, the government’s definition of domestic violence was changed to ‘domestic abuse’ to include controlling and coercive behaviour; a more subtle form of abuse that doesn’t always involve physical violence.

Domestic abuse is currently defined by the government as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”

This can encompass, but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial, and;
  • Emotional

What is controlling and coercive behaviour?

According to Professor Evan Stark, a leading expert on coercive control: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”

Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control is when someone uses manipulative behaviour to isolate their partner. The perpetrator will often monitor their partners behaviour, exploit them, break down their support network, create a sense of fear, and deprive them of their autonomy so they believe they have no alternative other than to stay with their abuser.

I’m in an abusive relationship. What can I do?

During the pandemic, it has been harder for people to escape their abusers but there is never an excuse to put up with domestic abuse.

The government has made it clear that coronavirus restrictions do not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse. If you are faced with immediate danger, call 999. Many kinds of domestic abuse are criminal offences, and the police can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator.

If you want to leave the family home, you (& your children if you have any) could:

  • Stay with relatives or friends
  • Stay in a refuge
  • Get emergency accommodation from your local authority under homeless persons’ law – this will usually mean a bed and breakfast hostel
  • Get privately rented accommodation

If you are in an abusive relationship, you can get legal protection by applying for the following orders:

  • Non-molestation order: to stop your partner harming or threatening you
  • Occupation order: where you stay at home and your partner has to leave

Further down the line, a solicitor who is experienced in family law can advise you on:

  • Getting your property back or making you the legal owner of your home
  • Deciding who your children can live with and who can see them
  • Ending your marriage or civil partnership

Whatever you decide to do, there are many local and national organisations that can help. For advice on family law and other legal matters, call Hayes + Storr on 01328 863231.

The National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327

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