Most households in the UK will be closely following the developing situation with COVID -19 with worry and concern. In a time where people are being encouraged to isolate at home, my thoughts turned to many of my existing clients, male and female, who may be self-isolating in an abusive relationship.
The impact of isolation on domestic abuse
Many abusers use isolation as a means of control. Keeping their partner or family member away from family and friends keeps the suspicion of others at bay. The current situation may also increase physical violence in the home for those in abusive relationships. This could be because the abuser has less concern that marks resulting from physical violence will be noticed or due to rising tensions in the family home resulting from people being in closer proximity for longer periods of time.
Self-isolating in an abusive relationship with coercive control
Domestic abuse goes further than physical violence, coercive and controlling behaviour was criminalised in December 2015 and we are seeing an increasing number of cases of emotional, financial and coercive control. Victims may find themselves being controlled by their abuser taking advantage of the worry of the virus or quoting financial concerns such as potential job losses, lack of access to resources etc as a reason to control. The difficulty with this form of domestic abuse is that it is often much more difficult to recognise for victims and their friends and family.
What help is available for people self-isolating in an abusive relationship?
If you are in immediate risk, you should call 999 and the police will be able to assist.
Domestic abuse has been criminalised and therefore, the police, where appropriate may take both protective actions and consider prosecuting abusers. There are local and national charities that are able to provide refuge and emotional support during and after the process during this outbreak. For example, if you, or someone you know, needs support and advice, you can contact Women’s Aid via the Live Chat here. There are more useful contacts at the end of this article.
Legal options for people experiencing domestic abuse
There are civil remedies available by way of non-molestation orders (NMO) and occupation orders (OO).
A non-molestation order
Molestation involves any form of physical, sexual or physical molestation or harassment that has a serious impact on allegers health and wellbeing or the health and wellbeing of any children. Molestation is not only defined as violent behaviour it may be other forms of behaviour.
A non-molestation order provides protection from this behaviour, intimidation and general communication including text messages, emails and phone calls as well as direct contact. It can be extended to include a reference to not damaging any of your property and can in some circumstances, protect children.
Applying for a non-molestation order
To proceed with an application the necessary court form will be completed together with a witness statement setting out in detail what has taken place. An application can be made to court either ‘on notice’ (the other person is given a prior warning) or ‘without notice’ in urgent situations where safety is at risk.
Typically, non-molestation orders last for a period of 12 months. They can be granted for longer, but they are not usually indefinite. If, after 12 months the behaviour prevented in the order starts again, then a further application for an order would be made. Breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence, and the police can arrest someone who is disobeying an order.
This order sets out who can live in the family home (or certain parts of it) and can also restrict someone entering the area surrounding the home. An occupation order will not affect the other party’s financial interest in the home, it will simply regulate who can live in it.
Self-isolating when it is not safe
I am very concerned about the safety of people experiencing domestic abuse during any period of isolation especially as it can make it harder to access help during these conditions.
However, please be assured that support is still available. I have gathered some useful organisations who can provide you with information and support.
- National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
- The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
- The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
- Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
Please note that Stowe Family Law does not necessarily endorse the organisations listed.
Get in touch
If you are self-isolating in an abusive relationship and would like support for domestic abuse during lockdown and your legal situation, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist domestic abuse lawyers here: https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/offices/cardiff/
Author: Shanika Varga-Haynes, Senior Solicitor, Stowe Family Law LLP