Sadly thousands of people are in abusive relationships but a new law specifically designed to punish domestic abuse should be a great help to victims.
Who can forget the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson suffering at the hands of her husband Charles Saatchi or the disturbing Coronation Street storyline of Tyrone persecuted by his female partner?
One is fact, the other fiction but it demonstrates perfectly that domestic abuse knows no barrier of gender, age, class or education. It is a universal problem that is taking place now, in the 21st century, in all sections of society, affecting men as well as women.
Last year there were nearly 270,000 domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales, representing 8% of all calls to the police, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
The charity Refuge helps 3,000 women and children every day and reports 89% of victims are women. They say victims suffer an average of 35 physical or verbal assaults before they seek help.
Domestic abuse is a massive issue and has been swept under the carpet for too long. Although existing laws already cover acts of violence, stalking and harassment, none of them specifically refer to personal relationships or domestic situations.
The Government’s consultation will look at strengthening the law by explicitly stating that domestic abuse includes coercive and controlling behaviour as well as physical harm.
Too many police forces are content to take a back seat at the moment. This latest move comes after a critical HMIC report in March which condemned the way police respond to domestic abuse as ‘alarming and unacceptable’.
As a family law specialist I have helped hundreds of domestic abuse victims over the years. For the most part, I see the brave souls at the stage when they have decided enough is enough and left an abusive relationship. The tales they tell me would make you gasp in disbelief.
Make no mistake, the psychological damage caused by a controlling, bullying partner can be just as harmful as a black eye or bruised ribs. Some people are fearful for their lives, but for many, domestic abuse manifests itself as psychological terror; constant undermining, threatening behaviour; isolation from friends and family; and a loss of financial control.
I have had clients who have been banned from wearing a particular colour because it belonged to the opposing football team. Bullying partners have monitored text messages, social media accounts, car mileage and even a change in hair style could provoke an angry outburst.
To the outside world, the perpetrators often appear charming but behind closed doors, they can be violent, volatile and seek to control every aspect of their partner’s life. They are manipulative and make their victim feel worthless and isolated.
If there is one piece of advice I would give to everyone in a relationship, it would be – have your own bank account – keep control of your own finances. You are then much more able to be master of your own destiny.
More than half the people I see don’t have this. They have shared bank accounts and perhaps have left financial matters to their other half. When this happens, money and who spends what can become a major cause of tension between a couple. Without ultimate control over your own salary or investments, it is much more difficult to extricate yourself from an abusive relationship.
No-one wants to walk away from a relationship which may have been happy in the early stages or wants to see their marriage to fail. Maybe you have children together and have invested a great deal of time and money in creating a home. Maybe you run a business together. It’s certainly not an easy decision to leave.
If your partner is volatile and likely to fly off the handle at the least provocation, it may be worth trying to get counselling or anger management training. For some people this can help and with time and plenty of forgiveness, a couple can put unpleasant incidents and behaviour behind them.
However no-one should have to spend their life walking on egg shells, just in case their partner erupts with rage over some small issue or complaint. Your home should feel like a protective haven not a prison.
If any of this sounds familiar, please do not suffer in silence. There is much your local family law specialist can help you with and if this new law is passed, it will make it much easier for your voice to be heard and for the police to treat psychological abuse as seriously as physical assault.
The Home Secretary Theresa May said: ‘The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.’
Like any crime, it is vitally important to have evidence to back up your claim. If you are in this situation, keep a diary of every incident, no matter how small. If you feel threatened, call the police. These calls are logged and help to build up a picture of the abuse if you later separate.
There is always an alternative. Refuge runs safe houses for women and their children. You can find out more on this Government website: https://www.gov.uk/report-domestic-And victims of domestic violence are one of the few groups who are still eligible for legal aid in divorce cases.
Don’t shut the door on your suffering. If you are finding life unbearable, contact your local family law solicitor today and take the first vital step to regaining control of your life.
Jennifer is a family law partner with FDR law and a member of the family lawyers group Resolution