Monday, 8 August 2011

It's Just a Slap Now and Then - It's Not Violence Really - is it?

The number of family cases that I have had conduct of in my 11 years of legal practice means that I am rarely surprised or shocked by what my client is about to say. Many often start with ‘This is really bad but............'. I can almost guarantee that I will have heard worse than what they are about to tell me. Unfortunately, this is a harsh reality of doing the job that I do. It is not always pleasant to know what has been going on behind closed doors.

What does shock me is the number of cases that have some form of violence or abuse within them. The definition of violence together with the recognition of the different elements of violence within the law today is no small achievement. The definition agreed by the Government in 2004 of violence against men and women is "any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse {psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional} between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members , regardless of gender or sexuality". 

Many external agencies have campaigned tirelessly with the full support of legal professionals to have the many types of violent behaviour recognised. If 11 years ago you presented to the Police and said that your partner or husband did not give you any money so you were bullied, intimidated and frightened of him and believed that he would hurt you, you would be shown the door. If there was no physical violence and no black eye or bruises to prove the violence then that was as far as any help went. Even then many that tried to get help would argue that there was no help at all available to them. 

I am not sure that everyone remembers the case of Kiranjit Alhuwalia in 1989; this woman set her husband alight whilst he was asleep after 10 years of mental abuse, torture and rape. She was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of murder. She was separated from her two young children before a campaign secured her release. Ultimately, Ahluwalia's struggle helped raise awareness of domestic violence in families of non-English speaking immigrants to Western countries, as well as changing the laws for domestic abuse victims in the United Kingdom.

It is now widely accepted that violence can take many forms; financial, physical, emotional, sexual and psychological. So how does it all work? 

Financial abuse is when the income or the access to money is restricted by one partner to another. It may be that one partner controls the money and the other is forced to beg for money for baby food, baby milk and nappies. Many struggle for money to buy food to put on the table. Their partner may have unrealistic expectations of what can be purchased for £20.00 a week and seek justification of any expenditure. But more than likely, the partner in control of the finances is aware that this amount of money is unrealistic to achieve the task in hand and may use this as a reason to abuse and threaten the partner. 

This incident that started with an issue about money may then move on to insults and derogatory comments because there was not enough milk purchased with the pittance that was given to you. These comments then slide into emotional abuse where the self esteem of the person subjected to this ill treatment feels that they deserve this behaviour because they are useless and cannot perform simple tasks. This is where the problem often starts. 

On many occasions the violence is underplayed. The number of men and women that say it was ‘just a slap here and there so it's not really violence' surprises me. There is almost an acceptance and justification of this behaviour. When I delve further I find out that their mobile phone is checked regularly, they cannot visit friends nor have family and friends visit them or their partner will cause what is often described as a ‘scene'. 
The perpetrator of this behaviour has slowly isolated their partner from those they are close to so they are left vulnerable. With no support and networks in place to help, the relationship becomes the only thing that is familiar. So this pattern of behaviour becomes more entrenched and almost acceptable to the person that is being ill treated.

Sexual abuse is just as common although talked about much less. This is very private. There are no witnesses. This becomes shameful and embarrassing to talk about. This makes the person suffering the ill treatment feel violated and ashamed and often this is very difficult to discuss and accept for the individual concerned. 

There is no reason for any person being treated this way to feel any shame or hold any responsibility for the actions of another. The fact is that we all make a decision on how we wish to behave with certain people. Often the partners that are abusing another are polite and courteous to all others including the family and friends of the person being ill treated. So often there is also the misconception that no one would believe what was happening. 

The person that should feel the shame is the person that treats another individual this way. The perpetrator of violence often does feel guilt and shame. Many will cry and gain the sympathy of the person being mistreated and make it all about them so the behaviour experienced is forgotten and the perpetrator becomes the centre of attention. This diffuses the situation and all may be well again within the relationship sometimes for days, weeks and months but rarely for years. And then the pattern of abusive behaviour starts again. 

This behaviour is appalling and in society today everyone should say ‘No' to violence.

There are many external agencies that can provide advice on benefits and housing. Some of these agencies are listed on our website at www.leedsfamilylaw.co.uk . 

If you are being subjected to this type of behaviour then there are 2 types of injunctions that can assist you; Non Molestation Order and an Occupation Order.

A Non molestation Order can be secured to prohibit and restrict the behaviour of the individual towards you. This type of order can prevent threats and use of violence, intimidation, harassment and pestering. The other type of order available is an Occupation Order and this can regulate the occupation of the family home and enables the Court to restrict the rights of one of the occupants in favour of the other.

It is never easy to take the first step to gaining your freedom and having control of your life. 

However, it is always important to put your safety first and if you have children this is all the more important. Just think, if you are injured or left incapable of looking after your children, then would you want your violent partner to be the major influence in the lives of your children? The answer should be No. 

Domestic violence or abuse is recognised as having an impact on the children of the relationship and will be considered in any Court applications made. The effect of domestic violence in relation to contact and residence will be dealt with in the article to be published in September 2011.