Help for victims of domestic violence

It is a sad fact that incidents of domestic abuse in relationships are not uncommon. Figures for 2013 indicate that 1.2 million women and 700,000 men in the UK are suffering from domestic abuse, which can include psychological, emotional, sexual or financial abuse as well as physical abuse. Perhaps more shocking is recent Home Office statistics that indicate that domestic violence is the leading cause of morbidity for women aged between 19 and 44; more than that for cancer or motor vehicle accidents. 

Domestic abuse exists in all walks of society. The Oscar Pistorius trial, which today saw the athlete found guilty of culpable homicide (the equivalent of manslaughter in the UK) of his girlfriend Reeva Steinkamp, included claims by the prosecution that the police had attended his home on several occasions due to domestic incidents. 

The decision to leave a violent relationship can be a daunting one, particularly where there are children involved or financial restrictions. Some victims of domestic abuse are fortunate enough to have family members or others that can offer a safe haven. 

For those who do not have such means of escape, refuges can offer security and support for victims and their children who need help to rebuild their lives. Women’s Aid is just one of many national charities and organisations offering support to those suffering from domestic abuse. Unfortunately, budget restraints have meant that many refuges across the county have been forced to cut back on the services that they offer or, in some case, close their doors all together. This can leave victims of domestic abuse feeling like they have no option but to continue to endure the abuse. 

Those suffering domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or ex-partner are able to seek the protection of the civil courts by means of a Non-Molestation Order (NMO) or an Occupation Order (OO). A NMO is aimed at preventing a partner or ex-partner from using or threatening violence against the victim or their child or from intimidating or harassing the victim. An OO regulates who is able to live in the family home and may be used to enable a victim who has fled domestic abuse to return to the family home at the exclusion of the perpetrator. Breach of a NMO is an automatic criminal offence; whilst this isn’t the case for an OO, a power of arrest will be attached in most cases so that breach will similarly mean that the perpetrator can be arrested. 

Changes to Legal Aid from April 2013 have reduced the availability of public funding in private family law matters so that those wishing to access legal assistance need to provide evidence that they have suffered domestic violence within the last 24 months in order to get through the gateway. However, legal aid is still available for an application for an NMO or OO without needing to provide such evidence; although applicants will still need to meet income and capital criteria to be eligible. 

If you are suffering from domestic abuse and need advice about your options, our experienced Family team can help. We are the only Legal 500 top tier Family team in Derby, Burton-on-Trent and Swadlincote and also have offices in Leicester and Stoke. If you would like to speak to a member of our team please contact Rebecca Reid on 01332 225205 or Rebecca.reid@smithpartnership.co.uk.