A recent BBC News investigation has found that looked-after teenagers over the age of 16 are at risk of exploitation and abuse whilst residing in unregulated homes across England and Wales. Such accommodation avoids inspection and regulation due to its provision of ‘support’ opposed to ‘care’, despite the vulnerabilities of these young people. According to figures from the Department for Education, about 5,500 looked after children in England were living in this type of accommodation, up 70% from 10 years ago. This increase is attributable to the rise of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)- these are experiences in which children are exposed to domestic violence, neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and untreated mental illness. The recent BBC news article highlights cases at Centurion Care. One incident involves a resident who was not provided with sufficient care following incidents of self-harm, and another incident involved resident who absconded for a week despite being seen getting into a car with a large group of males. One of the primary issues that the report highlights is that vulnerable young people were typically placed in towns away from where they were brought up. The Association of Directors of Children's Services said: "There is a national shortage of foster carers and a growing disconnect between the location of residential children's homes and need." The Department for Education in England has described how local authorities have a legal duty to ensure there is suitable accommodation for these children. Local authorities are in breach of duty in allowing the existence of these unregulated care homes that enable young people to be exposed to exploitation. In a welcome move, the government has recently announced a £30 million funding boost that will assist law enforcement with pioneering new technologies to track down paedophiles operating online and help safeguard children who have been abused. [...]
Last year, 173 people were killed in domestic violence related homicides, an increase of 32 deaths on 2017, according to data obtained by the BBC from 43 police forces across the UK. This figure has steadily increased from 2014.
Domestic violence homicides are not just committed by a partner or spouse, they can also be committed by family members such as parents, brothers and sisters. Whilst acknowledging that men can be victims, the BBC states that the vast majority are women, and refer to the Office for National Statistics data for domestic abuse in England and Wales for the year to March 2018, which indicates that between April 2014 and March 2017, around three-quarters of victims of domestic killings by a partner, ex-partner or family member were women.
Efforts are being made by Government to tackle the ever growing issues of domestic violence and with the introduction of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and Claire’s Law, which sees people being able to check the background of their partner should they suspect may have a history of domestic violence, is a step closer in trying to protect individuals against domestic violence. Despite this, homicide as a result of domestic violence continues to grow.
The Government have hired Nicole Jacobs from Standing Together Against Domestic Violence as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to spearhead the £69b campaign to tackle the problem. It is hoped this campaign will see the number of victims and homicides of domestic and sexual violence reduce significantly.
At National Legal Service Solicitors, we have a team of accredited solicitors that include specialists in domestic abuse cases who can help obtain court orders on an emergency basis. For more information, please call us on 0203 601 5051
The Prime Minister took to twitter to confirm that the government was ‘fully committed’ to reintroducing new legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse following concerns it had been axed as a result of Parliament’s suspension last week.
Prorogation will suspend all existing bills making their way through Parliament, unless the government chooses to carry them over to the next session beginning on 14 October. When Parliament returns on this date, although any dropped bills can be re-introduced, all progress made is lost and the process must start from scratch.
The government chose to carry over three pieces of legislation, dropping both the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill (which aimed to bring in a system of no-fault divorce). The Domestic Abuse Bill included the introduction of the first statutory definition of domestic abuse (including both financial and non-physical behaviour), the prohibition on perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in person in family courts and the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Order.
Women’s rights groups including Women’s Aid, Imkaan and the Centre for Women’s Justice wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure the Bill remains ‘a priority’ for the government’s next session. ‘Whatever happens next, the Prime Minister must confirm that protecting the rights and safety of survivors is a priority,’ said Nicki Norman, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid. ‘Over two years, thousands of survivors have bravely shared their experiences of domestic abuse with the government and fought to improve support for women and children. They must not be betrayed.’
Like all forms of domestic abuse at the centre of it is usually one person exercising control over another. Abuse can take many forms- emotional, physical, psychological and financial. Financial abuse (or economic abuse) is an aspect of ‘coercive control’, which is a pattern of controlling, degrading and/or threatening conduct which takes away the victim’s freedom. Financial abuse is one of the most frequent ways that perpetrators exercise a significant level of control over their partners and enables them to be able to restrict their partner’s movements and keep tabs on their lives. Often victims do not have the financial knowledge or means to be able to support themselves and their children independently- as a result, people feel there is no alternative but to remain in an abusive relationship.
These were findings of a joint campaign conducted in 2015 with The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, which aimed to raise awareness of the scale of the issue of financial abuse. Key findings from this study also include:-
If you are being subjected to financial abuse, you may be apply for a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order. A Non-Molestation Order is used not only to protect you from actual or threatened physical violence but also form wider forms of abuse, such as financial abuse where it is having a significant impact on your emotional well being. (You will need to see if you satisfy a legal test around the association of you to the alleged perpetrator as well as evidencing that the abuse is causing you significant harm). Depending on the seriousness of your situation, you may be able to apply for a non molestation order without notice to the alleged perpetrator. However, there will most likely be a second hearing listed on notice so the other party is then able to attend court to say whether they contest the order).
An Occupation Order gives you the right to remain in your home and can restrict your abuser from entering it. It can also define the areas that can be occupied if you need to both continue residing in the property. You need to understand whether you have a legal right to be in the property before considering if you are able to apply for an Occupation Order. This type of order can be crucial for a victim of economic abuse because they usually do not have access to the money they need to move away from their abuser.
As with applications for Non-Molestation Orders, Occupation Orders can be made ex-parte, which means you will appear before a judge without your abuser being present. Any order granted ex-parte is only temporary, a full hearing must take place at a later date. However, the making of an occupation order ex parte requires strong evidence as to the justifications for such an order. There is a list of considerations you will have to address in your evidence to demonstrate how the balance for the making of this type of order should fall in your favour.
Breaching a Non-Molestation Order is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/or up to five years in prison. Although breaching and Occupation Order is not a criminal offence; a power to arrest can be attached to the order by the court.
It may be possible to obtain legal aid for non-molestation orders and occupation orders and we are happy to have assessment interviews with you via telephone to see if you would meet the eligibility criteria and to discuss what evidence you would need to obtain to meet the eligibility criteria.
If you are concerned that someone is financially abusing you or are worried for a relative or friend, the Money Advice Service offers help on financial abuse and other financial issues.
National Legal Service Solicitors have significant experience representing people in divorce proceedings involving domestic abuse. For confidential information, please call our office on 020 3601 5051.
While the overwhelming assumption is that domestic abuse victims are female, research from Mankind Initiative highlights some concerning statistics:
Owing to regressive ideas of what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Nearly half of male victims fail to tell anyone they are a victim of domestic (only 51% tell anyone). They are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone than a female victim (49% as opposed to 19%).
National Legal Service Solicitors has helped more than 3,000 victims of domestic abuse in the last year. We feel strongly that each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly irrespective of their gender.
Positive Steps Undertaken
In September 2017, The Crown Prosecution Service published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The CPS statement covers
Over the years I have assisted many male victims of domestic abuse and it is my experience that despite there being lots of positive campaigning around domestic abuse, there can remain a prejudice in the court arena. This was more so around 10-12 years ago, when I remember vividly, that I was helping a male victim to obtain a non molestation order and there were linked children act proceedings wherein we were trying to keep the child of the family safe from the mother’s abuse. Despite clear photographic evidence of injuries to the male victim and supporting statements from doctors and teachers, the Judge that heard the case did not accept the risks posed by the mother to my client or the child. In fact, a comment was that the mother’s outburst were as a result of her “latino temperament”, a comment that haunted me for some time as what flowed was that the father went from being primary carer of the couple’s child, to the Judge changing the arrangements on the ground, giving the mother the majority time each week, and my client went from being primary carer for 5 years, to having an order detailing the 3 nights a week he would care for the child.
That was one of the most extreme cases I have ever dealt with and I have continued to do all I can to assist male victims whenever they have approached me but I have continued to face difficulties. Even securing legal aid can be troublesome if you have a male victim (the “true applicant”) but the respondent issues cross applications and makes representations about your funding. Again, photographs of injuries had to be sent as justification and that case was another example where there was disbelief that a woman of relatively small stature could cause the violence and injuries alleged in my client’s witness statements. We need to continue giving male victims a voice and we need to educate everyone that domestic abuse can be committed by women. The law is there to protect the victim, we have to have our eyes open to who the true victim is when we are dealing with this area of law.
Domestic abuse can go unidentified by families, friends, and even victims themselves. Some victims fail to comprehend they were subjected to abuse, controlling and coercive behaviour until it is too late and can have a devastating impact on families, particularly young children.
The draft Domestic Abuse Bill was recently published, as it is revealed domestic abuse issues cost England and Wales approximately £66 billion a year during 2016/2017. It was projected approximately two million adults are subjected to domestic abuse each year and so warrants some of the strongest measures to prevent offenders and safeguard victims. However, is the draft Bill feasible within family courts? Does it safeguard children whom have suffered domestic abuse?
The purpose of the draft Bill is to deliver adequate protection for victims of domestic abuse and bring perpetrators to justice and to provide further guidance in relation to the following provisions:
As part of the new Domestic Abuse bill, the government will redefine what abuse is. Lay persons will commonly assume domestic abuse is limited to a specific incident. In recent years, the government formally recognised ‘coercive control’. However, the draft Bill includes ‘economic abuse’ as a recognised form of domestic abuse. This will include control of bank accounts and money.
Protection orders are an important instrument for keeping victims safeguarded and preventing the continuation and/or escalation of abuse. Currently, the Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) aims to protect victims of domestic abuse.
However, the inconsistent Domestic Violence Protection Order will now be replaced by the Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (“DAPO”). The court may enforce requirements to safeguard victims from domestic abuse without any limitations on the Order. It may also comprise requirements, such as, orders to attend parenting courses, perpetrator programmes or substance misuse programmes, in addition to, prohibiting contact between the parties.
More significantly, an application for a DAPO is not limited to the person associated to the perpetrator. This major amendment allows local authorities, probation services or other support workers to obtain a DAPO as such this broadens the scope for those whom are seeking to apply for protection under the family justice system and may limit the risk of further harm attributable from the perpetrator.
The practice of perpetrators currently cross-examining victims causes a significant risk of further controlling and manipulate behaviour. In some cases, victims do not wish to pursue an application for protection due to the risk of further mental harm as a result of the current justice system.
The draft Bill is determined in its effort to provide security to victims of domestic abuse and amalgamate the family and criminal justice system. The government’s set of proposals are welcomed, particularly putting a focus on perpetrator’s culpability and putting families at the forefront. However, the practice of judges cross-examining witnesses on behalf of a party is also questionable in respect of judicial independence and upholding the rule of law.
For many years, victims and their families were expected to be uprooted whist perpetrators would remain unchallenged. However, the new draft Bill has developed significant and meaningful changes to help better support victims of domestic abuse and will allocate funding to support children.
What happens next?
The Domestic Abuse Bill will be scrutinised by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, highlighting any amendments that need to be made. After this, it will continue through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before being passed for Royal Assent. Hopefully, the Bill is enacted as a matter of urgency, as this is an issue that cannot afford to wait.
At the National Legal Service we are aware that stress and poor mental health can have a major effect on people. As a firm that specialises in family law we often deal with clients who are going through a difficult time. A lot of our work consists of supporting victims of domestic violence and we do our best to support them through what is a stressful process.
In turn, we support our own employees who are constantly faced with cases that are complex and involve clients that are vulnerable. We have a relaxed atmosphere where by the staff feel as though they can speak to one another on their teams regarding any difficulties they may have with their cases. We are also aware that all staff have a life of their own outside of work and that can add to the elements of stress that can impact work life.
Mental health to us is equally as important as physical health and it is vital that we focus on the well-being of our staff and our clients. We ensure that everyone in our team knows that they have a part to play at the making the workplace a positive one.
In the future, we hope to put in to place coffee mornings and other activities whereby the staff can take a break and just engage with one another. We hope that this will lead to building stronger relationships at work so that as a firm we can support each other better to stay physically and mentally well.