I am a Domestic Abuse Paralegal; I Wish I Had Been Able to Help My Friend When He Needed it

I am a Domestic Abuse Paralegal; I Wish I Had Been Able to Help My Friend When He Needed it

Dora Castro

Five years ago, I met a friend who had arrived from Latin America to marry the love of his life in England. After a few months of marital bliss my friend told me his husband had started to abuse him verbally, and more worryingly, physically. Panic started to set in; without any close friends and no family to speak of in the country his options were limited. It was a few weeks later, over a coffee, that my friend confided in me; with a sense of shame and a heavy, troubled heart, he was suffering from domestic abuse. Hearing the words out loud, from a close friend, hurt. We had to be able to do something. The future paralegal in me was fired up and we started searching; there must be some kind of help available, there must be someone who can help us. After calls to several family solicitors, and broken promises of “We’ll call you back” from several legal secretaries, we realised there was nothing we could do. My friend and I were helpless, he was too scared to go back home and I could not help him. As the time passed, the violence increased, and about a month later I had to take my friend to hospital. When we were talking to the A&E doctor, she encouraged us to report the incident to the police, but my friend was scared.

Later that same night, my friend arrived outside my flat, driven in a police car, his possessions stuffed into a backpack. He’d had a fight with his husband and it had turned physical, the police were called but the language barrier had proven too much; he was asked to leave the house and sleep “somewhere else”. The rainbow of emotions on his face said it all: fear, anger, frustration, pain. He was being let down by the very institutions that were meant to be protecting him.

This was the kick we needed to start the search again; we would be successful this time, we must have missed something obvious. Surely, this cannot be allowed. Surely there was someone who could help and protect my friend. Or at least explain what his rights were.

My friend and I continued searching for family solicitors who could help, but we found only the same empty promises and dead ends. He had fallen through the cracks of society, in this country of roughly 56 million people he was alone and, seemingly, no one could help. A couple of months later my friend was forced to flee back to his country, devastated, sad, disappointed, and let down by a system that had not understood him, let alone listened to him.

Looking back now as a Family paralegal knowing the legislation regarding domestic violence, I believe that my friend and I were frustratingly unlucky. Now I know that we needed to apply for a Non-Molestation Order along with an Occupation Order through Legal Aid. He could have benefited from an Order that would have stopped his husband’s violent behaviour and he may have had the right to remain within the family home.  He could have benefited from the advantages of access to Justice.

Domestic violence victims are not only women, there are also men out there that are suffering in silence and this needs to stop. At NLS we are committed to helping people that are suffering from domestic violence, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Two weeks ago, I was referred a client who was born in Ecuador and from an early age she knew she was homosexual. Due to her family’s religious beliefs, she was not supported and felt forced to start a relationship with a man. Months later my client’s boyfriend began to abuse her physically and verbally. It took years for her to be able to work up the courage to end the relationship and decide to be happy with a new girlfriend. At last, she managed to feel the freedom of being true to herself and of being able to be enjoy and embrace her sexuality. Unfortunately, my client’s ex-boyfriend continued to harass and threaten her, demeaning her due to her sexuality, humiliating her whenever he could. After months of humiliations, my client decided that she needed help. When I initially talked to my client, she told me that she was used to the abuse and constant humiliation, something that no one should become accustomed to. After our initial conversation, we applied for Legal Aid and then applied for a Non-Molestation Order. At NLS, we aim to give to our clients back their dignity, the strength that they need to carry on and the peace they deserve.

I miss my friend and wish that he had not been forced to flee the country in fear. I wish he had been able to access the support that he needed, and I hope that he never suffers from violence again, as no one deserves to be humiliated or scared. As human beings, we deserve to live life free of violence, with dignity.

SPANISH VERSION

Hace cinco años conocí a un amigo que había llegado de América Latina para casarse con el amor de su vida en Inglaterra. Después de unos meses de felicidad conyugal, mi amigo me dijo que su esposo había comenzado a abusar de él verbalmente y, más preocupantemente, físicamente. El pánico comenzó a instalarse en su cabeza; sin amigos cercanos y sin familia con quien hablar en el país, sus opciones eran limitadas. Unas semanas después, tomando un café, mi amigo me confesó; con vergüenza y un corazón roto que él estaba sufriendo abuso doméstico. Escuchar sus palabras en voz alta, de un amigo cercano, dolía. Teníamos que hacer algo. Mi pasión por las leyes me entusiasmo y comenzamos a buscar ayuda legal. Después de varias llamadas a diferentes abogados de derecho familiar y de promesas incumplidas de “te devolveremos la llamada”, nos dimos cuenta de que no había nada que pudiéramos hacer. Mi amigo y yo no teníamos esperanzas, él estaba demasiado asustado para volver a casa y no pude ayudarlo. A medida que pasaba el tiempo, la violencia aumentó y aproximadamente un mes después tuve que llevar a mi amigo al hospital. Cuando estábamos hablando con la doctora de urgencias, ella nos animó a denunciar el incidente a la policía, pero mi amigo estaba asustado.

Más tarde esa misma noche, mi amigo se presentó en mi apartamento, conducido en un coche de policía, con sus pertenencias metidas en una mochila. Había tenido una pelea con su esposo y se había vuelto pelea física, cuando llamaron a la policía, la barrera del idioma había demostrado ser demasiado; se le pidió a mi amigo que saliera de su casa y durmiera “en otro lugar”. Las emociones en su rostro lo decía todo: miedo, ira, frustración, dolor. Estaba siendo defraudado por las mismas instituciones que estaban destinadas a protegerlo.

Este fue el empuje que necesitábamos para comenzar la búsqueda de nuevo; esta vez tendríamos éxito, debimos haber pasado por alto algo obvio. Seguramente había alguien que pudiera ayudar y proteger a mi amigo o al menos explicar cuáles eran sus derechos.

Mi amigo y yo seguimos buscando abogados que pudieran ayudar, pero solo encontramos las mismas promesas vacías y callejones sin salida. Mi amigo había caído por las grietas de la sociedad, en este país de aproximadamente 56 millones de personas él estaba solo y aparentemente nadie podía ayudarlo. Un par de meses después mi amigo se vio obligado a huir de regreso a su país, devastado, triste, decepcionado y defraudado por un sistema que no lo había entendido ni mucho menos escuchado.

Reflexionando, ahora que soy una asistente legal en derecho familiar que conozco la legislación con respecto a la violencia doméstica, creo que mi amigo y yo tuvimos mala suerte. Ahora sé que teníamos que solicitar una orden de no abuso/acoso junto con una orden de ocupación a través de asistencia legal gratuita. Él podría haberse beneficiado de una orden que hubiera detenido el comportamiento violento de su esposo y podría haber tenido derecho a permanecer en su casa. El pudo haberse beneficiado del acceso a la justicia inglesa, pero desafortunadamente esto no sucedió.

Las víctimas de violencia doméstica no son solo mujeres, también hay hombres que están sufriendo en silencio y esto debe terminar. En NLS estamos comprometidos a ayudar a las personas que sufren de violencia doméstica, independientemente de su género o sexualidad.

Hace dos semanas me remitieron una clienta que nació en Ecuador y desde muy pequeña supo que era homosexual. Debido a las creencias religiosas de su familia, su madre no la apoyó y mi clienta se sintió obligada a iniciar una relación con un hombre. Meses después, el novio de mi clienta comenzó a abusar de ella física y verbalmente. A ella le tomó años poder reunir el coraje para terminar la relación y decidir ser feliz con una pareja del sexo femenino por fin, ella logró sentir la libertad de ser fiel a sí misma y de poder disfrutar y abrazar su sexualidad. Desafortunadamente, el exnovio de mi clienta continuó acosándola y amenazándola, degradándola por su sexualidad, humillándola siempre que podía. Después de meses de humillaciones, mi clienta decidió que necesitaba ayuda. Cuando hablé inicialmente con ella, me dijo que estaba acostumbrada al abuso y la humillación constante, algo a lo que nadie debería acostumbrarse. Después de nuestra conversación inicial, solicitamos ayuda legal y luego solicitamos una orden de no abuso/acoso. En NLS buscamos devolver a nuestros clientes su dignidad, la fuerza que necesitan para seguir adelante y la tranquilidad que merecen.

Extraño a mi amigo y desearía que no se hubiera visto obligado a huir del país por miedo. Ojalá hubiera podido acceder al apoyo que necesitaba y espero que nunca más vuelva a sufrir violencia, ya que nadie merece ser humillado o atemorizado. Como seres humanos, merecemos vivir una vida libre de violencia, con dignidad.

Dora Castro

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