In these unprecedented times, as government guidance advises the population to self-isolate or socially distance themselves, more and more cases of domestic abuse are likely to occur as people stay at home and become increasingly isolated.
It is therefore more important than ever to ensure that victims of domestic abuse and their children are safe. The government has given £1.6 billion to local councils to provide support to those who are suffering from, or are at risk of, domestic abuse. The government has also made one thing clear – abusers will not get away with their crimes.
This article aims to address the current legal situation in light of COVID-19.
- What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is also referred to as domestic violence and is not solely limited to physical abuse. The term domestic abuse also covers:
- Emotional abuse (name calling, insulting, criticising)
- Psychological abuse (belittling, humiliating, intimidating)
- Financial/economic abuse (control of family finances, using control of finances as a ransom/threat)
- Sexual abuse (forcing someone to participate in sexual acts which they do not consent to)
- Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use of or threat of physical or sexual violence)
- Harassment/stalking (texting, calling, emailing, harassing in person)
- Online/digital abuse (revenge porn, posting abusive messages online)
- Am I a victim of domestic abuse?
If you have suffered any of the above then you are likely to be a victim of domestic abuse. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, background or sexuality.
It is important to note that the court, and the law, take all forms of domestic abuse extremely seriously. No one form of abuse is treated more seriously than another.
- What can I do to protect myself and my children if I’m self-isolating or social distancing at home with my abuser?
We know that it will be extremely difficult for many people in the UK right now as they will be very isolated in the home.
The most important thing to do is to keep yourself and any children in the home safe.
If you are isolated at home with your abuser then you should try and get help as soon as possible. Government guidance makes clear that if you are suffering from, or at risk of suffering from, abuse you can leave home to access help.
You can do this in a number of different ways:
- Contact the police immediately if you believe yourself to be at imminent risk of abuse or harm (please see this helpful link by Women’s Aid regarding the ‘Silent Solution System’ when making calls to the police)
- Contact your local Social Services who have a duty to inform you of local support/refuges that may be available to help you. Many refuges remain open!
- Contact an online/telephone support service such as Women’s Aid or National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 for general advice and emotional support
- Get in touch with a solicitor to see what protective measures can be put in place to protect you and the children
- What protections do I have under law?
If you believe you are at risk of or are currently being subjected to domestic abuse then you should consider not only contacting the police but also contacting a family solicitor.
- Non-Molestation Order
You may be able to apply for a protective injunction called a Non-Molestation Order, which forbids your abuser from approaching or threatening you, or encouraging others to do the same.
Once a Non-Molestation Order is made, you should keep a hard copy on you at all times. If your abuser breaches the terms of the order you should call the police straight away and inform them that there is a Non-Molestation Order in place. Breaching a civil Non-Molestation Order is a criminal offence and your abuser could face imprisonment or a fine.
Usually there must be a serious reason not to give an alleged abuser notice of an application for a protective injunction. Whilst no guidance has yet been provided by the court, it is likely that the current COVID-19 pandemic will impact this requirement. It seems likely that giving notice may not be required in cases where you share the same household as your abuser. This is because the court is likely to consider that by giving notice you are at higher risk of suffering further abuse if your abuser finds out before legal protections are in place.
- Occupation Order
If you live in the same home as your abuser you can apply for an Occupation Order. This order will determine who can and cannot live in the family home and can exclude the abuser from returning to the property.
There are rules on whether you are eligible to apply for this order and you should contact a family law solicitor to get further information.
Breaching an Occupation Order is also a criminal offence. If your abuser breaches the order you should contact the Police straight away and inform them that you have an Occupation Order in place.
- Are the courts still open even with the government guidelines recommending self-isolation/social distancing?
Yes. The courts remain open, however, all hearings are currently being conducted by telephone. You will therefore not be expected to attend the court in person.
- How can I apply for any of these orders if I’m isolated at home and we aren’t allowed to go outside?
Where it is safe for you to contact us, Stone King’s Family Team are able to offer legal advice over telephone, email and via video call.
If you are isolated in your home and have little privacy then we would recommend doing this in the bathroom or a locked room, or if you are able to go outside during the one hour of outdoor exercise as per current government guidelines.
We can take your instructions over the telephone and prepare an application on your behalf. At Stone King all our family solicitors are fully equipped to work remotely so that we can help you every step of the way.
- How can I pay for legal representation?
Please contact the Family Team at Stone King who will be happy to discuss what funding / payment options may be available.
Despite the current restrictions imposed on daily life as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, help is available for anyone who is, or is likely to become, a victim of domestic abuse. If you are at risk, try to get help as soon as possible by accessing any of the support outlined above. Government guidance makes clear that if you are suffering from, or at risk of suffering from, abuse you can leave home to access help.
The most important thing to do is to keep yourself and any children safe.