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Family matters - Dealing with domestic abuse concerns

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This column was first published on the December 4th in the Wigan Obsever

Q: I’ve recently become concerned about my daughter’s partner’s aggressive behaviour. Who should I turn to for help?

A: Before knowing how to deal with instances of domestic abuse it is important to have a reminder of what it is or can be. Domestic abuse can sadly take many forms including physical abuse (including slapping and pushing), mental abuse (including intimidation, harassment, damage to property), sexual abuse. Domestic abuse can also include threats of physical, sexual or mental abuse involving one single act or a number of acts forming a pattern of behaviour and unfortunately many instances of such abuse are at risk of being ignored or underestimated by those who might be best placed to help.

It is important to note that domestic abuse is perpetrated by and upon both men and women with national statistics indicating that in the worst cases, as many as two women a week are killed by their partner, with Office of National Statistics indicating that in 2011/2012, 1.2 million (7.3%) women and 800,000 (5%) men had experiences of domestic abuse during the year. That makes up a huge proportion of the violent crime taking place in the country during any year, research showing that it will affect one in four women at some point in their life time. Christmas time can see domestic abuse increase as alcohol use increases.

Furthermore if a person causes a child to witness or puts a child at risk of witnessing the abuse of another person then this can also be considered as domestic abuse as well. It can impact on children even if they are not physically abused themselves. It would be impossible for a child living in a household where domestic abuse was a feature not to be affected and is often an example cited by Social Services of emotional harm sufficient to warrant removal of children from their parents’ care. The whole family is affected.

Unfortunately for individual’s suffering or having survived, such abuse can often impact upon and change their behaviour, making them become distant and have depressive-like symptoms. They may put themselves down, believing that they are useless and unloved, even though the perpetrator of the abuse may well profess their ‘love’ for their victim. Often a person can become separated, whether by accident or design, from the very family members best placed to notice any changes in behaviour and this exclusion from the wider family may be an early indicator that something is not right.

Sometimes it is hard to determine whether someone is being abused as the abuser is likely to be adept at controlling the situation and the victim may be skilled at hiding abuse, in order to protect family members from the upset of knowing. The importance of this issue and the need to protect the many victims has been recognised with a new national scheme, called Clare’s Law, after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton at her Salford home in February 2009.

Originally tested here is the North West, it is being rolled out to the rest of England and Wales from March 2014 and allows anyone who is concerned about a partner, the right to receive their history of domestic violence from the police. The disclosure of people's history of domestic violence can be triggered in two ways: the ‘Right-to-Ask’ where the law will allow people to apply to police forces in England and Wales for information on a partner's history of domestic violence, or the ‘Right-to-Know’ whereby police can proactively disclose information in prescribed circumstances, perhaps upon an enquiry from a worried relative. This is an important new safeguard to ensure the safety of individuals at risk.

There are a number of domestic abuse help organisations both nationally or locally, such as 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, that offers support on all aspects of domestic abuse. A solicitor may discuss your legal options if you needed to consider further action. Legal Aid could be available to help with this.

Finally, when someone you love is going through a distressing time, it’s very difficult to know what to do. Your initial reaction in likely to be to protect that person, although you may feel that intervening may make a situation ‘worse’ especially if there are children involved. This is not to say you shouldn’t get involved. It is important that you are available to talk whenever she needs you without judging what she says. Her life may depend upon it.