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Hidden horrors of domestic abuse

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This first appeared in the Wigan Observer on September 9th 2014.

A little step back this week from answering the usual questions to consider the daily impact of domestic abuse and violence in the home, a subject which continues to remain taboo.

Domestic abuse does not recognise boundaries based upon sex, religion, race or ethnic group, whilst the financial cost to the state is massive, with £3 Billion reported as a conservative estimate for additional criminal justice, medical, social services and housing costs. This figure rises to £16 billion or more when taking into account the impact upon personal and employer finances. It is fair to say with this financial burden alone it is a crisis which affects us all and one of which we need to be better informed.

Sadly, we all probably all know someone who is experiencing domestic abuse, defined as “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: - psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.”

In reality however, because less obvious behaviour might go on behind closed doors we may not realise that a loved one or close friend is having difficulties. It is important to stay vigilant and be ready and be there to help.

In the past year, more than 1.1 million women and 720,000 men have been victims of domestic abuse. Official figures suggest that 30% of women and 16% of men will experience domestic abuse at some point during their lifetimes. Following a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary which concluded that thousands of victims are being failed by the police every year, major reforms have been made to the system in an attempt to cut rates and abolish domestic abuse.

Attitudes of those in authority are changing, but too slowly. I’m afraid I’ve heard more than one person in recent months report that nothing could be done by Police because ‘it’s a domestic’, or it’s ‘one word against the other’ and too often vulnerable individuals are told to ‘go and get an injunction from a solicitor’. One was even told to ‘get a stronger injunction’ because the restraining order imposed by the courts wasn’t strong enough to arrest upon. Thankfully such outdated views are receding, but they do exist and contribute to misconceptions about who and how domestic abuse impacts.

More concerning for those living locally, were recent figures reported by WiganToday.net suggesting that Wigan had the region’s highest number of arrests for domestic abuse in the past 12 months. This is despite the fact that there is no specific crime of ‘domestic abuse’ which perhaps gives insight as to why police and other authorities sometimes have doubts about when is the right time to act. For the moment the ‘crime’ would include but not be limited to harassment, assault, criminal damage, attempted murder, rape and false imprisonment and the fact it is perpetrated by a family member should make no difference to how serious an offence it is.

The law is changing. In March, Clare's Law was rolled out across the UK. Clare's Law is a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme which allows the police to disclose information about a partner's prior acts of domestic abuse which was piloted in the North West amongst other regions.

The Government has also proposed whether there should be a specific ‘crime’ of domestic abuse in an effort to end any ambiguity, so that Police know exactly how and when they should react.

Fortunately, although Government cuts continue to cause devastation to domestic abuse charities and support services across the country, we have local organisations who struggle on against all the odds to help those in difficulties. Wigan Council who are leading best practice by introducing a Co-ordinated Community Response Model to deal with domestic abuse, linking up Police, Child Protection professionals, Social Services and Domestic Abuse Services in one place so that a pro-active approach can be taken.

As an indication of society’s perception of the problem I recently heard that one single donkey rescue charity received more charity donations than all the domestic abuse charities in the UK combined. I’m not sure how accurate that it, or suggesting you shouldn’t give a donkey a new home, but if you are considering making a donation then please consider the very important work domestic abuse charities do locally and nationally. You really could help save someone’s life.

For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/report-domestic-abuse or http://www.wigan.gov.uk/Resident/Crime-Emergencies/Domestic-Abuse.aspx or contact your local police station.

By Chris Fairhurst, associate solicitor in the family team

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