Domestic Abuse - Guest Blog
Updated: May 27, 2020
Lewis Chatten of Charles Strachan Solicitors considers the law that protects victims of domestic abuse.
Throughout this article, I focus specifically on LGBTQ+ victims of domestic abuse who have experienced harm at the hands of their partners, ex-partners, or family members including parents, siblings, and grandparents.
What is Domestic Abuse?
Domestic violence and domestic abuse can be defined as “any incident 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.”
When we hear the phrase “domestic abuse” the common thought is to turn to the obvious physical violence that may occur within the family however domestic abuse can be much more than physical violence and can include psychological abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse and emotional abuse.
LGBTQ+ People and Domestic Abuse
Not surprisingly, victims of domestic abuse can find it very difficult to come forward and ask for help. This difficulty is added to when considering a community that has historically and presently been bullied, harmed, abused and not taken seriously simply for being themselves and LGBTQ+ people may find it harder to come forward and ask for help as a result of this.
Sadly a lot of us in the LGBTQ+ community are likely to have suffered from homophobic abuse throughout our life and these experiences can make it difficult for LGBTQ+ people to come forward due to concerns and/or fear that we will suffer further abuse or victimisation from those whom we have sought help from including the police or indeed the Courts. Some of us may experience homophobic abuse from our family making us feel isolated and feeling as though we have no-one to turn to for protection.
Stonewall’s research has suggested that one in four lesbian and bisexual women have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship and from those who have reported abuse 3/4 said it was at the hands of a woman and 1/4 said that it was at the hands of a male. Further statistics from Stonewall have shown that 49% of gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner since the age of 16. Further statistics show that 80% of transgender people have experienced domestic abuse.
LGBTQ+ people may specifically become a victim of domestic abuse simply because we have “come out” to our family. Our families may make derogatory comments towards us or in the extreme may physically harm us as a result of our sexuality or gender identity.
The LGBTQ+ community is perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups of people in society and I firmly believe that everyone regardless of sexuality or gender identity should be able to come forward and ask for help and protection with assistance from the law.
There are various ways that the law can provide protection to victims of domestic abuse.
Victims of domestic abuse can seek protection from their abuser with assistance of a formal Court Order. One example is a Non-Molestation Order which is a protective injunction specific to family members and other intimate relationships including current and ex-partners.
A Non-Molestation Order is aimed to specifically stop perpetrators of domestic abuse from taking further action against their victims. A Non-Molestation Order can include specific directions that stop the perpetrator from using or threatening violence against their victim, harassing or pestering their victim, and contacting their victim directly or through a third party. A Non-Molestation Order can also be used to stop a perpetrator from attending within a certain distance of their victim’s home.
Once a Non-Molestation Order has been granted by the Court it is usual for the order to remain in place for a year, however the length of the order can be varied upon order of the Court. If a perpetrator of violence breaks the order in any way they will have committed an automatic arrestable offence and the victim should contact the police immediately so that a criminal investigation can take place.
Applications for Non-Molestation Orders can be heard on a “with notice” or a “without notice (ex-parte)” basis. Usually in family proceedings it would be the case that the victim would submit their application to the Court and this application would then be served on the perpetrator with the court hearing taking place after the perpetrator has had the opportunity to read what is said in the application. This can prove particularly problematic in matters involving domestic abuse because until the first hearing has taken place there is no formal order that provides protection to the victim between the time of service and the first hearing.
Without notice applications are particularly helpful. Without notice applications are when the victim will attend court without having served the perpetrator and without the perpetrator knowing that an application for a Non-Molestation Order is being made. The Court will allow an application for a Non-Molestation Order on an without notice basis where it is satisfied that (i) the victim would suffer significant harm at the hands of the perpetrator if the order were not made immediately or (ii) where the victim would be deterred or prevented from going through with the application if an order were not made immediately. If an order is made on a without notice basis the Court will arrange a further hearing known as the “return date.” The return date will usually take place a week or two after the without notice hearing depending on Court time.
In recent years there has been a substantial amount of cuts to Legal Aid and unfortunately only specific types of family proceedings are now eligible for Legal Aid. Legal Aid is available for applications for Non-Molestation Orders however this is subject to a “means and merits test”.
In some situations it may be appropriate, and in fact the Legal Aid Agency may require, that a letter before action is sent to the perpetrator to warn them of their inappropriate actions and warning them that if their actions continue that an application will be made to Court for an injunction before Legal Aid will be granted.
We Can Help
At Charles Strachan Solicitors we appreciate that domestic violence is a very sensitive issue. I am a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and I am very passionate about assisting those within our community.
Should you or someone you know be in a situation whereby they require formal protection from a perpetrator of domestic abuse or should you wish to formally warn a perpetrator of domestic abuse about their actions please do not hesitate to contact me by calling the office on 0121 704 3311 or emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to assist and discuss Legal Aid with you.
In the event of an emergency you should contact the police on 999.