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Types of domestic abuse include emotional abuse, stalking, threats of violence or intimidation, isolation from friends, relatives or other sources of support, coercive behaviour and financial control.
Taking steps to stop the abuse or escape from the situation and seek support can be challenging both practically and emotionally for victims of domestic abuse. Taking practical steps can often seem too frightening, causing a victim to feel trapped and helpless. To help these victims, there are various organisations whom offer free, confidential support and practical guidance to victims of domestic abuse. However, in an emergency situation, where there is risk of immediate danger, the police/emergency services should be the first port of call.
Many forms of domestic abuse are regarded as criminal offences, such as assault, harassment, sexual abuse and threatening behaviour. A significant number of police forces have specialist Domestic Violence Units to provide advice, support and information to victims. The police have powers to intervene, investigate and arrest the abuser if they have grounds to do so. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are then responsible for investigating the matter and charging the abuser if there is sufficient evidence and prospects of conviction.
Victims of domestic abuse can also apply to the civil courts for an injunction, a civil remedy to protect from abuse. An injunction is a type of court order requiring someone to do (or not to do) something. There are two main types of injunctions available for victims of domestic abuse under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996.
A non-molestation order prevents an abuser from using or threatening violence, intimidation and harassment towards a victim. When deciding to issue a non-molestation order, the courts will give consideration to all of the circumstances, including the need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the victim and any children.
An occupation order stipulates whom can live in the family home, and can also restrict an abuser from entering within a certain area of the home. When deciding to issue an occupation order, the courts will consider the behaviour of the abuser, the housing and financial needs of both the victim and abuser and the likely impact of the order, or not issuing an order, will have on the victim and any children involved.
The cost of an injunction application is free of charge. An applicant can apply themselves as a ‘litigant in person’ or can instruct a solicitor to do so. There are usually costs associated if a barrister or solicitor is required to represent, though legal aid may be available for victims of domestic abuse who cannot afford to pay legal costs.
In Scotland, the Domestic Abuse Act 2018 came into force on 1st April 2019, making all domestic abuse towards a partner, psychological or physical, a criminal offence. As such, “coercive control”, which is a type of emotional and psychological abuse, causing a victim to feel threatened, humiliated, intimidated and controlled, is now a criminal offence under the Act. Similarly, the Act came into force in Ireland in May 2018, creating positive changes for victims of domestic violence in Ireland.
The changes in legislation do not currently extend to Northern Ireland and as such, “coercive control” is not currently a criminal offence. The Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 does offer protection to victims, allowing them to apply for civil orders for protection.
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