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Nadia Salam: Domestic abuse - one size does not fit all

Date:24 SEP 2012

Nadia SalamDealing with domestic abuse cases is nothing new, however recently I have increasingly come across many different people who are victims of domestic abuse in a variety of circumstances.  Some of these victims have not even seen the incidents as domestic abuse due to the situation, and others have said that they have felt unsupported and not believed when talking about their abuse to other professionals.

None of these people have fitted the ‘typical' domestic abuse victim or scenario.  One example being someone who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her in-laws who lived in the same house; the other had been abused by her son and his partner.  Neither perpetrator was their spouse or partner but rather other family members.  Due to this they had not viewed it as domestic abuse and were very confused at the time of seeking legal advice, neither reporting the incidents to the police.  I also regularly deal with a large number of male victims of domestic abuse, the majority of whom have felt stigmatised and ashamed to speak out, when they have found the courage to do so they have not been believed by the police, and have often had disbelieving Judges and other professionals in family proceedings.

All of this has led me to the conclusion that more needs to be done to raise awareness about domestic abuse, including that a victim and a perpetrator can be from any background, age or gender; that there is no such thing as a typical domestic abuse scenario and that abuse can take place is varying forms.  The law already clearly defines this and recognises this, both the Family Law Act 1996 and the ACPO definition set this out.  For once it is not the law around domestic abuse that needs to be changed, but rather people's perceptions including Judges, lawyers, police, other professionals and the public.

Even the recent announcement from the Home Office stating the definition of domestic violence will be wider, allowing more criminal convictions, showed a lack of awareness of the different types of victims.  The Home Office website clearly states that the ‘latest action by the government [is] to tackle violence against women and girls', completely failing to neglect males that too are victims.

Domestic abuse affects a number of people, there are many different studies giving different statistics, however they all show that abuse is prevalent, and has long lasting effects on victims and any children part of the family who witness the abuse or indeed are too victims.  Better support is needed for victims and their children, it is important that we do not focus solely on female victims or those who are abused by their partners.  Raising awareness and ensuring there are support services for all types of victims in all types of circumstances will ensure that more people are protected.  Domestic abuse does not simply affect one group of people, it can affect anyone, it is about someone controlling the other using various means with devastating consequences.  With domestic abuse there is no one size fits all, a change in attitudes is needed to enable better protection and support to victims.

Nadia Salam is a family solicitor-advocate and collaborative lawyer at GT Stewart Solicitors. She practises in all areas of family law and has a particular interest in domestic abuse and children law.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.