The scale of domestic abuse has increased during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Whilst an increase was predicted by experts in this field and echoed in the media, there is a no surprise that the figures have increased so drastically at this phenomenally difficult time.
The Twitter-based project, which aims to track and raise the profile of violence carried out against women by men, found evidence of 16 women having been killed in the period 23rd March to 12th April 2020 while the average for the same period in the ten preceding years was just 5.
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Bird QC, cited the findings of Counting Dead Women in her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee at an emergency meeting held last week to address the problem. She has also called upon the Government to introduce urgent changes to tackle the issue, including making hotel rooms available for victims if they find refuges full.
There remains a great deal of confusion over what services remain available to victims of domestic abuse, both for women and men during the lockdown period. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is open 24 hours a day and can signpost callers to local refuges and other services. It can be contacted on 0808 2000 247.Living in close quarters during the lockdown presents some obvious difficulties that it will simply not be possible to overcome until life returns to normal. With this in mind, Refuge’s advice on living as safely as possible with a partner may be useful as could its guide to securing electronic devices to make it possible to seek help confidentially and digitally.
The Family Court remains operational, albeit with a strong focus on hearings being postponed or carried out remotely. However, steps can be taken to protect victims of domestic abuse. Urgent cases are still being heard, remotely or in person if required, and Occupation and Non-Molestation Orders can be obtained to protect potential victims as well as those who have already experienced abuse. For those in imminent danger, the police should be contacted by calling 999.
We as a firm are still conducting meetings and advice sessions with clients in difficult situations via Skype, Zoom and telephone as well as preparing court applications on their behalf.
An Occupation Order regulates how a family home is used by the occupants and can in many cases require that someone, typically the abusive party leaves the property completely. Other related matters, such as how property expenses and responsibilities are met can also be dealt with: this makes it possible for someone to have to keep paying mortgage, rent and bills even after they have left the property.
A Non-Molestation Order deals with abusive, harassing, or threatening behaviour and can restrict how one person contacts another and whether they do so at all.
These orders are available against a wide variety of people with whom the victim has a family or romantic relationship, even if it is a former relationship. Sharing a child together or having lived together would also bring an applicant within the scope of such orders.
It is worth bearing in mind too that domestic abuse covers a wide spectrum of behaviour: violence, controlling behaviour, threats, and psychological, financial, sexual and emotional abuse all fall within the range of things the Family Court can tackle.
I refer you to my colleague David Hodson’s article Digital Domestic Abuse: The need for International Laws and Protections which looks at international laws for cross-border recognition and enforcement of domestic abuse in particular from a digital perspective. The article can be found on our website here.As mentioned above, anyone in imminent danger should contact the police.