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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - Important changes from March 2013

(42 Posts)
olgaga Wed 19-Sep-12 10:02:02

I thought it was worth flagging this up here as well as in Relationships!

It will be announced today that from March next year the definition of domestic violence is 'to be widened to explicitly include "coercive control", which is defined as complex patterns of abuse by one partner using power and psychological control over another, such as financial, verbal abuse or enforced social isolation'. Teenagers aged 16-18 will also be protected for the first time.

You can read more here:

A little bit of light at the end of the tunnel for anyone who has to put up with bullying, verbal, emotional and financial abuse in the home.

What's really interesting is whether this will also have an impact in the Family Courts with regard to the consideration of the conduct of ex partners/spouses in divorce proceedings and child residence/contact Orders. At the moment the only "conduct" usually taken into account is physical violence. Anything else is more or less ignored. Surely that will also have to change.

EdMcDunnough Wed 19-Sep-12 10:11:12

this is the first bit of good news in ages regarding court and access.

Thanks for sharing.

Collaborate Wed 19-Sep-12 11:40:04

"At the moment the only "conduct" usually taken into account is physical violence. Anything else is more or less ignored."

Thast's not true,as anyone working in this field will testify.

Such conduct isn't ever relevant though when dividing the money.

olgaga Wed 19-Sep-12 12:16:32

The problem is that at the moment, because it's not a criminal matter, it's a lottery. It's entirely up to the response of the criminal justice agencies such as police, probation and the courts as to whether it is taken seriously enough to ensure people (adults and children) are protected. As anyone working in this field will testify.

Widening the definitions and making such abuse a criminal matter will ensure that there is no room for argument as to how serious it is.

I didn't mention division of assets.

STIDW Wed 19-Sep-12 19:30:36

The Home Office press release which defines controlling and coercive behaviour is now available here;

Let's be quite clear this isn't a legal definition and there is no specific offence of domestic violence under criminal law.

As Collaborate said the family courts already take controlling and bullying behaviour into consideration. For example in the case Re S (A Child) [2012] EWCA Civ 1031 a Shared Residence Order was considered inappropriate because the judge found the father would use it to dominate and control the mother. Sole residence was therefore granted to the mother.

When there is evidence of abuse the courts weigh the harm or risk of harm to children against the harm psychologists and psychiatrists say children suffer when they loose contact with a natural parent. In cases when the abuse is low level it's unlikely that no contact would be deemed in the best interests of children. The courts can put measures in place to make contact work such as handovers at a neutral venue, supervised contact, contact in a contact centre, conditions attached to the contact order, Separated Parent Information Programmes, anger management or courses for DV perpetrators. I can't see that changing.

olgaga Wed 19-Sep-12 22:19:25

Oh dear you just don't get it do you. The publicity this generates will do wonders for people putting up with this behaviour. They will realise they can seek help and don't have to wait until they are beaten or raped before they can contact the police, or their families have to sit through an inquest, asking themselves and anyone else who will listen "Why was this allowed to happen?".

The point is the police can use the Protection from Harassment Act to pursue criminal investigations into this kind of abuse, which wasn't possible before. Yes it's underused, yes it'll take time, but as ACPO says:

"Acpo supports the home secretary's amendments to the cross-government definition of domestic violence. The amendments... are key in helping to raise awareness and enable effective prevention working in partnership with all agencies.

"Domestic abuse ruins lives - in some cases it ends in homicide. This amended definition will help us all to work together to defeat this dreadful crime."

You refer to cases when the abuse is low level

That's the very point. The widening of the definition means there is no such thing as "low level" abuse which simply be be ignored and dismissed as nothing to worry about.

Yes there will have to be training - certainly for family lawyers, by the look of it. Yes there will have to be more attention from all agencies working in the justice system. Yes it doesn't go as far as many people (including myself) would like. Yes resources for dealing with domestic violence and abuse are being cut, and yes it would be better to write a specific law.

But yes it will bring about change, even if it's not immediate.

The impression you give is that you're sitting there sighing, rolling your eyes, thinking it's all just too much trouble, all this fuss about nothing, it's just "low level abuse".

That's the attitude which has prompted these changes. No it isn't going to bring about miracles overnight, but it's an improvement on the status quo.

No wonder people think they have no choice but to put up with the nightmare of abuse, and are put off asking for help when that is the kind of attitude they encounter.

"Calm down ladies. move along, nothing to see here!" Here on Mumsnet, of all places. Very sad.

Aspiemum2 Wed 19-Sep-12 22:24:35

Ok Olgaga, I get what you're saying but how do we prove domestic abuse? If I had gone to the police when I was with ex what could I have said?

Yes I know what he did was wrong but how do you prove it, his word against mine surely?

BlackberryIce Wed 19-Sep-12 22:30:59

This non violent firm if domestic abuse is what I have often heard if regarding women inflicting it on their male partners

I hope there are resources available to help these men ....

olgaga Wed 19-Sep-12 22:41:51

On these threads I have seen posts where people have been coerced into sex, had their bankcards taken, been isolated from their families who are extremely worried about them, verbally abused in front of their children, had their homes and belongings vandalised.

Because they were never physically assaulted they didn't think there was anywhere to go because no crime had been committed. Their families didn't think there was anything they could do either. Even support agencies and local authorities weren't able to help.

Now they will at least know this kind of abuse is not acceptable, it is no longer felt to be "low level". If they want to take action and make a complaint they can demand to be taken seriously and not accept being fobbed off with "Come back when you get beaten up".

How do you prove any abuse? Through investigation, with evidence - texts, emails, bank statements, witnesses. It's like saying "How do I prove I'm being stalked or harassed?"

Well I'm not saying it'll be easy. But it can be done. At the moment, no-one will take such a complaint seriously let alone investigate it.

It's the start of a shift in culture and the perception of what abuse is and how damaging it is. Which is why I welcome it, and I find it depressing that any professional would react by saying "Oh what can you do, nothing will change, it's still only "low level".

olgaga Wed 19-Sep-12 22:43:10

I hope there are resources available to help these men ....

Why do you think men are excluded from justice? There's nothing in the proposals which indicates this only applies to women!

Aspiemum2 Wed 19-Sep-12 22:49:59

The shift in culture should definitely be welcomed but I honestly don't think I'd ever have gone to the police, not even over the sexual abuse. I can just about type a reference to it on here but no way could I actually vocalise to another person what he did and the actual details.

I hope other people are braver than me and can report what's happening but I just know that I couldn't. Everyone believes he's so wonderful I honestly don't think anyone would believe me. I can't explain it properly but he's just good at getting people to like him

Am I making any sense? sad

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 08:55:12

You are making perfect sense Aspiemum2. You are describing a very common situation. People who are controlling and abusive are often very charming and adept at grooming.

You might find this interesting:

It has taken 30 years of campaigning just to get to this point - but there has been significant change, and it will continue.

I do not want a society which accepts the kind of abuse you, I and many other women have survived. However awful our experiences were, at least we did survive. On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner. This constitutes nearly 40% of all female homicide victims.

For the sake of all our daughters, we must keep on educating, campaigning and raising awareness.

I totally understand your despair though.

Collaborate Thu 20-Sep-12 10:31:34

Olgaga - to continue the exchange persently on the co-op Q&A thread(don't want to hijack that) what you appear to want is a system whereby contact is stopped in the presence of low level abuse. Have I got that right?

Could you just answer me these questions?

When considering whether contact should take place, should the court consider only the best interest of the child?

To what extent should the mother's interests affect the interests of the child?

What steps do you think should be taken to manage the risk to the mother whilst ensuring that contact takes place?

What impact will there be on a child of ceasing all contact with the absent father?

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 11:09:34

I'm puzzled that you refer to "mothers" throughout your questions but I take it that you mean the parent with care.

I am not in favour of automatic decisions, as you imply. I am in favour of every case being given the thorough and considered examination it deserves, which would include the damaging nature of what you refer to as "low level abuse" which I prefer to call domestic abuse and/or violence.

1. Yes.
2. It depend what you mean by "interests". If it means their safety and welfare, then yes of course as that will have an impact on the child, even if indirectly.
3. Through agencies taking the risk more seriously in the first instance, continued consideration in the light of that seriousness, and improving facilities and supervision of contact where it is ordered.
4. It depends entirely on the individual circumstances. In some cases, ceasing all contact will be the best outcome. That is why older children might take that decision themselves - despite the fact that it may lead to the parent with care being taken to court.

I hope that answers your questions. I am busy today, and I hope you are too. I also find that there are plenty of important questions on this website, which don't tend to involve point-scoring and professional preening.

Collaborate Thu 20-Sep-12 11:47:52

I hope I'm not preening or point scoring. It's just that many of your posts suggest either a challenge to the orthadox approach of the courts in contact matters where there is domestic violence, or a lack of understanding of what that approach is.

The courts already take low level domestic abuse in to account - but to say that in itself it is justification for the father's contact to be supervised is wrong. From the child's perspective the question to be asked is what is the risk of the father causing harm to the child. If there is a risk, that will be managed with supervision or by no direct contact. If there is no risk to the child but risk to the mother that can be managed by 3rd party handovers.

I just wondered whether it was this current approach that you object to or whether you believed the usual approach of the court to be something other than this.

I am busy today - applying for a non-molestation injunction for a client.

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 12:05:04

I understand what the status quo is. Little or no consideration of "low level" domestic abuse of a parent, the likelihood it will escalate, or the impact on the child.

Parents accused (even by their own legal representatives) of being unreasonable for even mentioning it, or told that they would be seen as unreasonable by the court for raising it, and/or their concerns being dismissed as unimportant.

I think that should change - and I'm not alone in thinking that.

MOSagain Thu 20-Sep-12 15:45:00

I agree entirely with collaborate and STIDW.
I have on a number of occasions successfully obtained non-molestation orders for clients where there was no actual 'physical abuse'.

Yes, it is good that there is awareness of the forthcoming changes but it is important to make clear, as Collaborate has already done, that it is still possible to obtains orders under the 'old system'.

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 16:33:46

Yes I know, and that's good! It's the fact that it then tends to be disregarded as rather unimportant "low level abuse" in consideration of contact orders which I think is wrong.

Domestic abuse is what it is. All of it is damaging to children, whether it is directed at them or or "just" at a parent.

Too many people think they can get away with all sorts of abuse towards a parent as long as they are "good parents" to their children - and far too often, in my view, the courts facilitate this.

Collaborate Thu 20-Sep-12 16:58:53

That's because the primary concern of the court in Children Act proceedings is the child rather than the mother. I presume you wouldn't want to change that principle.

In DV cases the emphasis is changed.

STIDW Thu 20-Sep-12 18:47:09

olgaga @ Wed 19-Sep-12 22:19:25 wrote:

The impression you give is that you're sitting there sighing, rolling your eyes, thinking it's all just too much trouble, all this fuss about nothing, it's just "low level abuse".

No one's rolling their eyes. DV ranges from in seriousness from minor assaults with little lasting impact to murder. The DASH risk checklist is used to identify and assess risk of serious violence and to save lives. Controlling behaviour can be just as devastating to a victim as physical violence and that is already reflected in the DASH checklist. When a high risk is identified a MARAC (multi agency risk assessment) hearing is held in order to create a safety plan for the victim.

It's highly unlikely that someone subjected to a DASH assessment and found to be a high risk or a MARAC hearing would be granted contact. These cases invariably go through the criminal courts or public law proceedings.

If violence involving drunken arguments, threats, doors kicked, police call outs which involve advice being given rather than arrests and there was not a risk of serious injury to the children and the other parent the score on the DASH assessment would be "low to moderate." In these circumstances it's likely that contact will be ordered in private family law proceedings perhaps with measures in place to ensure contact is safe. The problem is when there is no independent evidence to corroborate allegations of abuse.

No one said that witnessing DV doesn't harm children. Rather when the harm from cutting out a parent from the lives of children is deemed greater than the harm from DV contact is likley to be ordered. Low level abusers are allowed to see their children in recognition of the clear principles of both domestic and international law of the child’s right to have a relationship with both parents and that's not changing.

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 18:49:31

Yes of course it's always in the child's interests to have contact with someone who indulges in "low level abuse" towards their other parent. Thankfully these children make their own minds up when they are old enough, but not before the damage is done.

Great to hear about all your good work on the non-molestation orders but a criminal conviction might carry a little more weight. I'm delighted that there may be more of them in future. Maybe then we'll stop hearing about "low level abuse".

avenueone Thu 20-Sep-12 19:53:54

Low level abusers are allowed to see their children in recognition of the clear principles of both domestic and international law of the child’s right to have a relationship with both parents and that's not changing. this statement always makes me...well not agree with it.. there is a word or two missing....what kind of `relationship'?

DV on any level is not usually personal which would suggest is likely to not be isolated to the partner.

If a parent allowed a child to have a `relationship' with any other `low level abuser' (than their biological parent) - they would hear about it from society.

Buy hey... whilst it is still allowed - lawyers still get paid, so they are never going to disagree - while the client has a chance they will keep repeating the `point of law' they can use for their paid for job representing their clients. (ducks under table)

Luckily voluntary organisations who end up picking up the pieces see it differently.

Men should be pleased with this change as `coercive control' IMO is used more by women that violence so they will have more of their abuse recognised.

avenueone Thu 20-Sep-12 19:57:40

Yes of course it's always in the child's interests to have contact with someone who indulges in "low level abuse" towards their other parent. Thankfully these children make their own minds up when they are old enough, but not before the damage is done. sorry olgaga I should have added, I agree with this totally - the evidence will sadly only become evident in years to come and we don't want to be proved right but we will.

STIDW Thu 20-Sep-12 21:48:49

Just to avoid any doubt as stated on MyMumsnet page I am not a lawyer.

Children don't always make up their minds in ways parents expect. For example, a child may resent a parent if in the eyes of the child that parent is responsible for sending the other parent to prison. Or a child sometimes aligns with an abusive parent.

Generally children love their parents and need to know them however unworthy the parents are by any objective standards. I know that because as a child I was seriously abused by a parent (my mother as it happens) who suffered from mental illness and I as a result I am in pain daily and hobble about on crutches. That pales into insignificance compared to the living death my mother suffered.

It is psychiatrists and psychologists not lawyers that clearly and for so long have told courts that no contact risks causing significant emotional damage to children and that is why it is rare for courts to order no contact. To change that there would need to be a change in the thinking of psychiatrists and psychologists. Victims of DV need to know that no contact is rare because in many cases it is in their interests and in the interests of children to focus on establishing boundaries and measures to ensure contact is safe rather than no contact.

Some voluntary organisations do sterling work but are under resourced and in my experience it is the mental health services who sometimes are left to pick up the pieces.

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 22:40:53

avenueone yes - thankfully they are only subjected to this until they are old enough to take the difficult decision themselves to cut contact, but they are damaged nonetheless. The sad fact is they are left to make that decision themselves and feel responsible for it, only after untold damage has been done.

STIDW I am sorry to hear of your horrific personal experience. Yes generally children do love their parents which is why it is so horrendous for a child to go through the charade of contact with one parent who has abused their other parent.

I'm afraid I don't agree that this is all the fault of psychiatrists and psychologists. They do not make decisions in these cases. There is ample evidence about the confusion and damage caused to children who witness domestic abuse, even if it is (as you describe it) "low level".

Perhaps it is your own experience which informs your view that there is such a thing as "low level abuse". I have my own experience which I decline to share, but I think all abuse is corrosive and damaging to everyone in the firing line, and that includes children who suffer indirectly.

Most abusers are not suffering from mental illness, they are simply abusive.

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