Finally, it appears the government is beginning to acknowledge domestic abuse, in all its forms. Domestic abuse doesn’t have to involve violence for a victim to obtain protection from the court via a Non-Molestation Order.
But what amounts to molestation?
There is no still no statutory definition of the term “molesting”. Guidance can be elicited from case law and the Home Office definition of “domestic violence”, namely: “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality, but a change to the law announced at the end of last year means that victims of abuse who haven’t suffered violence may now get a more sympathetic hearing.
In December 2014, The Home Office announced that it intends to introduce legislation to create a new criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. The precise wording of the new legislation is yet to be finalised, but details are expected to be published within the next few weeks.
The effectiveness of the legislation will depend upon how it is interpreted by the Courts and, in the first instance, whether coercive and controlling behaviour is even recognised by the victim as abuse. A victim may not consider such behaviour as abusive, which makes it important for lawyers and domestic abuse services to advise and give guidance to victims to ensure they (and any children) are protected before the abuse escalates and becomes physically violent. Knowledge is power and the more information made available to victims, hopefully, the easier it will be for them to get the help they need.
Thus far, controlling and coercive behaviour has generally been considered “low risk or low level” domestic abuse by the Courts, domestic abuse services and the police. At present, it can be difficult to obtain (emergency) protection in the form of a Non-Molestation Order, without notice being given to the abuser. The police have sometimes been reluctant to take action if a Non-Molestation Order is breached, for example if the abuser posts nasty messages on Facebook. This has meant that it is vital the victim keeps records of controlling behaviour, for instance text messages, phone records or emails, and keeps a diary of incidents. This evidence can be used to support of an application for a Non-Molestation Order, or to encourage the police to take action when an Order is breached. Whether the change in the law will impact upon how this form of abuse of viewed, we’ll have to wait and see.
Whatever form it takes, domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, and should instead be seen as a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviour through which the abuser seeks power over their victim, and which, if unchecked, is likely to escalate. Typically, this involves a pattern of abusive which gets worse over time.
Abuse can begin at any time, in the first year of a relationship, or after many years together. It may begin, continue, or escalate after a couple have separated, and may take place not only in the home but also in a public place, or via social media, for example Facebook.
Whatever forms the abuse takes, victims have a right to protection, and the abuse can never be justified. Here at the Family Law Co, our specialist lawyers know just how hard it is for victims to come forward and report abuse. We ensure all cases are handled sensitively, efficiently and in a timely manner by our solicitors in Exeter and Plymouth, so that victims (and any children of the family) receive the protection they need and deserve, whilst we work with the domestic abuse agencies to ensure victims get the additional support and services they need.