We enlist the expertise of leading black female barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien for advice and help with domestic abuse. Keep up to date with Paula on social media @familylawguruuk.

Welcoming a child into your relationship is one of the most exhilarating things you can do. You may have had doubts about your union, but those were placed carefully to one side as you navigated your way through all the necessary preparations before meeting your child.

You may have been told that parenting can be incredibly isolating and, quite frankly, an endless thankless task, but the reality is often so much harder to bear. Then throw fear of your partner into the mix and you can easily find yourself, may be two or three years later down the line, may be having welcomed a second or third child, in a relationship that is causing you harm.

Emotional abuse is just as damaging

Professionals, and society generally, used to refer to the problem as being “domestic violence”. However, in 2012 when the coalition government extended the age range of those who could suffer such (now including those aged from 16-18), there was also a reassessment and realisation that emotional abuse was just as damaging.

With The Domestic Abuse Bill receiving Royal Assent just a few days ago (April 2021), the government has seized the opportunity to now provide society with a legal definition of domestic abuse. Apart from using the word “abuse” as opposed to “violence” in the title of the new law, society will be made aware that abuse includes not just the obvious definitions involving one intimate partner abusing another, but the more wider definition of where an offender attempts to gain control or power over another within a domestic setting. The offender can attempt to gain such control either emotionally, financially, and/or physically.

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Society should also be aware that domestic abuse is not just about the relationship between intimate partners, but as between siblings, or parent/child; the important point to make is that there is a domestic relationship between the offender and the abused.

The most recent government statistics inform us that 2.3 million people suffered domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020. However, when the pandemic hit, the government knew they had to pour more resources into charities assisting victims who found themselves lock downed with abusive partners. Sadly, the CPS saw a 52% increase in the amount of domestic abuse cases that they prosecuted during lockdown 2020 and there were overwhelming increases across the board for charities attempting to assist victims who were trying to leave their abusive partner.

Identifying as a victim of domestic abuse

It is quite common for most victims, particularly in the early years of a relationship, to not identify as being a “victim” of domestic abuse. It’s a hard concept for anyone to have to think about and then accept: that they chose to fall in love with someone who causes them and/or even their children harm. Counselling is the key to accepting this reality, and once accepted, counselling will continue to assist you in remaining strong and focused about how you want to live your life, free from abuse, particularly where your partner is making you doubt your every move, or has whittled away at your self-esteem, and support network.

Your abuser will make you feel that you are weak without them, and that in any event, no one will believe you if you told the truth. Your abuser will threaten you with the involvement of outside agencies, like social services, or the Family Courts and will remind you of mistakes you may have made over the years that could be viewed in a dim light by such professionals. There is also the absolute threat of losing your child to the abuser, or that you are constantly being told by the abuser that they will make your life a living hell (how much worse could it possibly get?!) if you dared to leave. Such threats are common, although to you, they are so much more than threats…. professionals do understand this.

Making the decision to leave your abuser

It would be wrong of me to suggest that making the decision to leave your abuser is easy. The research informs us that it takes a survivor at least 5 times of asking, before they receive the tailored help they need to leave and once you make that decision to leave, you are actually at your most vulnerable. This is why ensuring you are mentally strong and free from the vice like grip of your abuser is required, otherwise, you will return. Your abuser will tell you that they have changed, that they will engage in therapy, they will hark back to difficulties in their childhood, how you can help them change… you know what I mean.

Legal advice on how to leave an abusive partner

So what steps do you need to think about taking if you want to leave your abusive partner? If your situation is urgent, then please call the police. Remember, they cannot find you without you saying where you are, so if you can’t talk, keep them on the line until you can, they will be patient. If you hang up or the call is disconnected they will ring back. Alternatively, have a code word with a friend or loved one that you can message and they can call the police for you.

If you don’t have access to your phone then leave the house, just leave! If you are concerned about anyone left in the home, then please try a neighbour to use their phone and explain there is an emergency. Alternatively, you may be out shopping and decide that you just can’t return home. Most high street chemists and supermarkets, if you approach a member of staff and ask for ANI, will understand it’s the government-approved codeword for a victim fleeing domestic abuse, and know to offer you details for services providing immediate assistance.

I appreciate that many of you will be just as frightened of ringing the police and potentially criminalising your loved one. However, you also know that the abuse needs to stop. So if the situation isn’t urgent, then plan your escape where possible. Identify a loved one who can assist you in making enquiries about housing, legal or financial advice. Understand what it takes to financially run a home, what benefits you would be eligible for and how quickly it would take for you to receive such.

Make sure you take pictures of all official documents, like passports and birth certificates, if you are unable to remove them once you are ready to leave, although ideally take the originals where you can. Finally, for everything else make contact with your local DA support group which will be advertised on your local authority website. They are your free one-stop professional shop who, if they can’t immediately answer any questions you have, will be able to signpost you to someone who can.

Supporting a victim of abuse

If you are a concerned friend/loved one reading this article, then you will need to be patient and be prepared to ditch your assumptions and expectations regarding “who” a victim is and how they “should” behave. As a person surviving the abuse, your mindset is one of survival mode, it is hard for you to see how it is possible to escape your abuser’s clutches. Even if you do manage to escape, you may second guess your actions: “goodness I didn’t realise it would be so hard without them, they were right”; or, “maybe I was more to blame than I realised, after all, it does take two”. Remember, having second thoughts is normal; it’s part of the healing process, but time is truly a great healer.

Article by Paula Rhone-Adrien, @familylawguruuk.

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