18th Nov 2013

Domestic abuse – defining the problem

The Home Office released a new working definition of domestic abuse – sometimes called domestic violence – earlier this year

The report, found here, stated that;

“Domestic violence and abuse is unacceptable and tackling the issue is a priority for the government.” 

Over recent weeks, that commitment has been called into doubt by a series of statements and news stories from service providers and commentators anxious that  bodies aiming to help victims of abuse are being underfunded. 

The earlier report was made with something of a fanfare.  It appeared to represent a determined effort to get to grips with the scourge that domestic violence and abuse inflicts on many adults, both male and female, as well as children who might be witness to such abuse or the aftermath of it.

The emphasis on a wider definition of domestic abuse rather than the narrower focus on violence was welcomed.  The Home Office made clear that it saw patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour as being just as unattractive as violence itself.  Abuse was now to explicitly include

  • psychological
  • physical
  • financial
  • sexual and
  • emotional abuse

This list was not to be seen as being exhaustive.

The abusive behaviour could be controlling or coercive as well as direct incidents of violence.

What is controlling behaviour?

Controlling behaviour within domestic abuse would be actions that isolated the other person and/or made them dependent upon the abuser.  Such actions can include driving away friends, colleagues and family members.  It might include using the victim’s assets and resources for the abuser’s own needs.  Depleting their assets reduces their independence and ability to access services relating to legal issues or being able to get away from the victim and their behaviour. 

As independence decreases, dependence upon the abuser increases and, with it, the control that she or he can exert over the victim.

Controlling behaviour can also be seen in the jealous and the possessive.  The abuser might control many aspects of the victim’s daily life including who they see and speak to, how and when they use the telephone, mobile or internet and what time they come and go.  It may be disguised as an overbearing concern where the abuser finds excuses for always being there; driving the victim everywhere, insisting on coming into appointments and often speaking for the victim.

Coercive behaviour

The Home Office report defined coercive behaviour as follows;

“Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

Note how the use of violence might feature but does not have to.  Threats, humiliation, intimidation or the deliberately undefined “other abuse” also apply

Even though the Home Office took the initiative in revisiting these definitions it stands accused of failing to allocate resources to services working in this sector.  As a result there is rising concern that victims of domestic abuse are being denied access to justice or routes out of abusive relationships.

In these times of austerity that might not be a surprise.

We also need to recognise that not all victims of domestic abuse will feel comfortable accessing public funded services or be looking to apply for legal aid.  The lurid coverage earlier this year of the clearly strained and allegedly abusive relationship between Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson reminded us all that domestic abuse can be found in relationships right across the economic spectrum from the poor to the very wealthy.

If you have concerns about your relationship and want to explore what you might do about it then contact Family Law in Partnership, divorce and family lawyers in London.  We will be able to speak to you about your options and legal remedies to include removing your partner from the home in some situations.  Family Law in Partnership is unique in having family counsellors working with us in house at our offices in Covent Garden.  If you would prefer to discuss your circumstances with a counsellor instead of a lawyer then we will be able to assist you in that sense instead.