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Domestic Abuse and COVID-19

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Domestic Abuse and COVID-19

The current health crisis being dealt with across the globe is placing exceptional strain on people and businesses as Governments fight to contain the coronavirus and protect public health, whilst maintaining key services. 

Advice to the vulnerable and elderly to self-isolate for 12 weeks and for others to stay at home means that people are likely to be spending significant periods with their nearest and dearest. However, what about those who are victims of domestic abuse and for whom home is anything but safe?

For most people, these events are stressful in itself. This stress is going to be exacerbated by worry over the uncertainty that currently exists, concerns as to job and financial security as well as worries for our health and those for whom we love and care. Unfortunately, situations such as this can raise the risk of domestic abuse. 

Domestic abuse is a term used to describe a wide range of different behaviours and includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, harassment and coercive control. Whatever the form of abuse, it has no place in a healthy loving relationship. 

IF YOU ARE IN A DOMESTICALLY ABUSIVE SITUATION

If you are facing imminent danger, you should call the police on 999 and try to escape to a place of safety. Many of the behaviours that are considered as abusive are, in themselves or collectively, considered criminal behaviour. The police also have additional protective measures available to them such as warnings for harassment, bail conditions and Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders.

It is also important to remember that, notwithstanding the current problems, the courts are still open and the government has confirmed the intention to keep the family justice system continuing to function as normally as possible. 

Urgent applications can be made to the court for non molestation orders and occupation orders. A non molestation order is an order which prohibits the abusive partners from using or threatening violence, harassment or intimidation, or instructing or encouraging anyone else to do so. It can also prohibit the abusive partner from contacting you directly or indirectly and include provision prohibiting the abusive partner from coming to where you live or work. These orders can also protect the children. Breach of a non molestation order is a criminal offence.  

If you wish to remain in the family home, then it may be necessary to obtain an occupation order. This allows the court to make orders regulating your rights of occupation. An order of this type could require your abusive partner to allow you to live in the property if, for example, they have thrown you out. Alternatively, it could require the abusive partner to leave the property and deny them the right to come back for a period of time. Breach of an occupation order is considered contempt of court but can have a power of arrest applied. This means that if a breach is reported to the police, they have the power to arrest the abusive partner and bring him or her before the family court at the earliest opportunity. 

It is also possible to apply to the court for orders relating to the children. If you decide to leave an abusive relationship, you will need to consider whether to take the children with you. You may not wish to cause them disruption but it may be simply unsafe for them to stay and/or necessary for the children to remain with you because you are and have been their main carer. It is worth remembering that it is well recognised that even where children are directly subjected to domestic abuse, the effects of that abuse on their parent is considered to be harmful. 

Refuge accommodation is also still available along with other domestic abuse services. The Essex Domestic Abuse Helpline can be contacted on 0330 3337444 and you can self refer via their website essexcompass.org.uk. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Nobody should have to live in fear of abuse and violence. For more help, support and information call Karen Johnson, a family solicitor specialising in domestic abuse on 01206 217305 or email karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk.

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