The reality of domestic abuse

family life

A picture of life on the ‘front line’

I suspect that most people who have not suffered or witnessed it would have only a vague idea of the reality of domestic abuse. That is understandable. I thought that as a solicitor who practised family law for about a quarter of a century I would have a pretty good idea of that reality – after all, I had represented many victims, and seen first-hand how they were affected.

But I was never really in the ‘front line’, as an article I read over the weekend in The Guardian makes quite clear. The article is written by Becky Rogerson, the chief executive of ‘My Sisters Place’, which describes itself as “an independent specialist ‘One Stop Shop’ for women aged 16 or over and have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence”. It is located in Middlesbrough. Now, in my time I obviously had dealings with domestic abuse refuges, often finding places for my clients in them, but the picture that Becky paints of life on the front line of domestic abuse made me realise how little even I knew of the reality.

My Sisters Place is not actually a refuge, although it does provide a safe place for victims of abuse. Its purpose is more to do with counselling and practical support for victims.

The short article does not actually say that much about life helping domestic abuse victims (much of it is about the funding issues that it and other domestic abuse charities sadly face), but what it does say was enough to open my eyes a little.

Take, for example, this extract:

“I’ve been to serious crime scenes, attended home visits in dreadful properties and heard some gruelling accounts of human cruelty.

“My day starts with police referrals from high-risk incidents the night before, involving calls to the police and courts to check that the perpetrator is in custody, find out where the victim is and see what is happening.”

I never went to the places where my clients were abused – I never in my career went to a crime scene, although I did see some gruesome photographs of them. In fact, I’m not even sure that I considered those places to be ‘crime scenes’ (remember, for much of my career the police did not usually involve themselves in ‘domestics’, as incidents of domestic abuse were then called). But they are, of course, crime scenes, and I realise now that some of them can be particularly harrowing to see.

I also never saw the places where my clients were living. I know domestic abuse occurs at all levels of society, but it has well known links to poverty and deprivation. I suspect that many of the homes in which my clients were forced to live were pretty dreadful places, adding to the misery of the abuse they were suffering.

The second paragraph of the extract does ring some bells with me. I do recall that sense of ‘drop everything’ urgency when a client consulted me for protection from domestic abuse. Back then, of course, the chances were that the perpetrator would not be in custody, so the urgency would be to get before the court as soon as possible, to get the client the protection of an ex parte non-molestation order.

Becky goes on to explain the pressures of the work, and how not everyone is suited to it. She says that they have had a number of staff who haven’t even lasted a week.

The other reality highlighted by the article is another thing that the lawyer rarely sees: the long-term effects of abuse. Becky speaks of women who “are so low that they can’t get up in the morning to face the day”, and ends the article with a recent incident:

“Last week, I went into our waiting room and saw a woman we had supported for about three years. Her ex-husband stripped her of all financial assets and abused her through the family court process with no fewer than 46 court appearances. She used to be well off, but the legal costs have left her bankrupt and living on benefits. What she does have is her freedom and self-respect.”

However, all was not well with the woman. When Becky enquired what the problem was, the woman “burst into tears and said everything was fine, but she just needed to be in a safe place and My Sisters Place was the safest place she knew.” As Becky says, recovery takes a while.

You can read the full article here.

Photo by rachaelvoorhees via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

View more from this author

5 comments

spinner - December 12, 2017 at 5:20pm

This is not to denigrate any of these women’s experiences or the I’m sure good work done by the shelter mentioned but in any talk on the topic of domestic abuse it’s like men don’t exist when all the data tell’s us they are around 40% of the recorded victims and this is before you factor in men are less likely to report their partners use of physical violence against them.

Andy - December 12, 2017 at 7:31pm

Yet another one sided view of the feminist supporter group..This extract shows the normal response that men or fathers face through the courts… So the silent Father has no voice but supprise supprise the female or Mother if known get all the support…
This extract is typical of the kicked out father that. Nothing new here…
“Her ex-husband stripped her of all financial assets and abused her through the family court process with no fewer than 46 court appearances. She used to be well off, but the legal costs have left her bankrupt and living on benefits. What she does have is her freedom and self-respect.”

Even on this note the word Benefits.. Ask any father who has supported a family life been ripped from his hands dragged through courts. Delta with lieyers and punished for the rest of his life… CMS then demand a chunk of a pittance of salary…
And where is the support.. Nowhere…..
Take take take.. And as for a financial life to support himself… Yea right….
Domestic Violence.. More and more against fathers are evident…

Stitchedup - December 13, 2017 at 11:00am

“remember, for much of my career the police did not usually involve themselves in ‘domestics’, as incidents of domestic abuse were then called”

That really does say it all John, no no no… domestics are not incidents of domestic abuse. Domestics are very often, in fact, almost always part of being in a relationship. People will disagree, they will have differences of opinion, different priorities, different likes and dislikes. They will also feel the stress of events that life throws at us e.g.unemployment, bereavement, financial hardship, house moving even Christmas and summer holidays. More often than not, domestics such as these are only interpreted as domestic abuse when it suits, e.g. during divorce or separation; lawyers and feminist organisations often inflame the situation and blow it out of all proportion to meet their own agenda i.e. to get a quick win and line their pockets or to promote the feminist mantra and the feminist agenda. Yet again we see the quintessential clenched fist as an illustration, yet we all know the definition of domestic abuse is now absurdly broad and can be shoe horned to fit even the most minor of domestic disagreements. Perceived minor breaches of non-mols such as voicing an opinion on the selling price of the family home or texting to say you’re going to be late for a contact handover IS NOT DOMESTIC ABUSE OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE… IT’S SIMPLY COMMUNICATING AND SHOULD NOT ATTRACT CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS OR INFLAMATORY DESCRIPTIONS OF THE ACT. Much of this nonsense simply facilitates parental alienation so it’s the children that suffer in the end, particularly if their father receives a conviction for something absurdly petty and ends-up loosing his job and ability to support his children. Change the bloody record John.

Vincent McGovern - December 13, 2017 at 2:28pm

Hi John.

Sometimes I wonder if you have totally lost or abandoned any sense of impartial professionalism. A virtually endless diatribe of ‘believe the victim’ (meaning the woman is always truthful, never lies) seems to be your default position. Considering the ONS for years shows domestic abuse is roughly 55/45 male perpetrators/female perpetrators, any chance of of your articles reflecting this. Or to be really courageous, how about exploring why the UK family court system and myriad gender vigilante services directly causes the worst parental alienation in the developed world. In other words think of the children rather than crude protectionism of your beloved system.

Vincent McGovern.

Cameron Paterson - December 13, 2017 at 2:52pm

John has written on this site more than once about domestic violence also affecting men – for example here

Leave a comment