The season that domestic abuse victims dread as violence increases

The season that domestic abuse victims dread as violence increases

Embargoed 28 December 2014

New Laws to address the most prevalent forms of domestic abuse are due to be tabled by the government at the beginning of next year.

The highest levels of domestic violence occur over the Christmas holidays. It is the most stressful time of year for victims. They are forced to spend longer periods of time with their abuser and are less likely to be able to contact support agencies for advice.

The pressure of family, socialising and consuming alcohol can have a negative effect on their partner’s mood and behaviour. All of these factors have a major impact on the rate and severity of domestic violence. It is a very dangerous time of year for many victims.

Of course Christmas Day and the surrounding days are also when the police services are likely to have a reduced or even minimum level of staffing, particularly for civilian and office based workers. 

The combination increase abuse and less support means victims need effective strategies to deal with the holiday season. They also have to rely on family and friends to help (see attached recommendations from the Pixel Project).

Last year, Greater Manchester Police had 1,526 reports of domestic abuse incidents over the festive period, which is a rise of 27% compared to the normal off season average. Boxing Day and the day after saw that figure rise to 34 per cent, with more than 240 reports of domestic abuse each day. All police services see similar rises in domestic abuse during the holiday season.

There are over 1.2 million incidents of domestic abuse in the UK each year, with the majority of those being women.  Approximately 100,000 individuals are currently at high risk of serious harm or murder as a result of domestic abuse.

Those numbers are astonishing but the statistic that is the most shocking is that the number of prosecutions following complaints of Domestic Abuse remains at only 6.5%.

An all-party group of MPs believe that a solution to the problem is the criminalisation of the form of perpetrators behaviour which is called coercive control; often there is not any physical violence associated with this type of abuse.

Elfyn Lwyd, MP who In February 2014, put before Parliament a Ten Minute Rule Bill concerning Domestic Violence, said “A new Domestic Violence Bill that recognises coercive control is a fundamental requirement to change attitudes and enable the criminal justice system to address the most prolific type of domestic abuse”.

Coercive control can involve:

  • stripping a person of any privacy with the abuser reading all emails or texts, or surveilling them
  • threats of rape or physical assault
  • psychological terrorism such as threatening:
  • to destroy the individual
  • take their children away from them
  • to kill themselves if the victim leaves
  • financial control by denying them access to money
  •  isolating the victim by making it difficult to have relationships with friends and family

“This type of abuse is made ever worse by advances in accessible technology. Abusers access the victim’s private emails, text. They will monitor their Internet history to see which websites they are visiting. They often can have access or control of the victim’s mobile phone and set it up to be able to see the phones location or turn on the microphone and listen to conversations” explains Jennifer Perry, CEO of the Digital-Trust and organisation set up specifically to help victims with the digital aspects of domestic abuse.

Coercive control is the most frequent type of domestic abuse and victims often suffer for years. A common misconception is the domestic abuse must include a physical assault. This isn’t true and many women suffer abuse for years without realising that it is domestic violence because they weren’t assaulted.

Coercive control is no less harmful than physical violence and can be worse. For example; there was a case where a woman was imprisoned in her home. She was only allowed to take the children to school but she had to stay on the phone to the abuser to make sure she didn’t speak to anyone else. However, she was able to write notes and hand them to her children’s head teacher. Through this method of communication the school was able to work with social services and the police to plan an escape. The police rescued the woman and her children getting them to a place of safety.

There is now expected to be a new domestic violence law announced at the beginning of 2015 which criminalises this form of abuse. It will make it easier for women to get help and escape their abuser. It should improve prosecution rates.

Harry Fletcher Director of the Digital-Trust was involved in drafting the amendments and campaigning for change throughout 2014, said ‘The prosecution rate for Domestic Abuse is far too low, but the absence of specific laws hinders both the police and the CPS’s ability to make proper investigations. Any Government move to bring about change would be most welcome and will save lives and untold suffering’

Amendments will be tabled in January to the Serious Crime Bill by Elfyn Llywd MP with all Party support to that effect. The amendments will make coercive control an offence, place duties on the Police to investigate complaints, remove any time limits on reporting and make Training mandatory.

The Government will table their own amendments at the Committee stage of the Bill during January. New laws on Domestic Violence should therefore be in place by the summer of 2015.

Recommendation from the Pixel Project - 16 Safety Ideas and Tips for those facing Domestic Violence over the Holiday Season

Idea/Tip Number 1: Put the right numbers on speed-dial.

If you have a mobile phone, make sure to put the following numbers of speed-dial/in your address book:

  • The national Domestic Violence helpline
  • The local Domestic Violence shelter helpline wherever you will be spending Christmas
  • The local police helpline number
  • The number of a close friend, co-worker or family member who can be on standby to get you out of the situation or act as witness.

For those who fear that their phone may be taken away from them, memorise all important numbers so, if need be, you can call from a public pay phone.

Idea/Tip Number 2: Have a ‘Safe’ word/phrase. In violent or emergency situations, you may not be able to text or say much. Have an agreed ‘safe’ word or phrase with your close friend/co-worker or family member who agrees to have their phone on standby to receive any emergency calls/texts. Keep it short and simple.

Idea/Tip Number 3: Download a safety app. If you have a smart phone, consider downloading a safety app for women, many of which have been designed to automatically alert your support network if you are in danger. Some safety apps include the free app Aspire News or Circle of 6.

Idea/Tip Number 4: Keep your phone (and some money) on you at all times. Also remember to keep it fully charged at all times. You will never know when a situation will erupt, so it is crucial to have it on hand, especially if you know you might be alone with your abuser. Also have cash in hand in case you need to make a run for your life.

Idea/Tip Number 5: Arrange for an ally in advance. If you are going to spend the holiday season with extended family and you know who would believe and support you, call that person in advance to ask him or her for support and intervention should a situation turn violent. This option may not be available for all victims/survivors but it would be a feasible one for many, especially if visiting their own parents, siblings, cousins etc.

Idea/Tip Number 6: Always have an audience. Use holiday visits to extended family and friends as a chance to minimise being alone with your abuser. At best, being in company will keep the violence in check. At worst, if violence does happen, it will happen publicly and you may have others stepping in to intervene or at least a few witnesses.

Idea/Tip Number 7: Defuse it. According to one police officer, walking away from a potentially explosive situation may help temporarily alleviate the abuse and avoid fatalities:  “A lot of times just stepping away from a situation to let it deescalate for that night or that certain time period is the best thing someone can do.” Plan ahead with an ally (a friend or family member who will be with you for Christmas and who will support you) to run interference and get your abuser distracted by food, alcohol, a sporting game, etc.

Idea/Tip Number 8: Have an escape plan. When you are away in a household that is not your own, quietly check out all possible escape routes in the house itself. Better yet, take time to set up a plan of escape including the numbers of people willing to help you get away. If there is a good chance that your abuser will be in a drunken or drug-induced sleep or stupor over the holidays, it may be your chance to escape with your kids and pets.

Idea/Tip Number 11: Get a partner. Intervening with Domestic Violence situations can be dangerous especially if the abuser has a weapon and is intoxicated by drink or drugs. If you are unable to get help from the local shelter or police, make sure to bring another friend or family member along with you when you respond to the victim/survivor’s call in person.

Idea/Tip Number 12: Ring the bell. If you are the neighbour of a family experiencing Domestic Violence, please take the time to ring their bell when you hear a violent situation happening. You could use the old neighbourly approach of asking to borrow a cup of sugar or some milk as an excuse. If you feel that it could get dangerous, bring another person with you so there will be more than one witness.

Idea/Tip Number 13: Be the back-up. If your mother, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, niece or cousin is facing Domestic Violence at home and there is a good chance that they will face abuse over the holiday season, let them know that you will be willing to be a witness or to intervene on their behalf while you are around. Also let them know that they are welcome to take refuge in your home should they need somewhere to go.

Idea/Tip Number 14: Be part of the plan. If a victim/survivor approaches you with a plan to escape her abuser during the holiday season, agree to do so and be on standby to help her and bolster her resolve when the time comes to put the plan into action.

Idea/Tip Number 15: Provide some relief. If your know a Domestic Violence victim/survivor who is being kept at home without relief during the holiday season, do a random act of kindness for her: Offer to babysit the children for a few hours while the abuser is out so she can have a breather; Send over some small festive goodies such as cookies, candy or something else traditional with a kind note; Offer to pick up groceries for her on your grocery run.

Idea/Tip Number 16: Check in regularly. If you fear for your friend or family member’s life over the holiday season, call or text her once a day at a random time to see if she is all right. If it’s your neighbour, keep an eye out on the house and your ears pricked for any signs or sounds of violence.

It is important to have a safety kit in case you have to exit a dangerous situation quickly. This kit should be hidden in a safe place and should include emergency numbers, a bag of clothing and toiletries, important documents such as birth certificates and a driver’s license, medication, prescriptions, car keys, house keys, and cash.

Notes to the editor

Statistics

  • Over 1.2 million incidents of domestic violence in the UK each year (Office of National Statistics)
  • Every week 2 women are murdered by current or ex-partners  (Home Office )
  • Approximately 100,000 individuals are currently (2011/2012) at high risk of serious harm or murder as a result of DA (CAADA, 2012).
  • Prosecution rates of domestic violence is 6.5% of those originally charged. Watson, 2010; CPS, 2011; CPS 2012.
  • In 2010/2011, domestic violence accounted for 18% of all violent incidents reported in England and Wales (Chaplin, Flatley, & Smith, 2011) .
  • Approximately 130,000 children are currently (2011/2012) living with DV (CAADA, 2012).
  • Domestic violence costs the tax payer an estimated £3.9bn per year (CAADA, 2010; Walby, 2004, 2009).
  • High risk domestic violence makes up nearly £2.4bn of these costs (CAADA, 2010; Walby, 2004, 2009).
  • Domestic violence accounts for 10% of emergency calls (Labour Party Freedom of Information requests February 2013).

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