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Domestic violence and abuse

Domestic violence is controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between people aged over 16. It doesn't matter what your gender or sexuality is.

It includes the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional abuse.

Anyone can experience domestic violence - it doesn't matter whether you're a man or woman. 

Harassment, stalking, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour-based abuse are also types of domestic violence and abuse. Trafficking is a abuse too - get help if you think you've been trafficked

If you've been affected 

If you are the victim of an abusive relationship, you might want to:

  • get help from a charity or another organisation 
  • report the violence to the police
  • leave home temporarily or permanently
  • stay in your home and get the person who is harming you to leave
  • take legal action

Whatever you want to do, there are organisations that can give you advice and help. 

Reporting the violence to the police

Many kinds of domestic abuse are criminal offences and the police can arrest, caution or charge the perpetrator.

Most police stations have Domestic Violence Units or Community Safety Units with specially trained officers to deal with domestic violence and abuse.

You should call 999 in an emergency or 101 in a non-emergency or you can attend a police station in person to report an incident. Find information on all the UK police websites through the UK Police Service Portal at www.police.uk.

If the police arrest and charge a perpetrator, they will decide whether to keep them in custody or release them on bail.

There will usually be conditions attached to their bail to protect you from further violence and abuse. Make sure you ask for your crime reference number which you may need if you contact other agencies for help.

The Crown Prosecution Service will make the final decision on whether a perpetrator is prosecuted. Find more informatin on the criminal prosecution service on the Women's Aid website at www.womensaid.org.

The police can also give you advice on crime prevention and getting something called a police marker on your address, so an officer can get to your home as quickly as possible.

Finding somewhere safe to stay

You may need somewhere safe to stay, either alone or with your children. You could:

  • stay at home - if you think this is safe
  • stay with relatives or friends
  • stay in a refuge
  • get emergency accommodation from the local authority under homeless persons law - this will usually mean a bed and breakfast hostel
  • get privately rented accommodation.

Finding a refuge 

Refuges provide somewhere safe for people and their children to stay and think about what to do next.

Staff at refuges are specialised in dealing with domestic violence, and so can give a lot of emotional and practical support, for example, advice on benefit claims, which solicitors to use and, if necessary, how to contact the police.

If you're a woman contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline, (see Domestic violence and abuse - organisations which give information and advicefor their contact details).

Helpline staff will do their best to find you somewhere safe to stay that night even if the local refuge is full. They are also happy to talk about any questions they have about refuges.

If you're a man, you can get help through a charity called refuge

Going to the local authority or Housing Executive 

Local authorities have a legal duty to provide help to certain people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. You will qualify for help if you are eligible for assistance, legally homeless or threatened with homelessness and not intentionally homeless. You must also be in priority need. The local authority may also investigate whether you have a local connection with the area.

You will normally be considered to be legally homeless if it is not reasonable for you to occupy your home because of the risk or fear of domestic violence.

Local authorities, or the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, should deal sympathetically with applications from people who are in fear of violence. You can ask for a private interview, with someone of the same sex, and can take a friend with you for support.

The local authority (Housing Executive in Northern Ireland) may have a duty to provide emergency accommodation for you while it decides whether you are legally homeless.

If it is outside of normal office hours, you should telephone the local authority's emergency out-of-hours number for help with emergency housing.

Going to privately rented accommodation

If you decide to go into privately rented accommodation you will be unlikely to be able to arrange it quickly - but it could be an option if you have time to plan your departure.

Longer term solutions

Once you have found a safe place to stay short-term, you will need to think about what to do in the longer term. You will need to consider:

  • whether you wish to permanently separate from your partner. You should seek legal advice, see under heading Getting help from a local domestic violence service or a solicitor
  • whether you want to take action to keep the violent partner away from you. This could include getting an injunction to protect yourself from more violent behaviour (known as a non-molestation order), or a court order to sort out who can stay in the family home, for example if you want to stop your violent partner from returning home (known as an occupation order). You can find more information about injunctions on The Rights of Women website www.rightsofwomen.org.uk . If you're considering these options, it's best to seek legal advice, see under heading Getting help from a local domestic violence service or a solicitor
  • housing. Your legal rights to the family home will depend upon the type of housing, the legal status of your relationship and whether or not you have children. You should get legal advice to ensure that you do everything possible to protect rights to the family home. You should seek advice about the family home even if you are leaving permanently because, if your partner sells the home, you may lose money and possessions. Find out more about what happens to your home when you separate
  • children. If you have children you will need to decide if you are taking the children with you. It may be unsafe to leave them behind. You may need to use the courts to resolve who the children should live with and with whom they should have contact. You should seek legal advice, see under heading Getting help from a local domestic violence service or a solicitor
  • money. You will need to sort out your benefit entitlement and tax arrangements and whether or not to apply to court for maintenance for yourself. You may also want to apply to the Child Maintenance Service for them to arrange maintenance for your children. More about child maintenance

If you need further information and advice, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a solicitor, law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders

If you have suffered or been threatened with domestic abuse, the police can issue a Domestic Violence Protection Notice and then apply to the magistrates' court for a Domestic Violence Protection Order.

A Domestic Violence Protection Order can protect you from further abuse, and if you live with the perpetrator, ban them from returning to the home and contacting you. If the perpetrator does not keep to the Order, they can be arrested and brought before the court.

A Domestic Violence Protection Order lasts for up to 28 days and gives you time to explore your options and get further support.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

Under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, you can find out about a partner's history of domestic violence from the police. The police will give you information if it is necessary to protect you. The police can also warn you about an individual if they think you are at risk of domestic violence.

Getting help from a local domestic violence service or a solicitor

If you need further help, you should get advice from an independent domestic violence adviser or a solicitor who is experienced in family law.

A local advice agency, such as a law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau, should be able to help you find a local solicitor who is experienced in this area of the law. In England and Wales, you can also look on the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.org.uk.

You may be able to get help with your legal costs if you qualify for Legal Aid.

Legal aid helps you with your legal costs including advice and help if you have to go to court.

More about help with legal costs.

You should make an appointment as soon as you feel ready, and could take someone with you for support the first time you go. The initial interview will probably last quite a long time, during which the adviser should discuss with you what courses of legal action are open to you.

There are also lots of charities that help both men and women get help with abuse. 

If you’re from abroad and a dependent of your ex-partner

There are ways for you to stay in the UK if your relationship has broken down because of domestic violence.

Get help from an immigration lawyer as soon as you can - they’ll be able to tell you what to do next. You may be entitled to legal aid (free legal advice).

A lawyer will help you decide whether to:

  • apply for a 3-month extension to your current visa and access to public funds (benefits) - do this if you’re struggling with money (it’ll help you support yourself before you apply for indefinite leave to remain)
  • apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) - this is more complicated but if you’re successful, will be worth the extra time and effort
  • claim asylum in the UK - if you’re unable to go back to your home country because you fear persecution, and want to stay in the UK as a refugee

You must tell the Home Office as soon as you separate if you're a dependant on your partner's visa - explain your circumstances and that you've experienced domestic abuse. You’ll be in the UK illegally as soon as you separate - not once you’re divorced.

You can find helpful information about the housing rights of women from abroad fleeing domestic violence on the Housing Rights Information website at www.housing-rights.info

Financial abuse

Financial abuse happens where a perpetrator uses financial means to control you and may include any of the following:

  • stopping the victim working
  • controlling the household finances including wages, benefits and bank accounts
  • forcing the victim to hand over wages and money
  • persuading or forcing the victim to take out loans and credit in her/his name.

If you have been pressurised or bullied to take out loans or credit in your name, the debt may be unenforceable - you should get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice

The domestic violence charity Refuge has produced 'You can afford to leave: a financial guide for women and children experiencing domestic violence'. The leaflet is on the Refuge website at www.refuge.org.uk .

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can give you advice about debt problems. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB

Honour-based abuse

Honour-based abuse is defined as an incident or crime which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and or community. Honour-based abuse happens where a person is punished by their family or community for doing things that are not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture. For example, you may suffer honour-based abuse because you:

  • resist an arranged marriage
  • resist a forced marriage
  • have a partner from a different culture or religion
  • live a westernised lifestyle
  • want a divorce.

Honour-based abuse may include domestic abuse, sexual or psychological abuse, assault, forced marriage or sending someone back to their country of origin.

The Honour Network Helpline is a specialist organisation which advises victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

More about organisations which give information and advice on domestic violence and other types of abuse.

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is where you are pressurised into it against your will. You may be emotionally blackmailed or physically threatened usually by your family. It is not the same as an arranged marriage where both parties agree to get married.

In England and Wales, forced marriage is a criminal offence. If someone forces you into marriage, they could go to prison for up to seven years.

More about forced marriage

Harassment and stalking

Harassment happens when you receive unwanted behaviour from another person which alarms or distresses you. Examples of harassment include malicious phone calls, threatening texts, threatening and insulting language and damage to property.

Stalking is a form of harassment and may include behaviour such as following, contacting or attempting to contact you, monitoring your email and internet, watching and spying on you and other similar behaviour.

It is a criminal and civil offence for another person to harass or stalk you. You can report the matter to the police. Many police forces have a specialist police officer who deals with harassment or stalking.

You may also be able to get an injunction in the civil courts to stop the harassment or stalking taking place and claim damages. If an harasser breaches an injunction, it is a criminal offence.

You can get further information and guidance on how to deal with harassment and stalking from the National Stalking Helpline. Go to www.stalkinghelpline.org.

Further help

There are many organisations that can give you confidential advice and support. 

More about organisations which can help you if you have suffered abuse

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