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Domestic violence: Are we finally adapting to reality?

Shockingly, an estimated 1.2 million women and 800,000 men were victims of domestic abuse in the year 2010-11* . One study even reported that 95% of domestic abuse survivors experienced coercive control**. This is worrying given that 279 out of 450 professionals felt that there needed to be an improved understanding of this form of abuse amongst front line officers in the preceding year^ . For reasons such these, many victims often feel that the current framework is both out of touch and unaccommodating. However, in a recent turn of events, we have seen a gradual shift in victim based reform which will assist in future cases.

In a legal sense, the Court’s judgment in the case of R (on the application of rights of women) and The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice was a landmark victory. This case declared the government’s stringent time period criteria for the gateway test (i.e. the need for an applicant to provide that s/he has been the victim of domestic violence) for proceedings relating to the care and residence of a child unlawful. The Court’s public declaration in this case finally addressed the difficulties many victims experience in applying for and obtaining legal aid. Whilst the full effects of this case have yet to be considered we have seen a relaxation in the required time period for “gateway evidence” and a more promoted understanding of coercive control.

Sheeja Sukumaran, the Head of our domestic violence team, comments “this judgment is extremely positive and a lot can be learnt from the Court’s approach to domestic violence. The relaxation of the gateway rules now means that many vulnerable victims will qualify for legal aid and as a result get the representation they deserve.”

In terms of policy, we have seen a gradual growth in the resources available to professionals. This month the College of Policing have revealed plans to implement a new pilot scheme. The scheme will see Officers undergo increased training in respect of the characteristics and patterns of coercive control (which has been defined as a range, continuing/ pattern of acts that make a person feel subordinate and/or dependent through a series of acts/assaults/threats/humiliations/ intimidations which harm, punish and frighten the victim). The training is designed to tackle the previous tendencies of the police to deal with domestic violence as an isolated, rather than a multi-incident offence. The acknowledgement of such concerns alongside the commitment to review is essential and will not only go far in promoting an realistic threshold for domestic abuse, but will also address the needs of the victim in such a troubling and complex time. If successful, it is likely that the scheme will be implemented to form part of a Police Officer’s training in preventing and combatting domestic violence in all forces.

David Tucker, the Lead for Crime and Criminal Justice at the College of Policing said the following:

“This pilot will assist frontline officers in identifying patterns of abusive behaviour and in particular it will help improve officers understanding of the risks around coercive control. We want to support the police service to be more effective in protecting people from the devastating impact of domestic.”

With a more receptive and pragmatic system in place once can only hope that the needs of the victim will be met in full. If you have been the victim of domestic abuse and require the assistance of our legal team please contact us on 0207-608-1227 /

**Kelly, L; Sharp and Klein, R. Finding the costs of Freemdom How women and children rebuild their lives after domestic violence (London: Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit) /
^HMIC, Everyone’s business: Improviing the police response to domestic abse / 2014

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