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Domestic abuse - How can it be identified and what steps to take

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Domestic abuse over recent years has become a much more widely discussed topic within society, with increasing recognition for male sufferers of domestic abuse, such as in the recent Channel 5 documentary ‘My Wife, My Abuser’.


Family solicitors in practice often come across clients, both male and female, who whether knowingly or unknowingly, are suffering from domestic abuse from their partner or spouse.


This article is designed to help those recognise whether their own circumstances or the circumstances of someone they know falls within the definition of domestic abuse, and if so, what are the next steps they should take to help protect themselves and any children who may be at risk.


What is Domestic abuse?


Domestic abuse is now legally defined within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 as any of the following abusive behaviours:


(a) physical or sexual abuse

(b) violent or threatening behaviour

(c) controlling or coercive behaviour

(d) economic abuse

(e) psychological, emotional or other abuse


There is no distinction in this definition between behaviour which has occurred only once or has been perpetrated over a long period of time, nor is there any mention of gender. Any act that falls within the above definition is abusive, and anybody can be a victim of domestic abuse.


It is mostly in the last three listed behaviours that people do not realise that their partner or spouse’s behaviour constitutes domestic abuse, believing that only sexual or physical violence, or threats of the same, are actually considered in the law to be abuse.


As examples of these last three behaviours, if your partner has looked to restrict when you leave the house, has taken steps to prevent you from seeing certain friends or family, or demands to be able to look through your phone or computer, this could be considered controlling or coercive behaviour.


If they have ever tried to limit your ability to make or maintain your own funds or obtain specific goods or services, this would be economic abuse, such as insisting on having access to your accounts or actively discouraging you from working so as to have you be dependent on them.


Psychological and emotional abuse could be things such as swearing or yelling, even if this is not necessarily violent in nature, blaming you for any issues that arise or occur within the relationship, taking steps to humiliate you whether at home or in public, or deliberately making you doubt your own recollections of prior events, known by some as gaslighting.  


These examples are not an exhaustive list and there are other acts beside these which could be considered domestic abuse, but if you recognise one of these behaviours either within your own relationship or that of someone you know, it could be a sign of a relationship with domestic abuse being perpetrated.


What steps should I take:


In an emergency, or if there is an immediate risk of harm to either yourself or your children, the first step is always to contact the police. The police should always remain your first contact in case of an emergency, as they will be able to take the swiftest action in any case where there is an immediate risk of harm. You should look to report instances of abusive behaviour with the police wherever possible, as this can then be later on of assistance in any court setting.


Following on from the police, domestic abuse organisations and charities can provide further assistance or help with an abusive relationship, whether this is just someone you can discuss matters further with, or helping you with taking the first steps towards escaping abuse. There are many organisations and charities which provide this support, examples include Next Link, a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse in Bristol and the surrounding area (Home - Next Link ( and ManKind, who specifically provide services and assistance to male victims of Domestic Abuse (ManKind Initiative - Supporting Male Victims of Domestic Abuse).


Where you believe you are suffering from domestic abuse it is important to then seek legal advice as to your circumstances and what options are available to yourself.


If possible, try to keep a record of any incidents that occur, logging both the date, time and nature of the incident. A lot of individuals do this within either a diary or a note on their phone and some keep this record with a friend or relative to prevent it being found by their partner. Threatening texts or emails that you have received should be saved, and pictures of any injuries or damage caused by abusive behaviour should be kept to pass on to either the police or a legal professional.


What orders can I obtain through the court:


Outside of criminal proceedings, individuals can look to obtain one of the following through the courts:


Non-molestation order – an order from the court preventing abusive behaviour or contact, which can be made on behalf of yourself as well as any of your children. Breach of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence and the police have the power to arrest an individual breaking such an order.


Occupation order – an order allowing you and any children to remain in the family home to the exclusion of your abuser if you live with one another.


Both these orders can be obtained urgently if required and in extreme cases these can be obtained without your partner or family member being made aware of the initial application, known as an ex-parte application.


I am worried about being able to afford legal assistance:


If you are a victim of domestic abuse, and have limited funds and income, you could be eligible for legal aid.


If you qualify for legal aid, you may be able to obtain legal assistance at either a reduced cost or in some cases, at no cost at all.


To check if you are eligible for legal aid, you can do so using the government’s website for the same (Check if you can get legal aid - GOV.UK ( You can also contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4345 who can check with you if you meet the requirements for legal aid.


If you qualify for legal aid, the next step is to locate a solicitor who offers help with legal aid, as at John Hodge Solicitors we do not offer this service. There are however a number of firms which do, and one of the best ways to locate a legal aid solicitor is to go on the Law Societies’ website and use their ‘Find a Solicitor’ search function (Find a Solicitor - The Law Society), on this website, under area of practice you can search for ‘Family – Legal Aid’ and this can provide a list of all the firms in your area which accept legal aid cases.


If you are unable to receive legal aid assistance, or would like to discuss your legal position further, we at John Hodge offer a free 30-minute consultation with a family solicitor, who can discuss matters in a friendly and confidential environment with no obligation upon your part to instruct us moving forwards. This can be booked by contacting us either through our website or by phone.


Contact our experts for further advice