Nowhere to turn – only a quarter of women seeking refuge find it
A new report published this week by Women’s Aid reveals that only a quarter of women supported by their caseworkers last year were able to find space in a domestic violence refuge.
This follows last year’s news that as many as two thirds of all refuges could be in danger of closing due to welfare reforms which reduced the amount of money that shelters can receive for housing survivors of abuse.
According to the new study, one in ten women seeking refuge slept rough on the street, including women who had children with them and/or who were pregnant.
The findings make shocking reading and the report title – ‘Nowhere to Turn’ – no doubt mirrors the feelings of many women living with abuse and seeking a way out. So if refuge support isn’t available, are there any other options?
Do domestic violence victims have to leave their homes?
NO. Although in some cases involving an extremely violent or unreasonable perpetrator, leaving might be the only option, there are ways where the law can help a survivor of domestic violence to stay in her own home and prevent her partner from victimising her or her children further.
The family courts can grant a non-molestation order to prevent an abuser from continuing to harass their victim, and an occupation order requiring them to stay away from the family home. Breaking either order carries a hefty prison sentence for the perpetrator.
Of course, in some cases even a court order and the accompanying threat of a prison sentence cannot deter a determined perpetrator. It’s in those cases especially that refuges are a vital resource for women trying to get away from an abuser.
Unfortunately, even when a woman does escape abuse in the home, there are still issues to be resolved with her ex-partner. Questions such as the ownership of property will need to be resolved and, if they’re married, then a divorce petition will need to be made.
In particular, custody battles over children in the family courts are too often used by perpetrators as a way to re-victimise their former partners. Due to Legal Aid being available for survivors of abuse but not their abusers, many perpetrators have ended up representing themselves in court hearings over child contact.
Worryingly, until now this has meant they have been able to cross-examine their victims on the witness stand – a practise banned in criminal law, but not yet in civil disputes over family matters. It was encouraging that before the election the government promised to ban this – we’re still waiting to see action on that promise though.
For this reason, domestic violence solicitors – ourselves included – need to continue to be robust in defending their clients’ interests and wellbeing, challenging bad behaviour by former partners during legal disputes and preventing clients from being re-victimised in court.
If you are or have been a victim of domestic violence, don’t suffer in silence. To discuss your legal options for protecting yourself from domestic abuse with an expert family solicitor in Bristol, call 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.