Domestic abuse is the smoke and mirrors locked behind closed doors. It is not always clearly apparent and often the victim will not even know they are a victim due to the manipulative nature of it. It does not have a stereotype abuser, nor victim. It comes in many forms and is not just physical but is often emotional and controlling behaviour on its own.
I recently read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. It had a description of the perception of what people think the perpetrator of domestic abuse should be.
“Few people, seeing her husband, had thought him capable of that sort of violence. He didn’t have the build for it; he didn’t seem the type. She’s heard people say this, even after they’d known some of what he was doing.” – Reservoir 13, Jon McGregor
This is precisely why so often domestic abuse goes undetected. We project our own prejudices and preconceptions onto what we believe it should look like. The effect of this on the victim is to doubt they are being abused or, worse, to end up blaming themselves.
“There’d been a time when this had made her think it was her fault; that there must have been something she was doing to provoke such a well-mannered man into behaviour he wasn’t otherwise prone to. There must have been something she could do to protect him from the storm of his own rages.” – Reservoir 13, Jon McGregor
This topic is sensitively dealt with in the book, Between You and Me by Lisa Hall, which brilliantly challenges our assumptions as to the victim and perpetrator of domestic abuse. It also captures how domestic abuse becomes the victim’s norm, commenting; “…when a slap almost feels like a reward – and I’m thankful that it wasn’t something worse,” – Me Before You, Lisa Hall
These two books deal with the behaviour of the perpetrator after the incident. In both books the perpetrator know that their actions are wrong but try to justify them, as if it is somehow it is the victim’s fault.
“He had told her she’d be nothing without him, that people thought she was brash and loud and awkward. He’d told her she needed to lose weight, build strength, dress differently, laugh less loudly, not eat in public, have different friends, be a better mother.” – Reservoir 13, Jon McGregor
Sadly these observations are often typical of the people I represent, who either try to justify the behaviour or blame themselves. Just to walk through the door of a solicitors’ office and talk to someone about it takes enormous courage but despite this they are often loathed to take action to stop it. I have also heard the excuses of perpetrators seeking to justify their actions, in some cases making up counter allegations to try to do all they can to trivialise their behaviour and avoid taking responsibility.
The central message, however, is that there is help out there. There are many charities set up to provide emotional support to victims, pointing them in the right direction for help. The Police are on hand and civil remedies are available. I, for example, have prepared and represented victims in applying for a Non Molestation Order, to stop unwanted behaviour and an Occupation Order, to remove the perpetrator from the family home. It is my experience that the Court will err on the side of caution and will grant these Orders rather than leaving the victim vulnerable to further abuse.
I have also represented abusers and there is help out there for them too – if they are willing to recognise what they have done and take responsibility for it. For those who will not, then I am not the lawyer for them.
So, to summarise, I say to anyone who is the victim of domestic abuse, you can get away from it and you can take back control. You will be believed. Getting in place protection and support for yourself can help you take the tentative first few steps along the road back to recovery and your own freedom.