Why 2021 – Domestic Violence legislation must translate into good practice – inside and outside of the Church.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, sexuality, or background. The impacts on survivors can extend to many areas of their lives, including mental health, physical well-being, and family safety.
The police receive a domestic abuse-related call every 30 seconds. 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. 1 in 5 children in the UK have lived with an adult perpetrating domestic abuse. 93% of defendants in domestic abuse cases are male; 84% of victims are female. Domestic abuse gets worse during pregnancy. On average, two women a week are killed at the hands of an intimate partner. Domestic abuse is a hidden cancer that knows no boundary. It takes place in every culture, regardless of religious or cultural beliefs. The Evangelical Alliance has discovered that domestic violence and physical abuse are common in UK churches.
In her report on violence against women, Mandy Marshall, Co-Director of Restored said:
‘Violence against women is a shocking reality that has pervaded most human cultures. Whether by ‘turning a blind eye’ or subliminal religious pressure to ‘turn the other cheek’ where Jesus would have confronted evil, violence against women has been too often unchallenged by the churches.’
On the 29th of April, 2021, the Domestic Violence Act went through parliament and received a royal accent. It was considered a landmark in its rulings and a fantastic piece of legislation that would finally protect those exposed to domestic violence. The aim of this legislation was to strengthen the support for victims of abuse by statuary agencies. Statutory agencies carry government powers that are outlined by law. They have a legal duty to enforce and upkeep standards of legally enshrined legislation.
Victoria Atkins – the minister for safeguarding wrote this statement:
‘Domestic violence is an abhorrent crime perpetrated on victims and their families by those who are supposed to love and care for them. This landmark bill will help transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to protect victims and ensure that they have the support they need.’
Successful legislation must translate into on-the-ground change.
I spent a day in court this week. I was not under penalty, but I did come into an internal grievance as I witnessed for myself, the levels of integrated failures that are still taking place within the judicial system, toward the victims of domestic abuse.
My delegate for the day was a young woman who had experienced domestic abuse. Like many of the 2.1 million who find themselves in this position, the effects of trauma and devastation had taken their toll upon her emotional and mental well-being. During a two-year, drawn-out, court process, she had been slowly whittled down to internal exhaustion and now- on the day of her final hearing- I was to bear witness to her tragic finishing off as the enforcement of legal legislation openly failed her.
The family court halls were filled with posters shouting ‘Domestic Violence is a crime.’ The Legal Aid system had finally provided a Barrister to fight on her behalf, and the court protection screens which identified her inability to face her perpetrator without fear, had been securely put in place, but, on this day; the judicial system which should have enforced her protection, became a seat of authority that dismissed her cry for help.
It is deeply disappointing that the stated intent of the Domestic Violence Act of 2021 is not translating into an operational reality.
The fact is – Great legislation without true servants to its cause, is not worth the paper that it is written on. Legislation within the judicial system is designed to work hand in hand with Judges, Magistrates, and Law Enforcement Agencies.
How does it work?
The Domestic Violence Act of 2021 has clearly identified domestic abuse as a crime. When a case is brought before a Judge or Magistrates, all evidence regarding that crime must be, or have been, robustly investigated. A Judge or Magistrate can enforce this by initiating an order that authorises a ‘finding of facts.’
Under the Children Act of 1989, it is clearly stated that where there have been allegations of domestic abuse, there has to be a ‘finding of facts.’ This is required by law for the sake of safeguarding the children. It is a legal investigation into all evidence- that will either prove or disprove a charge.
Today, in the courtrooms of justice, I witnessed a miscarriage of justice because the law was not upheld. In this case – a ‘finding of facts’ was cleverly sidelined by a cunning defence solicitor. He understood that without proven evidence, no charge of domestic abuse will stand. The victim, like many women in these situations, and due to a lack of financial support, had been forced to initially ‘self-represent’ in court. She had no legal team and this, combined with her personal ignorance of the legal system, had left her open to exploitation from the defendant’s solicitor.
Despite a legal duty of care, and with a blatant disregard for the Children’s Act of 1989, the opposing solicitor had pushed for a ‘finding of facts’ to be dismissed and the Judge, in full knowledge of the fact that a victim’s evidence would be dismissed as invalid, without a ‘finding of facts,’ openly ignored the safety measures of the Children Act of 1989, and agreed to the request. In this case a solicitors cunning practice openly thwarted justice.
All I could do was watch as two years later, the results of this historical judicial failure would deliver a devastating result to a victim who believed that the legal system would help her.
Without internal transformation bad history repeats itself.
Nine years ago, as Home Secretary, Teresa May led an investigation into how domestic abuse was investigated. The report concluded that the most vulnerable victims face a lottery in the way their cases are dealt with. It also identified “poor attitudes, ineffective training and inadequate evidence gathering” and called for an urgent overhaul by the police service of its response to domestic abuse – from the frontline up to the leadership. May said the report, exposed “significant failings, including a lack of visible police leadership and direction, poor victim care, and deficiencies in the collection of important evidence”
As I listened to this victim’s own Barrister advise that ‘because there had been a significant error and due to a dismissal of the ‘finding of facts’ (no order to investigate) in early court hearings, all her evidence of the abuse could not be used in court.’ How could this happen? What about the legislative breakthroughs of 2021? How could a legislative failure have forced this woman to spent two years traveling on a road to nowhere? The sad reality was, it had, and now, three magistrates (who are serving members of the public that are not law trained) would only be able to view her case- without any evidence to uphold her families need for protection. Without officially investigated evidence, they would see no reason why they should not allocate ‘shared care’ to her perpetrator.
A shroud of legal injustice would deliver a license to abuse, and give a man who had tried to significantly harm one of her children, free access to their lives. All her efforts to break free from abuse and protect her children were to be counted as nothing, whilst the man who was determined to not only prevail against her courageous stand but vehemently leave her decimated, and ruined, by his vicious contempt and walk freely toward an unlawful victory.
Great legislation without servants to its cause, is not worth the paper that it is written on.
The statistics on domestic violence cases being dismissed are staggering. The need is great and more can be done. Unless sound legislation is actually enforced in courts, by those who are authorised to translate it into good practice, failures like this will continue to be repeated.
A government spokesman said:“All allegations should be investigated and pursued rigorously through the courts where possible.
Years have been spent by organisations that have fought for the laws to be changed but loopholes of injustice still exist within the system.
More can be done!
More needs to be done to help those who must self-represent. We must fully train Magistrates within the framework of the law, and they must have a clear and concise understanding of all that that has been enshrined into law, through the Domestic Violence Act of 2021. Judges and Magistrates must also ensure that the protections of sound safeguarding measures, as outlined in the Children Act of 1989, are upheld and adhered to without compromise.
More can be done to equip Church leaders to respond to domestic abuse within the community.
Churches cannot be a hiding place for abuse. The need for protection from Domestic Violence cannot be undermined by religious or cultural practice. Statistics on the existence of Domestic Abuse within the Church have been proved and a recognition of a communities responsibility to safeguard those who are victims of abuse must translate into accountability in practice.
Research from Restored Uk has found that:
Less than half of the women who were asked if they would seek help from their church on Domestic Abuse said ‘yes’ and only 2 in 7 considered their Church to be adequately equipped to deal with a disclosure of Domestic Abuse.
2021- Domestic Violence legislation must translate into good practice- inside and outside of the church. Only by embracing this fact, can we hope to change the statistics on Domestic Violence, bring lasting, positive, help to those who suffer under its destructive purpose, and deliver on effective justice.
If you have been affected by this article or need to seek help please check out the information below.
How to Recognise Domestic Abuse
If you believe that you are a victim of domestic abuse, there are signs that you can look out for including:
Does your partner, ex-partner, or someone you live with:
Cut you off from family and friends and intentionally isolate you?
Bully, threaten, or control you?
Take control of your finances.
Monitor or limit your use of technology?
Physically and/or sexually abuse you?
Domestic abuse is not always physical violence. It can also include
Coercive control and ‘gaslighting
Threats and intimidation
Get help and support – If you’re experiencing domestic abuse and feel frightened of, or controlled by, a partner, an ex-partner, or a family member, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and there is no shame in seeking help. It may seem like a difficult step to take, but there is support available and #YouAreNot Alone.
Free, confidential support and advice are available to victims and their concerned family members or friends, 24 hours a day.
Support someone you know – If you are worried that a friend, neighbour, or loved one is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247. Or you can contact the other support services listed on this page.
Seeking help from someone you know can be challenging but #YouAreNotalone.
Domestic abuse advisers will offer confidential, non-judgemental information and advice on the options available to you helping you to keep safe and make informed choices.
If you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, you should always call 999.
Nation Helpline Contact
0808 2000 247
0808 802 1414
0800 027 1234
0808 80 10 800
The Men’s Advice Line run by Respect is a confidential helpline specifically for male victims.
0808 801 0327
Also Read: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse/