Is it a crime?” “Should I report it?” “Will the Police believe me?” “ He had never hit me before.” “He’s just jealous of my friends.” “I stayed out a bit too long.” “I should have known better.” “He’s always been like this.” “I’ve never reported before in all these years.” "What will happen if I report him to the police? “Will they arrest him?” “My children will be cross with me and sad if he is arrested." "What happens when he is released?" "He will be mad!” “He might kill me." I don’t want him to have a criminal record.” “I just want the abuse to stop.” “The thing is.. I don’t recognise this person I have become.” “I am sorry and worried for my children living like this too, anxious, fearful, never saying what they think.” “.. but what will we do without him?” “How can I care for my children on my own?” “I don’t know what to do.”

Hi, my name is Ana.  I am a Domestic Abuse Practitioner and have been supporting survivors of gender-based violence and domestic abuse for over a decade.  I have heard those phrases over and over again.  Those and many other practical considerations are some of the issues my clients struggle with before taking the decision of finally reporting their abusive partners to the police.

Do they resonate with you?

It might be that it was a neighbour calling the police forcing you to finally take that step.  Or that a seemingly unimportant thing that the abusive person did or said to you or your children, was the last straw and something just “clicked” in your mind and your heart, making everything clear.  You suddenly realise that this is not – as he tells you -  about being loved and protected, but about being undermined, trapped and abused.  Nevertheless, that moment when the uniformed police officers knock on the door can be one of the most frightening, anxious and loneliest times for anybody, and at the same time it can be the moment you – maybe shakily - but surely, start moving towards a life of dignity, respect, peace and safety for you and your children.  You ARE capable of doing that, even if your partner has been telling you how “incapable” you are of doing anything by yourself.  He just wanted you to think that, so that you would remain under his power and control.

Hopefully, you will have the support of a Domestic Abuse Practitioner (DAP) or an (IDVA) , an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate who will work with you if you are deemed to be a high risk of further harm.  Both will clarify any doubts about the process, guide you through it and will link with any other people you have been supported by, for example your health visitor, a midwife, a teacher at the children’s school or a social worker.  In some cases you will be also contacted by a Witness Protection Officer or Victim Support.  The benefit of this approach is that the support you get is co-ordinated, and relevant to your circumstances.  It also means that you don’t have to repeat what’s happened to every single person individually and that all aspects of your family’s life are  considered.  This is called working from a multi-agency approach to support.  And… of course you will have direct contact with the Police Officer in charge of your case.

So, how does it all work? What support can you expect from the Police and  the Criminal Justice System and what is the criminal justice process?

First things first - Reporting to the Police:

  • Are things getting very heated and you start feeling threatened and unsafe?  Is someone else at risk of violence?  Do you need support straight away?  Call 999  Officers will attend as soon as possible. 
  • If it is not urgent, but you have decided you need to speak to the police about your circumstances and get information and advice from them: Call 101.  You will be given an appointment to speak to an officer.  They will meet you somewhere safe and if necessary in plain clothes, and they will discuss your options.

You can also call 101 to speak to the attending officer who came to the emergency call, if you don’t have his number.  You can quote the Incident number/ Crime Reference number they gave you and they will put you in contact with the officer.  Keep this safe and at hand, as you may also need it as evidence for other processes such as homelessness application and other housing and legal issues.  

After what seems like an eternity, there is a knock at the door and two uniformed police officers are there.  You are still shaken by what has happened, and suddenly it dawns on you “what’s going to happen now?”.  You feel both relieved but also scared to see them.  No need to… they are there to protect you and the children and any other members of your family who may be at risk.  They are professionals and they are following a protocol.  But they are also human and they are being asked to make an assessment of the situation in seconds and determine who is the suspect and who is the victim, or whether in fact a crime has been committed.  Sometimes, this is not patently clear at first glance unless of course there are physical signs of an assault.  I have been told that any such misunderstandings are most definitely rectified.

Let’s imagine the abusive person is rightly identified as the suspect and he is taken to the police for questioning.  When you are left alone and your children are looking at you as if saying “Mum, what did you do”?  That’s when you have to remain calm and stay on track.  This was not a rushed decision.  It was the result of accumulated grief and pain caused by the abuse and feel confident that you are preventing further and potentially more serious incidents.  Call someone you trust for reassurance and support.

What happens next?

  • The “suspect” is at the Police Station (for up to 24 hours).  Officers return to your address.
  • They will ask you to give a basic account of the incident and whether you will be supporting an investigation (below the benefits of supporting) and will assess your risk to further harm.
  • Safeguarding you and the children will be their main concern, whatever your level of risk. So they will refer/signpost to other agencies (Next Chapter, Compass Children Social Care, Victim Support).  They may also “flag” your property and your mobile to treat any calls as urgent, or they will apply for a DVPO (Domestic Violence Protective Order), initially preventing the abusive person to return to the property for 48 hours.  If necessary they will extend it to 28 days by applying to Court.  You will also be referred to a Specialist Team (Domestic Abuse Investigating Team) and will be allocated an Officer in charge of your case who will communicate with you regularly.
  • They will give you an Incident/Crime Reference number and one of the attending officer’s name and telephone number.  It’s a good idea to exchange emails, in case later on you wish to provide any details or updates and you can’t get to the phone.  

In the meantime at the police station:

  • Police Officers decide whether they have enough evidence to keep him in custody and charge him or release him until further investigations are made.  They will do this only if they are satisfied that the survivor and children will be safe.  He may be on bail conditions not to return to the property.  If he is charged he will attend a first hearing where he can plead “guilty” or “not guilty”.  This is called a “Process Hearing”.  You don’t have to attend.  If he pleads guilty, he may be given a sentence then or shortly afterwards.  If he is in denial and pleads “not guilty”, they will set a court day at the Magistrates Court for trial.  If the crime requires a greater sentence it will go to Crown Court.
  • The Police may have enough evidence so that you may not need to attend Court. BUT, if they have your statement, whether there is a conviction or not, they may be able to apply for a Protective Order called “Restraining Order” which can last anything from 1 year to 2 or 5 years or indefinitely.  That is the benefit of “supporting the investigation”.  One important document in this process is the Victim Impact Statement, which describes the effect that all the abuse has had on your mental and physical well-being.
  • By the way, unless he is convicted, he won’t get a criminal record.
  • If you did have to go to Court at some point, which I have been told by a Police Specialist Team Leader, is not a foregone conclusion, you would be supported to make it a less anxious time.  If you wish you will be taken for a pre-trial visit to the court by an Officer, at court you will be supported by the Witness Care Team and special measures (like a screen or video link) will be put in place so that you don’t have to face your ex-partner.  Afterwards they will inform you of the outcome of the hearing.

Now… if he has never hit you, you may still be asking yourself these questions:

“Is what he is doing a crime?” “Should I report his extreme jealousy and keeping me away from my family and friends?”  “Can I report him for making me feel worthless every day” “Can I go to the police because he never lets me have any mental or physical space?... not even in the bathroom”? “Or because every time I enrol on a course, he decides to work on those days and I have no one to look after the children”? “Should I tell the police that I have to tell him exactly where I am going, how long I will be, who I met on the way and what we talked about in detail?” Is it a crime when he threatens with harming me or the children?” or “when he threatens me with publishing  on social media something really private and embarrassing that I once told him about me?” ..”or when he broke my phone because I hadn’t answered it when he called me?“Should I report that he manages all our money even though I am the one who earns the most, because he says I am dreadful with finances and just gives me pocket money”?

The answer is : YES  !!!   ALL OF THAT CONSTITUTES A CRIMINAL OFFENCE .  It’s called Coercive and Controlling behaviour.  And if in doubt, stalking and harassment are also criminal offences.  Below are some links for further information on all these.

Of course, you may still not wish to go through the criminal justice route, whilst still wanting the abuse to finish.  If that is the case you can apply for a Non Molestation Order (aka injunction),  and an Occupation Order.  These will have to be the subject of another blog, because I have gone well over my word limit! 

So, I would just like to finish by saying to you what I often say to my clients: “Dare to imagine a life in which you feel joyful, respected, honoured, where you can express yourself, fulfil your potential, watch your children playing, working, studying in a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere and..then let those feelings give you strength and determination to make the necessary changes in your life”

A client of mine once responded to this by saying: ”Oh I just imagine my children having a dog, running in the garden, laughing”. Her husband had never allowed the children any pets.  That was her motivation.  Find yours.  It’s your and your children’s human right.

 

Useful websites:

Police – 999 (emergency)

101 (non-emergency)

Essex Compass - 24 hour Domestic Abuse Helpline - 0330 333 7 444 - https://www.essexcompass.org.uk/

24 hour Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 200 0247www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org.uk  

National LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline – 0300 999 5428www.brokenrainbow.org.uk/help/helpline

National Stalking Helpline – 0808 802 0300www.stalkinghelpline.org/faq/about-the-law/

Revenge Porn Helpline – 0845 6000 459www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk/

Stop Online Abuse – www.stoponlineabuse.org.uk

The Law Society (to find a solicitor) – www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor/

Rights of Women (for detailed information on Criminal and Civil Justice processes and a host of legal issues linked to domestic abuse including coercive controlling behaviour)  www.rightsofwomen.org.uk

Women’s Aid : www.womensaid.org.uk