Christmas for most of us means shopping, socialising and generally being surrounded by family, friends and loved ones – but for many people Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year.
Family partner at Liverpool law firm MSB, Emma Carey, said: “For people in psychologically or physically abusive relationships, the hustle and bustle of Christmas can make many feel incredibly isolated.”
Emma says that whilst the majority of us are making merry over the festive period, lawyers are noticing a rise in the number of injunctions and restraining orders taken out around Christmastime.
She says that the lead up to Christmas can, for many, be a time fuelled by fear as financial pressures and more frequent consumption of alcohol can put additional pressures on fragile or volatile relationships resulting in a seasonal spike in domestic abuse.
Here, Emma offers some advice for anybody affected by domestic violence.
Maybe he doesn’t hit you…
Changes to the Serious Crime Act 2015 have given the Crown Prosecution Service new powers that mean that coercive or controlling behaviour, emotional abuse or financial abuse are now punishable by up to five years prison sentence.
“Identifying domestic abuse can be tricky, particularly when relationships are long term, involved and perceived as loving – and certain behaviours have become accepted as ‘the norm’,” says Emma.
“A tendency to control, manipulate or coerce is absolutely a form of abuse in itself, but also can often be a pre-curser to more sinister or potentially violent behaviour and we must get better at helping victims to spot the signs.
“Things like mobile phones being checked regularly, access to the household finances being taken away, monitoring your movements or anything that limits your independence are almost certainly indicative of an abusive personality.”
It’s good to talk
“Lots of women – and men – affected by psychological or physical abuse are fearful of reporting their partner to police.
“Most solicitors offer free, no obligation advice and are experienced in dealing with domestic abuse matters. We can help you to understand your options before taking any next steps and it helps to feel supported if you do decide to take further action.
“And it doesn’t need to be formal. MSB facilitate a free family advice clinic every Thursday at Blackburne House. The clinic is open to anybody and is simply an opportunity to have a relaxed chat and a cuppa with a friendly solicitor who understands your position.”
Financial support is available
Many people in abusive relationships report to have no access to finances and fear that if they do speak out, they will not be able to afford to pay for the help they need. MSBs Sarah Achilles says:
“There has been a heartening turnaround in victims of domestic abuse being able to access legal aid in order to bring their abusers to justice. Regulations have been widened following a successful appeal by the Rights of Women.
“As of 25th April 2016, legal aid funding has now been extended for anybody who can evidence that they have suffered abuse within the last 60 months, or 5 years, which is an extension of more than double the 2 years as was the case previously, which many deemed overly restrictive.
“Perhaps more telling again, is the introduction of funding for victims of financial abuse, which previously was not specifically recognised. This now means that more victims will have access to support they need.”
Help is available now
“Christmas and the New Year are typically recognised as a peak time for separating or divorcing couples, but what is not always understood is that many people exiting relationships require urgent help.
“Often there are serious safeguarding issues, not just for the individuals themselves but for any children involved. Worried parents who fear an abusive partner may interrupt the school nativity, for example – or are filled with dread at the thought of their partner returning from the office party drunk and abrasive.
“At MSB, we have a large and experienced family department who are available to help you now. Many of our solicitors are Resolution-accredited and we have developed relationships with a number of local agencies and support groups who can help you through the process, so please, please talk to us.”
MSB has offices in Allerton Road, Wavertree and the city centre. Its family team was recently appointed to the International Child Abduction panel for the UK – the only firm based in the north of the country – and were shortlisted for best regional firm at the Family Law Awards 2016.