written by Kudakwashe Nyakudya
It may be assumed that the nature, trauma & harm, impact & multidimensional consequences of Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) end after adult and child victims separate from their perpetrators, but the reality is far from this. Post separation DVA (PSDVA) is a major but highly misunderstood issue that continues to shape & control the lives of adult & child victims after separation from their perpetrators1,2,3, 4. Most importantly, post separation is the most dangerous phase for victims. Risk of grievous harm, and threat to life is greatest at this stage.
PSDVA includes threats of and actual physical and non-physical violence abuse, and can prevail for more than 5 years after separation1,2,3,4. The situation is no different in faith communities, where ‘religious’ perpetrators will continue to misinterpret and manipulate religious texts and traditions to validate abusive behaviours at post separation; and where victims are pressured to reconcile with their abusive husbands, and victimised, shunned & condemned where they refuse to reconcile3, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Many victims separate from their perpetrators hoping to be free from fear, violence and abuse, but perpetrators relentlessly pursue them at post separation, even if they flee to another country1, 5,9,10. They use every effort and guise to regain their control & dominance over their victims, even through pseudo illnesses, & misuse of legal proceedings1, 3, 9, 10.
Perpetrators may present themselves as changed men, but these are usually attempts to regain ’trust’ from victims, relatives, & even professionals. They may also use their ‘presented change’ to influence friends and relatives to pressure victims to reconcile with them, but again these would be attempts to regain control and dominance over their victims.
Post separation is the most perilous phase for both adult and child victims. High levels of safeguarding them must be employed, across agencies and services. Notable evidence reveals high and extreme levels of PSDVA, of between 76% – 100% in cases examined in different studies1, 2, 3, 4.
Research also shows that women are at the greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation, or after leaving their perpetrator; 50% of DVA murders occur at the point victims are trying to flee; & that incidents at post-separation are also more grievous3, 4, 9, 10. In addition, more than 50% of those with child contact arrangements with an abusive ex-partner continue to have serious ongoing problems with contact1, 2, 3.
Contact is also used by perpetrators as an opportunity for continual PSDVA towards both adult & child victims, with behaviours of many perpetrators not changing even where police & courts are involved1, 2, 3. Children witness & experience continuing & severe incidents of violence & abuse, with significant threats of further PSDVA, resulting in Social Services becoming involved, & contact being dealt with through the courts1, 3.
In a minority of cases, perpetrators take their children, & victims strenuously try to either get the children back or to secure contact1, 3. This happens amidst PSDVA, & these men use this method of control to show women that they dominate over them & the children1, 3. Children are happy to permanently live away from abusive situations, even those with mixed feelings about their fathers1, 3.
As PSDVA is highly misunderstood by professionals, the courts & society, adult & child victims experience harm & trauma, for much longer, yet this is preventable1, 3. For 50% of victims, their struggle for freedom from violence & abuse results in their murder2, 3, 9, 10. It has to be noted that perpetrators will present themselves as “devoted dads” to professionals, the courts, society, & faith communities, yet committing PSDVA to their victims at the same time1, 3. Therefore reports of victims are usually undermined, as the views of the courts, professionals, & society conflict with the actual experiences of victims.
It is unfortunate, given the high levels of multidimensional devastation DVA and PSDVA cause for both adult and child victims, that the law supported by Social Services, and agencies life CAFCASS, strongly asserts and works from the presumption that perpetrators have “rights” to have contact with their children, whom they have or are abusing1, 3. This is regardless of the women and children’s rights that perpetrators themselves would have violated, and continue to violate, through DVA and PSDVA.
Whatever the circumstances, contact is projected as the desired outcome, and lawyers and judges allow or even enable this detrimental approach in case law and practice, even though it is known that perpetrators misuse the law and legal as a means of exerting PSDVA1, 3. This leaves victims & their families with very little options, but to endure repetitive cycles of persistent PSDVA1, 3.
However, there is a new hope coming through English law and practice, which I believe will drastically curb DVA, PSDVA, their impact and multidimensional consequences. MPs from all parties are now supporting a tough new law that would make DVA a specific offence carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. DVA is not yet a crime category in the UK, but its aspects are arrestable offences.
Under this law, when passed, DVA will be categorised as both physical and psychological and perpetrated against the victim or the victim’s children. It would define abuse as “intentionally, wilfully or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, physical injury or psychological harm to a person” and introduce protective orders that prohibit perpetrators from making contact with their victims. It will force authorities to take into account previous patterns of abusive behaviour of an offender, unlike historically. It will be the first time that an attempt will be made to criminalise DVA in the UK.
- Coy, M., Perks K., Scott, E., & Tweedale, R. (2012). Picking Up The Pieces: Domestic Violence & Child Contact. Rights Of Women, London Metropolitan University & CWASU: London
- Women’s Aid. (2013). Domestic Violence Statistics. Women’s Aid: London. Retrieved 12 June 2013 from www.womensaid.org.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=1602.
- Thiara, K. R., & Gill, A. K. (2012). Domestic Violence, Child contact and Post-Separation Violence Issues for South Asian and African-Caribbean Women and Children: A Report of Findings. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children: London.
- Stanley, N,. Miller, P., Richardson, F., & Thomson, G. (2009). Children and families experiencing domestic violence: Police and children’s social services’ responses. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children: London.
- Metropolitan Police Sikh Association. (2010). A Brief Guide To Honour Based Violence. Metropolitan Police Sikh Association: London.
- Fortune, M. M., Abugideiri, S., & Dratch, M. (2010). A Commentary on Religion and Domestic Violence. Faith Trust Institute: Seattle. Retrieved 20 November 2013 from http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/articles/What-Religious-Leaders-Can-Do.pdf.
- Methodist Conference 2002 Report. (2002). Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church – the Way Forward. The Report and Recommendations on Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church. Methodist Publishing: Peterborough.
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2007). Religion and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Pennsylvania.
- London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. (2013). Information About Perpetrators Of Domestic Violence. London Borough of Barking and Dagenham: London.
- Haringey Council. (2013). Haringey Joint Strategic Needs Assessment: Other Factors Affecting Health – Domestic Violence. Haringey Council: London. Retrieved 12 June 2013 from http://www.haringey.gov.uk/index/social_care_and_health/health/jsna/jsna-wider-determinants/jsna-domestic_violence.htm.
- Doward, J. (2013). Domestic violence set to be targeted by tough new law. The Observer: London. Retrieved 4 January 2014 from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/28/domestic-violence-new-law-jail-term.
© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2014. All Rights Reserved.