A picture of life on the ‘front line’
I suspect that most people who have not suffered or witnessed it would have only a vague idea of the reality of domestic abuse. That is understandable. I thought that as a solicitor who practised family law for about a quarter of a century I would have a pretty good idea of that reality – after all, I had represented many victims, and seen first-hand how they were affected.
But I was never really in the ‘front line’, as an article I read over the weekend in The Guardian makes quite clear. The article is written by Becky Rogerson, the chief executive of ‘My Sisters Place’, which describes itself as “an independent specialist ‘One Stop Shop’ for women aged 16 or over and have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence”. It is located in Middlesbrough. Now, in my time I obviously had dealings with domestic abuse refuges, often finding places for my clients in them, but the picture that Becky paints of life on the front line of domestic abuse made me realise how little even I knew of the reality.
My Sisters Place is not actually a refuge, although it does provide a safe place for victims of abuse. Its purpose is more to do with counselling and practical support for victims.
The short article does not actually say that much about life helping domestic abuse victims (much of it is about the funding issues that it and other domestic abuse charities sadly face), but what it does say was enough to open my eyes a little.
Take, for example, this extract:
“I’ve been to serious crime scenes, attended home visits in dreadful properties and heard some gruelling accounts of human cruelty.
“My day starts with police referrals from high-risk incidents the night before, involving calls to the police and courts to check that the perpetrator is in custody, find out where the victim is and see what is happening.”
I never went to the places where my clients were abused – I never in my career went to a crime scene, although I did see some gruesome photographs of them. In fact, I’m not even sure that I considered those places to be ‘crime scenes’ (remember, for much of my career the police did not usually involve themselves in ‘domestics’, as incidents of domestic abuse were then called). But they are, of course, crime scenes, and I realise now that some of them can be particularly harrowing to see.
I also never saw the places where my clients were living. I know domestic abuse occurs at all levels of society, but it has well known links to poverty and deprivation. I suspect that many of the homes in which my clients were forced to live were pretty dreadful places, adding to the misery of the abuse they were suffering.
The second paragraph of the extract does ring some bells with me. I do recall that sense of ‘drop everything’ urgency when a client consulted me for protection from domestic abuse. Back then, of course, the chances were that the perpetrator would not be in custody, so the urgency would be to get before the court as soon as possible, to get the client the protection of an ex parte non-molestation order.
Becky goes on to explain the pressures of the work, and how not everyone is suited to it. She says that they have had a number of staff who haven’t even lasted a week.
The other reality highlighted by the article is another thing that the lawyer rarely sees: the long-term effects of abuse. Becky speaks of women who “are so low that they can’t get up in the morning to face the day”, and ends the article with a recent incident:
“Last week, I went into our waiting room and saw a woman we had supported for about three years. Her ex-husband stripped her of all financial assets and abused her through the family court process with no fewer than 46 court appearances. She used to be well off, but the legal costs have left her bankrupt and living on benefits. What she does have is her freedom and self-respect.”
However, all was not well with the woman. When Becky enquired what the problem was, the woman “burst into tears and said everything was fine, but she just needed to be in a safe place and My Sisters Place was the safest place she knew.” As Becky says, recovery takes a while.
You can read the full article here.