For many of us Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. After the various restrictions of this year, people are queuing to get their boosters to ensure that they can see their family over the Christmas holidays.
But as family lawyers we know that Christmas is not a happy holiday for everyone. There is increasing pressure to have the perfect Instagram worthy Christmas, which can create a pressure pot at home, even before we throw Covid restrictions into the mix.
As we all know, for victims of domestic abuse Christmas can be a very scary time. At this time of year victims may be quite literally trapped at home with the perpetrator of their abuse and our survey statistics show that 16% of people fear that they will suffer physical or emotional abuse over the Christmas period.
How well authorities deal with domestic abuse and sexual offences can often be a post code lottery and there has been startling evidence of how poorly such offences have been dealt with in some areas. There is a clear lack of trust amongst victims for figures of authority, such as the police, who are the very people who are meant to be there to protect them.
I hear from clients who are often too scared to report domestic abuse for fear of not being believed or for fear of making their situation worse. Amongst the women I speak to there is a clear lack of confidence among those who have experienced domestic abuse to report it and when they do report it the conviction rates are low. It’s 2021 and as a society we should have a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse.
We often hear that more needs to be done to help victims of domestic abuse, but what? Recently, Priti Patel has agreed to change the wording of the Policing Bill to class domestic abuse and sexual offences as “serious violence” putting them akin to murder and knife crime. This is a clear and welcome message that domestic abuse and violence against women is not acceptable, it is serious, it won’t be tolerated, it is a priority, and we all have a responsibility to effect change. But is it enough? Will it spark confidence in my clients who fear approaching the police?
The reality is, perhaps not straight away. To tackle domestic abuse, we need more than just a change of wording, we need a systematic change in our society, the police, and the way we approach victims. However, it is a start and major shifts in attitude do not happen overnight.
Christmas isn’t just a troubling time for victims of domestic abuse, as we enter the new year the coverage of so-called “Divorce Day” has become an annual occurrence and if it to be believed significant numbers of people will instruct solicitors to issue divorce proceedings on the first working day back in January. I am not a fan of this yearly media phenomenon.
In my experience, “Divorce Day” is just not a reality. Undoubtedly, the phone lines are busier at the beginning of January, but then many firms shut over the Christmas period and children will have just returned to school.
January is a time for new year’s resolutions and making fresh starts, but decisions to end a marriage are not made on a whim and rarely because the family Christmas just proved too stressful. The assumption seems to be that families spend a lot of time together over Christmas, argue, realise they no longer love, or even like each other, and immediately start proceedings in January.
The clients I meet do not take the decision to divorce lightly, it is often something that has been on their minds for many months. I don’t know of anyone who says “I do” thinking about a future divorce, and behind all the media coverage there are people dealing with the emotional and financial cost of their relationship breakdown.
This should never be downplayed for attention grabbing headlines.
Family Law Advice
If you are in an unhappy or abusive relationship and would like advice on your legal situation, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers.
Other Helpful Contacts
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123