So This Is Christmas And They Have No-one
Case Study by Daryl Smith
As the festive period rears its head once again, the majority of us look forward to the annual Christmas feast, time with family and friends and, for me personally, the umpteenth showing of It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. It’s associated with togetherness and often declared ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, however, for some, it is anything but. While it may offer most of us a respite from work and stress, others are left feeling lonely and will only receive an unwarranted increase in what they have been experiencing throughout the year: domestic abuse.
Attributed to excessive consumption of alcohol and the added financial pressure, the amount of domestic abuse cases surge over Christmas. Statistics from Humberside Police force are a prime example. In 2015, 38% of calls received during the rest of the year related to domestic violence. This shot up in December where over half of all calls taken (54%) were associated with some form of domestic abuse.[i]
Claire (a false name was given for legal reasons), who is disabled, and her 8-year old daughter fled to a women’s refuge in an attempt to escape from the husband that had abused her for 23 years. Apologies had become the norm for Claire, her last resort to calm down a man who had previously tipped her from her wheelchair and rammed her into walls. As she escaped, she left a note: ‘I’m really, really sorry, please don’t be angry with me. I just can’t take any more of the control and abuse. We will be ok, we’re in a safe place – please don’t try and find me.’ Claire explained that her and her daughter would ‘spend Christmas walking on eggshells because he would always lose it over something.’[ii]
Claire’s case is just one example of many. Alexander Heavens, 24, has recently been found guilty of psychological abuse after his controlling and coercive behaviour in a relationship with his long-time partner Stacey Booth. While his behaviour stopped short of ‘serious’ physical violence, the extreme nature of the emotional abuse inflicted by Mr Heavens was an offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.[iii]
The law is a fairly new one, its introduction coming in December 2015, ruling that an individual repeatedly engaging in behaviour towards another person that is ‘controlling or coercive’ is committing a criminal offence. The types of abuse covered by this includes patterns of humiliation, intimidation, restriction from socialising – either in person or controlling use of social media accounts and even dictation of what another individual wears.[iv] In Mr Heavens’ case, this included using Miss Booth’s fingerprint to unlock her phone and check her messages while she slept, threatening her to spend more time with him rather than with her own family and threatening to stab himself in the stomach as he thought she was seeing someone else.
Domestic abuse victims may also be entitled to compensation for the ordeals they have endured. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) aims to compensate any blameless victims who have experienced a crime of violence. As defined by the CICA’s scheme, a crime of violence does not have to be a physical attack. It may be any threatening behaviour that causes a fear of immediate violence such as the circumstances Miss Booth suffered above and can result in the remuneration of thousands of pounds.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement over recent years, women are feeling more and more encouraged to speak about topics such as this, however public awareness is still low with regards to the support available. The 16 days of action campaign, an international campaign in which approximately 164 countries participate in to raise awareness of the various forms of violence against women, continues to run from 25th November to 10th December annually.[v] Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic violence charity, has released some uncompromisingly honest poems to highlight the rising issues over the festive season in particular[vi] and local authorities, such as Safer Leeds are urging any victims to seek help.[vii]
And so, over the festive period when you’re having a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, hopefully having a good one, please spare a thought for those who are simply hopeful for one without any fear.
If you are a woman experiencing domestic violence, please contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247[viii] or alternatively, if you are in immediate danger please call 999.
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