12 Days of Christmas Family Special – Hope

Posted on: December 10th, 2019

For some people, the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is anything but that. If you have an abusive partner, fuelled with alcohol and rage, the last thing on your mind is the joy of the season.

National statistics show that cases of domestic abuse rise significantly over the Christmas period, with financial and social strains acting as aggravating factors.

But what is domestic abuse? Sometimes this can be hard to pinpoint, particularly where you may have ‘normalised’ your partner’s behaviour, having spent many years caught in a cycle of control and coercion. Here are some examples:-

Physical/sexual abuse

  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Spitting
  • Hitting
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual coercion
  • Rape

Coercive control/emotional abuse

  • Intimidation – shouting in close proximity of a partner’s face, causing them to feel frightened/powerless
  • Degradation – comments such as: ‘you look disgusting in that outfit, cover yourself up’ or ‘I’m ashamed of you’.
  • Isolation – from friends and family members; an abuser doesn’t want anyone else to know what is going on, because a more objective person is likely to challenge their behaviour.
  • Control – comments such as: ‘if you leave me, I will kill myself’ or ‘you’ll never find anyone who loves you as much as I do’.
  • Gaslighting – deflection, distorting reality, accusing a partner of being ‘crazy’.

Financial/economic abuse

  • Signing up contractual obligations in a partner’s name (such as bills/loans)
  • Gambling with family assets
  • Leaving a partner without money for basic essentials such as food and clothing
  • Denying a partner access to employment or education so that they are prevented from earning a higher income and achieving a level of financial independence.

Criminal damage

  • Smashing up items of furniture
  • Destroying the children’s Christmas presents
  • Vandalising the car

Harassment/stalking

  • Frequent, unwanted (and often abusive) texts/calls/emails – for example, persistent phone calls when a partner is at their Christmas party with their friends
  • Filming a partner on a mobile device/laptop without their knowledge/consent
  • Following a partner to their place of work/social events
  • Stalking a partner using a tracking device (car/mobile)

It goes without saying that children who bear witness to domestic abuse will invariably carry the emotional (and sometimes physical scars) well into their adult life, often seeking out similar, abusive life partners of their own.

To an outsider, the solution is simple – ‘just leave!’ The reality is far more complex. Fear of the future, fear of retribution, and an overwhelming sense of shame may prevent a victim from seeking help. Clients often tell me that they are embarrassed to admit that they have ‘put up with things’ for so long.

I recently listened to a podcast in which Bryony Gordon (journalist and mental health campaigner) interviewed Mel B (Scary Spice) about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband. It was very clear that this strong, capable woman became a shell of herself as a result of her ex’s controlling and violent behaviour. Sadly, she talked of self-medicating with alcohol and drugs and an eventual suicide attempt.

Eventually, in an act of defiance and resilience, she found the courage to end the relationship and seek an injunction, preventing her ex from contacting her. But it took her ten years before she was able to break free.

Having listened to this podcast in its entirety, I was left aghast by my own preconceptions. I had wrongly assumed that Mel B was just another self assured, privileged celebrity. In reality, she is a survivor of abuse. She has written a book about her experiences and this is definitely something I will be reading over the Christmas break.

To anyone out there who is suffering at the hands of an abusive partner this Christmas, I would urge you to speak out. Do not feel ashamed. Do not feel that you are to blame. An abusive partner wants you to stay silent and stay afraid. They might apologise, promising never to behave so badly again, but it’s likely you will have heard these sentiments before, for they often form part of the cycle of abuse.

If you don’t feel able to call the police, confide in a close friend; a relative; a colleague.

At Coffin Mew, our experienced and empathetic family lawyers can advise you on all aspects of a divorce or separation, including financial aspects of the separation and child arrangements. If the need arises, we can also seek court injunctions, preventing your partner from contacting you, or even removing them from the family home.

Remember, you are resilient and you can take back control for the sake of yourself and your children. There is hope.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful Christmas.

For more information, please contact Marie Stock, Senior Associate Family Lawyer at Coffin Mew.