If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or know someone who might be, the advice below can help you. If you can, it is always worth speaking to someone for guidance for your particular situation.
See the Useful contacts page for details of organisations that can help.
What should you do if you are experiencing domestic abuse?
If you’re living in an abusive situation, you might not always be able to predict what’s going to happen next. This unpredictability can be frightening so it’s best to try to have a plan in place to protect yourself and your children.
If you decide to stay in your home after separation, what can you do about keeping safe?
- Change the locks on your property – if you have a housing officer they may be able to assist you, depending on who has legal rights to the property. If you own your home with your ex-partner, seek advice from a solicitor or Citizens Advice first.
- Change passwords on your electronic devices, such as mobile phones and computers – this will stop anyone getting into them without your knowledge.
- Change your mobile phone – tracking devices, software and apps may be running in the background of your current phone. Apps such as ‘Find my friends’, ‘Locate my iPhone’ etc can be linked to other accounts.
- Contact your internet provider to change your ISP – this will stop others accessing your network.
- Change your route to work or school or vary the time you would normally leave.
- Get a personal panic alarm – the police and IDVAs can advise where to get one or you can find one yourself at low cost.
- Report to police – if you call 999 stay on the phone, describe what is happening, where you are in the home, where the perpetrator is, what he is wearing, what he is doing, if he has a car the description and registration number if you know it. These calls are recorded and used in evidence. It also helps police prepare and look out for the perpetrator. The police are trained to deal with domestic abuse allegations, considering the safety of you and your children.
- Silent Solution 55 – this enables people to contact 999 services without speaking. It detects background noise and when prompted the caller needs to dial ’55’ so they can be directed to the police – if 55 isn’t dialled then the call won’t be put through to the police.
- Inform trusted friends, family or a professional – they can help you to keep safe and create a safety plan. Think about scheduling calls from them to check you are OK and plan what to do if you don’t answer. Create a safety sentence which could alert them. It mustn’t be obvious, for example “can you let *** know I won’t be getting my hair/nails done tonight.”
- See the section below for information on legal action.
If you decide to leave it is better to plan this beforehand if possible. Abusers often increase the abuse if they think you might be planning to leave, so this could be a potentially dangerous time for you and your children. By planning ahead as much as possible, the risk can be reduced. However, if you need to leave urgently, support and protection are available.
Safety planning means thinking about what you might need to do and developing a plan of action if you feel you have to leave your home to keep yourself safe. Here are some steps you can take:
- Prepare a list of emergency numbers, for example local domestic abuse services, your GP, and keep it with you
- Get an extra set of keys cut for your home and car
- Keep the keys and a set of clothes for you and your children packed and ready. Leave them somewhere safe, perhaps with a trusted friend or relative, but be cautious about leaving them with mutual friends
- Keep documents – birth certificates, forms of identification, papers relating to your immigration status, benefit payment cards, any documents you have relating to the abuse (court orders, solicitors letters, police reports) and passports – somewhere safe, ready to take
- Try to save a small amount of money for bus, train or taxi fares
If you have time to plan ahead
If there is more time to plan, try to follow as many of these steps as possible:
- leave when your partner is not around
- take all the children with you
- take all important legal papers and documents
- take any personal possessions that have sentimental value
- take any medicines you or your children might need
- take clothing to last several days
- arrange for pets to be cared for – a local animal charity may be able to help
What legal action can you take if you are experiencing domestic abuse?
Legal measures to protect you can include:
- Reporting to police – the police and courts take domestic abuse very seriously. They can put protection in place via bail conditions, Domestic Violence Protection Orders and if a case goes to court the prosecutor can apply for a Restraining Order. You might be asked to attend court to testify; if this is the case there is support and advice available to make sure you can do this in a way you feel comfortable with.
- Non-molestation order – this is a civil court order (that is, an order you take out yourself in a court rather than through the police) aimed at preventing your partner or ex-partner from using or threatening abuse against you or your child, or intimidating, harassing or pestering you. Breaching a non-molestation order is now a criminal offence.
- Occupation order – this determines who can live in the family home and can also restrict your abuser from entering the surrounding area. If you do not feel safe continuing to live with your partner, or if you have left home because of abuse but want to return, you may want to apply for an occupation order
- Residence order – this can be used to keep your children with you
- Prohibited steps order – stops a parent from taking particular steps in relation to their children, such as taking them abroad, removing them from school, or bringing them into contact with certain people
- Clare’s Law (Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme) has been set up to give members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquiries to Police about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, to find out if that partner has been known to Police to have been abusive in the past.
Where to get legal help
There is a lawyer at Sutton’s weekly Domestic Abuse One Stop Shop (see the Useful contacts page for details). The initial consultation is free and you will be advised whether you are eligible for legal aid. You can find a solicitor through the Law Society. Make sure you approach a solicitor who specialises in domestic abuse or family law.
What will happen to your children if you report domestic abuse?
It is important that children live in a safe and happy home.
In cases of domestic abuse, there is no presumption that an abused parent cannot be a good parent. Wherever possible, the focus will be on supporting that parent and helping them to protect their children themselves. If social services need to become involved, their aim is to keep children safe by ensuring the right support is in place.
Where will you live if you report domestic abuse?
If it is safe to do so, the hope would be that you will remain living in your home. There are protective schemes through the courts, police and housing services to help make this possible.
If you are not able to remain in your home, there are various options available to you such as a refuge or relocation to a safe place.
What should I do if I think someone I know is experiencing domestic abuse?
Sometimes people remain in abusive situations for many years. This can be for a variety of reasons, including fear or because they don’t recognise what they’re going through as abuse.
If you suspect or know someone is in an abusive relationship, there are ways you can help:
- Make sure they are safe.
- Never put yourself at risk, for instance by intervening or offering to talk to the abuser.
- Talk to them and help them to open up. This may take time, be patient. Be sensitive and do not judge them.
- Listen to them and believe what they say.
- Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault. Do not suggest excuses for why they have been treated that way. Domestic abuse is never acceptable.
- Don’t tell them to leave or criticise them for staying – they have to make that decision in their own time. If possible, you can offer advice on their options.
- Support them to seek help, for instance by visiting the Domestic Violence One Stop Shop or phoning Transform on 020 8092 7569 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further advice on your specific situation, contact one of the organisations on our Useful contacts page.
The Bright Sky app is free to download and offers support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know. It is also designed to be used by specialist and non-specialist practitioners and other employers.
What should you do if you think someone you know is carrying out domestic abuse or if you witness domestic abuse?
If you suspect that someone you know is abusing someone, you may be worried about making the situation worse or what will happen to them or the victim.
The main priority should be the safety of the victim. If you believe someone is in immediate danger you should call the police. For further advice on what to do, contact one of the organisations on our Useful contacts page.
What should you do if you’re worried about your own behaviour towards your partner or other family members?
The fact that you are concerned about your own behaviour is a good first step. For advice and support you can contact Respect, who have a free phoneline, 0808 802 4040 and information on their website.