The perpetrator of domestic abuse within a family is more likely to spend time in jail in future. That is because in May 2018 changes to sentencing guidelines for domestic violence will be brought into force. The government regularly publishes sentencing guidelines to Courts so that there is consistency of punishment and jail terms across the country.
There is no specific crime of domestic violence but if domestic abuse occurs within a family setting then the perpetrator can be arrested if they commit a crime and will then be punished under the criminal law.
With effect from May, under the new sentencing guidelines, judges sentencing those accused of domestic violence will treat the offender’s crimes more seriously than someone who had committed exactly the same offence outside of a family setting. The difference in sentencing is justified by the argument that if someone is hurt or abused by a family member, rather than by a stranger, the effect on the victim of the abuse is more serious. That is because domestic abuse involves a breach of trust and therefore the victim may experience ongoing fear and trauma as they may still be in contact with the perpetrator, for example, if they share children together or are going through financial Court proceedings to sort out the division of property after a divorce.
What is more the new sentencing guidelines also recognise the impact of social media and technology to track and harass family victims, thus creating increased feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem on the part of the victim. In this day and age it is not at all unusual to hear that an offender harassed a member of the family by using a mobile app to trace their whereabouts or threatened them with exposure of intimate pictures on WhatsApp or bombarded them with emails and texts.
Most people assume that Courts will only convict a family member and impose a jail term if the perpetrator has been violent. That is no longer the attitude of the sentencing Courts as the new guidelines state that severe psychological harm to the victim is just as damaging as a severe physical assault. Nowadays both the police and the Courts view domestic abuse as including psychological, sexual, financial, emotional as well as physical harm. There is also a growing understanding that domestic violence is not just about married women being harmed by their husbands; domestic abuse takes place in all types of heterosexual and same sex relationships and the victims can be male or female and the abuse can be intergenerational.
Sometimes family members who have experienced domestic abuse don’t want to involve the police and the criminal Courts. There are alternatives such as applying to the family Court for an order to prevent further physical violence or emotional harm or an order to exclude a partner from the family home.
Whether the criminal or the family Court is involved in allegations of domestic violence all the various different forms of abuse will be taken seriously by the Court. Often the first step is to tell a trusted friend or family member, doctor or solicitor about what has happened. That’s because often victims of domestic abuse are told by the perpetrator that they are the one who is mentally unwell and who ‘’needs to be put away’’ and so the victim doesn’t see what is happening to them as abuse. The new sentencing guidelines are there to reinforce that all types of domestic violence won’t be tolerated.
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