“Domestic abuse is something that happens to other firms’ clients not mine.” “Domestic abuse is not something I really want to hear about.” “Domestic abuse rarely happens to men or boys.” “Honour abuse: what are you on about? This is not Detroit you know!” Sound familiar?
The high profile case of Raoul Moat in 2010, almost went unnoticed as a domestic abuse incident, yet last year the government started dismantling much of the system used to help those facing domestic abuse. In 2006, the police unwittingly sent Banaz Mahmod, a young Iraqi Kurdish woman from south London, back into the arms of her family who then murdered her and buried her in a suitcase. She had been spotted kissing her boyfriend outside a tube station. A chilling story, and a death which could have been avoided had the police understood the concept of honour abuse.
Law professionals – lawyers, mediators, financial planners, family consultants – are in the front line. We need to know how to spot abuse if we are going to protect our clients and ourselves. Yet too often, our response to any invitation, even if it’s free, to train in domestic abuse awareness is along the lines of those in my opening paragraph. Perhaps telling of the legal profession’s attitude is that I am the first family lawyer or mediator to sit on my county’s domestic abuse forum for about 10 years.
My interest in learning more stems from the fact that I’m always on the look-out to provide my clients with better systems to help them and their families. There will always be a need in some cases of domestic or honour abuse for a “route one” approach to the courts for an injunction, and where I assess this to be the case, I refer to a litigation colleague. My interest is to be able to screen with sufficient certainty to allow me to offer my clients a safe alternative approach. Currently, it’s ironic that only those perpetrators convicted of a criminal offence, or injuncted by a court, are offered places on rehabilitation programmes. Those families which want to adopt a more supportive approach, say by using mediation (caucused safely in separate rooms) or collaboration, cannot easily gain access to these programmes. So an opportunity to break the perpetrator-victim cycle earlier is being lost.
This blog can’t change anything. But I do hope that any professional who reads it may decide to gain a little more knowledge about domestic and honour abuse, and agree with me that it shouldn’t be left to the legal aid lawyers down the road.