Travel and childcare costs ‘keep victims of domestic violence out of court’

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he cost of living crisis is increasingly being used as a justification for domestic violence as some victims cannot afford to go to court for protection, a charity has warned.

Financial pressures mean some victims seeking civil protection orders to ensure their safety cannot afford to attend court or arrange childcare so they can attend, Domestic Violence Assist said.

It comes as soaring costs of living trigger a surge in cases, with victims locked out of their vehicles, cut off from debit cards if they are deemed to have overspent and left without heat, electricity or hot water.

The organization is the only registered charity in the UK specializing exclusively in helping victims apply for Civil Protection Orders, which aim to protect them from harm or threats from their abuser, and to determine who can live in the family home or move into the surrounding area.

He received 40,000 requests for help from agencies such as the police and social services and phone calls in England and Wales in the year ending August 2022.

New domestic violence law transforms our response to this terrible crime – redefining economic violence, improving victim protection and bringing more perpetrators to justice

This is a 10% increase over the previous year and the highest total in its history.

He said the number of victims citing the cost of living as the main reason for their abuse is increasing – with 1,400 referrals and appeals for this reason in April rising to 2,400 in August.

This represents 60% of all victims who have sought help in the last month.

In the 12 months to August, 37% of all victims said their abuser made work difficult for them or prevented them from doing it.

More than a quarter (27%) said they had little or no access to money because of their abuser.

Chief executive Luis Labaton said financial hardship is “increasingly being used by abusers to justify the exercise of coercive control” over victims.

He said: “In cases where access to money is controlled and restricted, victims are often forced to stay with their abusers because they are financially dependent on them.”

A woman said she had so little money left that she was forced to steal from a supermarket to feed her children.

She said: ‘Every time I spent money he knew instantly. He would know where I was and how much I had spent.

Another victim, living in an area with little public transport, discovered that her attacker had put a steering wheel lock on the car so he couldn’t take his children to school or get to work .

Rising living and transportation costs also make it harder for victims to fund legal action or travel to court, while means-tested legal aid criteria fail to take into account the rising cost. of life, said DV Assist.

The charity said in-person hearings for civil protection order applications restarted in some courts in August, with 15 people it supported withdrawing because they would have difficulty getting there. or could not afford or arrange childcare, out of 290 claims.

In September, 22 people out of 300 applications did not respond.

One victim who did not follow up said: “I had no money for childcare because the courts wouldn’t allow my children in.

“I also had no money to go to the courts, which were over 20 miles away. On top of all that, I would run the risk of seeing my attacker in court.

“Why would they change a fully functioning system into one that would cause the victim such additional hardship?” It must cost the courts more in terms of heating, etc…”

Another told the charity: ‘I can’t get to family court and back as it’s an hour’s drive from me and I can’t arrange custody of the children on short notice.

“The court will not accept requests by e-mail and therefore I cannot pursue the case. This is grossly unfair.

Mr Labaton has written to Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis asking for a reconsideration of the decision to return to face-to-face hearings.

He said: ‘These were arrested due to Covid and held remotely instead, and that was a success for the victims as they did not have to attend court and risked seeing their abuser, or to worry about travel or childcare costs.

“The return to face-to-face hearings actually deters victims from seeking restraining orders, leaving them with little or no choice to stay with their abuser.”

A government spokesperson said: “The new domestic violence law transforms our response to this terrible crime – redefining economic violence, improving protection for victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.

“The deployment of new technologies in the vast majority of courtrooms ensures that judges can hold hearings remotely where appropriate and in consultation with the victim.

“We have also extended protection orders and are providing free legal advice to victims.”

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