I am hugely encouraged that domestic abuse laws may be tightening so that emotional and psychological abuse in relationships could be given the same status under law as physical abuse.
The home secretary, Theresa May, has launched a consultation to look at strengthening the law on domestic violence by creating a new offense of domestic abuse.
It could help protect victims whose partners threaten them with violence, cut them off from friends and family, or refuse them access to money. The abusers could find themselves in court and facing a five year prison sentence. Not tough enough in my opinion but it's a start that hopefully will make those inclined think twice and will enable victims a welcome escape route from a living hell.
Domestic abuse is a slow, cruel kind of torture that happens behind closed doors where nobody can see. Many suffer in silence as often they are convinced by their partners that they "deserve" this treatment and it is only as a result of their own actions that they are being punished. This is not just happening in poorer or less educated areas of the UK as some might expect. It is astounding how this can affect even the most educated and wealthy people. Even those who in the workplace would stand up for themselves but at home their confidence and self-worth are worn down so much that the abuse becomes just a part of daily life.
It is amazing how our standards of what is acceptable slip. Often the victims have no idea that their partner is like this when they first start dating and it is not until they are deeply entrenched into the relationship that they realise that things are not what they seemed. It is often a slow drip of abuse that in the early days is excused or tolerated out of empathy for a bad day or a stressful experience.
However once or twice becomes more frequent and slowly it becomes the norm.
Verbal abuse can be mentally scarring and the hurt from a nasty comment or name calling, especially if it is repetitive over time, can stick for years. Threats can be so terrifying that victims find themselves doing things they would never normally consider just to make them stop.
I have clients who tell me that even what may appear to be a caring act of "don't worry about the finances, I will look after them for us both" can actually be a controlling act that has a sharp sting in the tail. So when they needed money, even for day to day items such as the weekly shop, they had to ask for money and sometimes even beg from their partners who would often say no and accuse them of spending too much. Money is a commonly used way to control a partner and to make them feel insecure and highly dependent on their abuser. It is terrifying for the victims to be left with no access to money and very isolating.
Families and close friends are often shocked when they find out about the abuse as many victims cover up their abuse in public. When they discover the extent of the abuse they will often say:
"She is an intelligent woman, why didn't she stand up to him."
"He always seemed so happy in public with her, how can it have been that bad at home?"
Victims will often protect their abusers in public for fear of any repercussions at home. They will act the loving couple so that nobody suspects and even to convince themselves that things are not as bad as they are. It is often only when the abuse has gone too far and there is no way back that the victim will confide in a close friend or family member. Although in many cases the damage already done can take years to heal and without proper care and professional help they may never fully overcome it.
Research has shown that 30% - or 5million - women and 16% of men, around 2.5million, will experience domestic abuse during their lives. This is a huge number and needs to be stopped. Now.
I am hopeful that these proposed changes to the law will become a reality and it will throw a lifeline to those who desperately need it. In my opinion it cannot come quickly enough.