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A safe zone in your own home

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A safe zone in your own home

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As the Government tells the public to stay put in their homes, NCDV, the National Centre for Domestic Violence, has advised victims they can set up Court-protected safe zones within their own homes.

NCDV says protective injunctions called Non-molestation Orders (NMOs), which the organisation already helps thousands to secure every year, may be used to demarcate an area which is out-of-bounds to their abusers.  Breaching a NMO is an offence punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

“We are witnessing the acute distress of victims unable to leave the same flat or house where they’re suffering from abuse,” says chief executive Mark Groves. 

“Previously, they or their partner might have moved out or have been ordered to leave by a Court.  Now that option is often closed. Couples are being forced to stay together due to lack of money, limited spaces in refuges and public restrictions on movement.”

Some organisations have taken to advising victims to endure their abuse in silence.  Groves contends this is neither a practical nor a moral solution but agrees that refuges are overwhelmed and sources of possible Covid-19 infection.

“We need to put the existing law to work in a proactive way,” he says. “The only sensible option for some victims will be to set up an official safe zone within their own home via a Non Molestation Order where it would become a criminal offence for their partner to enter.  We have helped victims to do this in the past.” “Recently the Courts listened to our pleas to grant Court Orders such as NMOs on line and have them served electronically on abusers.  Those reforms are really important for victims’ ability to get an Order and set up a Court-protected safe zone as quickly as possible.”

 

SAFE ZONES FAQs

There’s been a lot of interest in our guidance about setting up a Safe Zone in your own home in the era of the Coronavirus Lockdown.  We thought we would repeat our advice and respond to the most frequently asked questions about it.

What is our normal advice to all victims of domestic violence and abuse?

Our standard advice to victims who are in fear of their lives or of hurt/ injury is that they dial 999 for the police. Wherever possible, ie where they have the option to stay with friends, relatives or in a designated Women’s Refuge, they should leave the shared home.

What is our Safe Zone advice?

Our advice applies to the large number of people for whom alternative accommodation is sadly just not an option in today’s lockdown.

To them, we say that it may be possible to set up a so-called Safe Zone within your shared dwelling.  Safe Zones can work and have been used before.  They are only advisable in certain circumstances however,(see below), and with certain limitations.

Why have NCDV given this Safe Zone advice now?

This advice is a last resort for some victims who cannot leave the home or find a place in a refuge in the unprecedented circumstances of the Covid-19 lockdown.  It is relatively unknown as an option, which is why NCDV wanted to raise awareness of it now – when it could be of most use to some victims.

So, how do you set up a Safe Zone?

(Call NCDV, a solicitor or your independent domestic violence adviser)

Where a victim cannot, for whatever reason, leave the home in which she/he faces abuse, and, if the dwelling is big enough to demarcate a portion as her/his own space, a victim can apply for a protective injunction, usually a Non-Molestation Order (NMO) to protect her/him within this designated space.

The terms of the Order can, for instance, forbid the perpetrator on whom it is served to enter the Safe Zone at all, or to enter it only during certain periods of the day or night.

As with all NMOs, if an order is breached the perpetrator will be committing a criminal offence, will be liable to arrest and/or prosecution, and, if convicted, could face up to five years in prison.

Who should consider setting up a Safe Zone? Who’s this going to work for?

We wish to make it clear that this will only be suitable in certain circumstances.

A Safe Zone is unlikely to prevent an extremely violent partner or former partner from breaking down a door.  A Safe Zone will not work for practical purposes where the shared dwelling is too small or difficult to sub-divide, such as a studio flat.

Many perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence have dominant and controlling personalities and monitor their victims day and night.  We are acutely conscious of how difficult it may be to make the call to NCDV, a solicitor or to an independent domestic violence adviser for help.

The victim, who knows her/his own circumstances and her/his abusive or violent partner best, will also have to decide, after discussing the matter with NCDV, solicitor or her independent domestic violence adviser, if this really could be option for her, what the level of risk is, how practical it might be for her and so forth.

What are the risks of setting up a Safe Zone?

It may provoke an abuser into further violence or abuse, as all applications for Court Orders are wont to do, with the difference here that the victim cannot get away from the abuser.

It may also be practically very difficult to make a call if the victim has no privacy, eg no private corner of the house or period when the perpetrator is out of the dwelling, doing shopping or taking exercise, for example.

What are the advantages of setting up a Safe Zone?

The real benefit of a Safe Zone is that it draws the authorities’ attention to what has been going on in a very formal way.  It draws a line in the sand.  The perpetrator knows that one more false move may land them in jail.

What are the alternatives to setting up a Safe Zone if you cannot leave?

We have heard some organisations say that victims should accept that they should simply stay silent and suffer abuse rather than taking steps to stop it and risking the wrath of their abusers and further damage. 

For some victims who cannot leave their home and go to a refuge, and whose dwelling could be sub-divided, we believe that this guidance to be totally wrong and immoral.  Nobody should have to tolerate domestic abuse and violence in silence.

Why have some women’s groups criticized NCDV’s Safe Zone advice?

Some women’s groups have criticized NCDV’s Safe Zone advice as unsafe. This is most often, we believe, because they have not understood what we are saying, whom we are addressing our advice to, or listened carefully enough to our caveats.

We believe that all those who are helping victims or advising them on how to get protection should be aware of this vital last resort option that may work for some victims and owe a duty of care to explain it properly.

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By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”