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    Domestic Abuse in Non-Traditional Relationships

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    Domestic Abuse in Non-Traditional Relationships


    Some people who experience domestic abuse are in relationships that are not defined by the traditional heterosexual or same-sex models. People are mixing it up and non-monogamous, open and polyamorous relationships are more common. It’s important that professionals should not make assumptions and that people can explain their situation without judgement. This is especially important where domestic abuse is concerned, as it can affect every person from any background and in any type of relationship.

    Flexi-sexual Relationships

    Bi-sexual or pan-sexual people are often misunderstood. They may be considered straight when they are in a heterosexual relationship, but gay when they are dating someone of the same sex. Bisexual people can face accusations when they form new relationships, with comments such as, “I thought you were a lesbian!” or “So, are you gay now?” In reality though, sexuality for some people is flexible, not static and sexual attraction is indiscriminate.

    Hybrid relationships

    In some relationships, one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. This may be due to illness, medication, work/life balance or age. In a hybrid or Poly/Mono relationship, one partner is granted permission to have sexual encounters outside of the relationship, while the other remains monogamous. It’s possible some people feel pressured into this agreement to save their relationship, while others are happy to focus primarily on security, parenting and friendship. Each couple will have different conditions to this agreement.

    Multiple Dating

    Many people are rejecting the traditional model of exclusive dating and are dating two or more people at the same time. A sexual relationship may exist with one or all of them. This kind of dating has been made easier by internet dating sites, allowing connections to people in numerous locations and making it less likely that people will settle for the first perspective partner that comes along.


    There are more swinging clubs and private parties than ever before and the trend has been building for the last decade. What used to be considered a guilty secret is becoming more socially acceptable. The swinging scene is diverse with couples of all ages and backgrounds who feel they belong to a like-minded community. Although the swinging community is known for practicing safe and consensual sex, there is potential that some people may feel pressured or coerced.


    Polyamorous (or poly) people form relationships with more than one person. There may be three or more people in a relationship which can be open or monogamous. Sexual relationships may involve all parties or they may share their time between partners. Some poly people have a primary partner they consider their number one, and everyone else is secondary. Others love multiple partners equally. If it’s a three-way bond, it’s known as a triad or a throuple; if there are four, it’s a quad.

    Domestic Abuse in non-traditional relationships

    There is no evidence to suggest that domestic abuse does not exist in flexi, hybrid or poly relationships in the same way it does in other relationships, but there are additional complications and risks to consider.

    Someone could face abuse from more than one person in the relationship which naturally increases their risk of harm. It might be harder to tell someone what’s happening because they don’t want family or the community knowing about their relationship status. This could be used as a blackmail tactic by the abuser.

    Family finances may hinge on contributions from all partners in the relationship, making it difficult to leave, and the parentage of children may be unknown. It’s also possible that a victim wants to get away from one person in the relationship, but still be in love with the other/s.

    It is likely to be more difficult to report the abuse, for fear of being judged or misunderstood by the police or other agencies. Also, multiple partners may be denying the abuse has occurred, possibly affecting court outcomes and housing applications.

    Good Practice when speaking to new service users:

    As professionals, when we talk to service-users we should always be open to the possibility of a non-traditional relationship. Never assume the partner they are talking about, is their only partner. We should ask open, non-judgmental questions about who lives at the property and about the relationship, without assuming the parentage of children. Some service users might refer to an additional ‘friend’ living at the address as a lodger or a housemate, rather than explain the complexities of a poly relationship. We can start by asking open questions such as, “Is there anyone else you are at risk from?”

    It’s not for us to judge anyone else’s relationship, but to ensure people feel safe and comfortable enough to tell us what has been happening.


    Charlotte Woodward

    National Training Manager, NCDV

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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.”