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A Slap Is Domestic Violence

If you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the police. You can also call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

If Jorge Arantes thought he had successfully handled allegations that he abused his ex-wife, RK Rowling, by telling British media on the doorstep of his mother's house in Porto, Portugal, "I slapped Joanne - but there was not sustained abuse. I'm not sorry for slapping her", it is likely he has now been proven very wrong. Indeed anyone, man or woman, who is under the misplaced notion that a 'slap' is not physical abuse, is entirely incorrect.

In a blog article written personally by the Harry Potter author to justify recent comments which some saw as 'trans-phobic', Rowling, stated, "I've been in the public eye now for over twenty years and have never talked publicly about being a domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor. This isn't because I'm ashamed those things happened to me, but because they're traumatic to revisit and remember. I also feel protective of my daughter from my first marriage. I didn't want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her, too. However, a short while ago, I asked her how she'd feel if I were publicly honest about that part of my life, and she encouraged me to go ahead".

While only Arantes and Rowling will ever know what happened between them, this case highlights how perpetrators often deny their wrongdoing, or simply fail to understand that their actions, whether in the past or present, are domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Contrary to common belief, the term' domestic violence' covers not just physical harm (whether threatened or actual) but also sexual violence, emotional or other psychological abuse, harassment, or controlling behaviour. Controlling behaviour also includes financial and indirect control.

While there is no legal definition of domestic violence in statute law, the Government website defines it as, "any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality".

Domestic violence can also be seen as a cycle of behaviour, which is repeated over and over. One, albeit very simple theory by Lenore E. Walker, suggests that this cycle of abuse involves four stages:

  1. Tensions building
  2. Incident
  3. Reconciliation
  4. Calm


It is possible to see using this model why many people become trapped by domestic violence. The reconciliation and calm which follow an incident of domestic abuse diffuse concerns and fosters the hope that there will be no further occurrences; but unfortunately, in too many cases, there are.

Ending the cycle of domestic violence

Understanding that domestic violence has a much broader scope than actual physical harm is important, but knowing this is not enough to bring it to an end. In many cases, the fear of leaving is greater than the fear of staying, perhaps due to threats by the perpetrator, or worries over what might happen next. In addition, some victims of domestic violence have become so accustomed to such behaviour, they may no longer recognise they are in an abusive relationship.

Another factor, and one which is relevant to immigration, is that of culture. It may be that behaviours which are normalised in some cultures would, in the UK, likely cross the boundary of domestic violence. This may mean that immigrants to the UK from other countries with vastly different cultural norms, may not realise that they are being subjected to domestic violence. In the words of the charity, 'Rights of Women' who help women to access legal support, "Sadly, we recognise that in some countries and cultures being a divorced or separated woman is not seen as acceptable. Ending a relationship because of domestic violence, having a relationship with someone else, or having children outside of marriage may also be considered unacceptable or shameful".

Domestic violence and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

Under UK immigration law, a person who has come to the UK on spouse/partner visa, and has become the victim of domestic violence, can apply for ILR, which will allow them to remain indefinitely in the UK without being subject immigration control. Victims of domestic abuse without sufficient financial resources may also be eligible for the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession, which provides three months' leave to remain and allows them to apply for public benefits and funds. In order to qualify for this concession, their relationship must have broken down as a result of domestic violence.

In order to prove that domestic violence has occurred, victims will need to provide evidence as part of their ILR application, which may include (where relevant):

  • Medical records showing injuries resulting from domestic violence
  • A copy of a court order, e.g. a Non-Molestation Order, Occupation Order, Forced Marriage Protection Order, or a Prohibited Steps Order
  • Proof that your partner has had a criminal conviction for committing domestic violence against you and/or your children
  • A letter from a refuge or other agency supporting victims of domestic abuse
  • Police records – if the police attended your property due to domestic violence

Final words

Domestic violence is experienced by men and women in all cultures and countries. What is changing is the growing awareness that what would have passed as undesirable but otherwise normal behaviour in the past is now classified as domestic violence. Whether it is a pattern of threats, cruel words, or denying access to money, the truth is that in many cases, domestic violence escalates over the years, placing the victim and other family members in ever greater danger. Remember, if you are currently a victim of domestic violence, the law is on your side and there is a wealth of help available to you and your children. Hopefully, you will have the courage to reach for it.

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