A decade of terror, but ‘too late’ to prosecute abuser

FEAR:  Domestic violence prosecutions have fallen
FEAR: Domestic violence prosecutions have fallen
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A domestic violence victim has revealed how she suffered a decade of abuse before gaining the courage to come forward – only to be told it was too late to pursue an assault charge against her attacker.

The 30-year-old, from Preston, spoke as figures reveal the number of prosecutions for domestic violence in Lancashire dropped by almost a quarter in the first half of this year, compared to the same time last year.

FAILING VICTIMS: Rachel Horman

FAILING VICTIMS: Rachel Horman

The mum-of-two was driven to come forward after her partner inflicted an ongoing assault throughout the night, brandishing a pointed weapon and threatening to hurt her – but it took her four months to work up the courage.

This meant there was too little time to pursue the case at the magistrates court within the six month time limit that applies to certain kinds of assault.

Despite photographs of her injuries, a decision was taken by the authorities not to take the case to court.

Today she said: “The phrase ‘fallen through a crack in the system’ springs to mind.

“There isn’t a legal separation between a common assault in the street and a domestic assault. My case could only be legally pursued as a common assault.

“Like many victims, its so very scary when it happens – you don’t take it in brilliantly well. There’s a lot of nervousness about coming forward.

“I’m one of the women who never reported a thing until the very end. We were together 10 years.

“It’s really disheartening. It isn’t the police’s fault, they were brilliant.

“There needs to be a separate provision for domestic cases. There is no such crime as domestic violence, there’s a weird grey area where it has to fall into a preset legal definition and criteria of an assault, like common assault or actual bodily harm.

“Domestic abuse is not as specific as that. My contact with Preston Domestic Violence Services has shown me how different everyone’s situations are.

“The time limits are also a problem because it can take victims ages to have the courage to come forward.

“For the sake of your children you try to fix it from the inside.”

Lancashire Constabulary recorded 332 fewer prosecutions for domestic violence between January and June this year.

Last year 1,365 people were charged with offences but this year it was 1,033.

Lancashire CPS, which makes the decision to charge people, said it could not comment as the figures, uncovered by an freedom of information request to police forces by solicitors Simpson Millar, were not its own.

Emma Pearmaine, director of family services and chairman of domestic violence charity, Corporate Alliance, said: “For several years we have seen a steady rise in domestic violence prosecutions which was largely attributed to an increase in public awareness and a change in the attitude within police forces to pro-actively tackle these cases.

“It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume that we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violence, regardless of how much I wish that was true.

“A cut in the legal aid budget has had a negative impact on the level of access people have to legal advice; this could now be having serious implications for abuse victims.

“My team of family lawyers and I always advise victims of domestic abuse to report it to the police – even when it is a matter of coercive control and not physical violence. But in the past 12 months we have seen a marked fall in those cases which is reflected in the latest police statistics.

“In some areas, the number of prosecutions has fallen by over a third from one year to the next. We urgently need to understand why this might be to make sure victims are not suffering in silence.

“If there is a problem we need to resolve it and make sure the police have the tools they need to bring perpetrators to justice and protect victims.

“Victims of domestic violence need to know that they can come forward and ask for help from either the police, their lawyer or other support agencies for help.

“For women aged 15-44, domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury and illness and we need to make sure that the law is being applied so that they can live without fear and harassment.”

Her concerns are echoed by the Preston mum-of-two, who added: “It gives victims closure to know their case has been acknowledged in court.

The introduction of a new law about abuser’s controlling behaviour was positive but it was not retrospective, so those who did not have the confidence to report before the law came in will probably not be able to.

“I was in a position of disempowerment, not being able to make decisions from my own thinking. I was always second guessing the consequences of anything I did.

“The two times there was a big peak in physical assaults were times I was challenging him.

“He would enter therapy but never completed it. It was an act of appeasement.”

Rachel Horman, specialist solicitor and chair of Paladdin, the national stalking advocacy group, said: “It’s certainly not that domestic violence is reducing or being reported less. The police have faced various cuts and clearly are failing victims and placing them at greater risk.

“Their record in coercive control is even worse with very few cases being prosecuted.

“This is obviously an issue which the CPS must take responsibility for too as they ultimately make the decision as to whether to prosecute but if they are faced with little evidence due to a poor investigation it’s hardly surprising.”