Too Afraid To Disclose Domestic Abuse

Hi Reader Friend,

With the chaos of the US elections in full swing, I hope you are managing to keep well. Today, I want to talk to you about the injustice of the decision in a trial here in the UK. A decision that will give confidence to perpetrators of domestic abuse and fear to victims. I’m writing from my own experience of working with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but also draw on research that I have acquired from other sources. Hope you are challenged.

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‘It just happened.’ The defence given by Timothy Brehmer, Dorset police officer, who has recently been convicted of manslaughter following the death of his mistress, Claire Parry.

Brehmer and Parry had been having an affair for ten years, both married. On the 9th of May, Parry confronted Brehmer for another affair he was having. Parry used Brehmer’s phone to text his wife: ‘I’m cheating on you’.  He must have felt defensive. Must have felt frightened. Must have felt angry. These are the feelings that anyone being challenged or accused may experience. But Brehmer’s feelings led to disastrous actions when he attempted to push Parry out of his car, his arm ‘slipping’ and causing Parry to retain brain injuries following a compression to the neck, and finally, death.

The jury listened to Brehmer as he took the stand to defend himself: ‘I absolutely did not want to kill her or cause serious bodily harm. I didn’t intend to kill her.’ The jurors were led to believe that it was an accident that a man used enough force against Parry to fracture her neck, which caused loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest, and death. Instead of a murder conviction, he picked up 10 years in prison for loss of control manslaughter. A Twitter thread from The Secret Barrister explains why ‘loss of control’ manslaughter would be applied for by the defense: ‘Put simply, the defence applies if a defendant kills, but the killing resulted from a “loss of self-control” and a person of the defendant’s sex and age with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint might in the circumstances have reacted in the same or a similar way.’ The case is complicated, but the judge eventually did rule in such a way that resulted in a higher sentence than it would have been if judged as ‘unlawful act’ manslaughter.

I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but I have supported victims, both men and women, that have suffered under the hand of a perpetrator of domestic abuse. It is this type of ruling that the public reads about and seems to gives free reign to perpetrators of domestic abuse and instills fear of disclosure in victims.

Domestic abuse isn’t just physical assault. It’s any incident of controlling, coercive, or threatening behaviour towards a partner or family member that is over the age of 16. While men do experience domestic abuse (and certainly more than is recorded due to the stigma a man might encounter if he reports) , women tend to be the main victims. Nearly one in three women in the UK will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.

She may have her bank card taken to stop her making purchases. She may be told to stop seeing friends. She may be forced to have sex. She may be told she is ‘stupid’ and ‘worthless’. She may be stalked. She may be beaten. Domestic abuse takes many forms, but it is all done to take control of the victim in some way – coercive control. Evan Stark, founder of one of America’s first battered women’s shelter, said that coercive control is when ‘the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.’ It’s like being taken as a hostage.

Coercive control has recently become a criminal offence in England and Wales and can be reported to the police, along with any forms of domestic abuse. The police – those that are meant to protect. Timothy Brehmer is a policeman, meant to protect, but instead has killed a woman that he was intimately involved with. He is a perpetrator of domestic abuse that has claimed he lost self-control and accidentally caused brain injury and death to Parry.

Shaista Aziz, a charity worker from Solace Women’s Aid, told The Guardian: ‘you can’t accidentally break someone’s neck. It’s important the record was set straight there.’ She continued by describing that the use of language, such as ‘losing self-control’, which was used to justify Brehmer, is typical language used to justify violence towards women and girls and is a common excuse for perpetrators of domestic abuse.  

Did Timothy Brehmer get off the hook because he was a policeman? A white male? An upstanding citizen? The judge hearing the case stated that Brehmer had a ‘justifiable sense of being wronged’. That he had been a good policeman. That he was remorseful. And that jail would be a particularly difficult environment for him. It is this type of sympathy for perpetrators that make victims afraid to come forward with allegations of domestic abuse. If a victim is afraid of not being believed and if the charges are not justly sentenced, then victims will not come forward. They will continue to suffer in silence, fearful of the repercussions on their safety and livlihood if they do tell anyone what was happening.

Why doesn’t she just leave? This is a common question I used to hear often during my years helping women and men to get out of abusive relationships. The question is complicated. To those not in an abusive relationship, it feels irresponsible that someone would choose to stay in a toxic, controlling relationship. But to a hostage of domestic abuse, it feels frightening to consider leaving.

She may not leave because she’s in fear of danger. Imagine that she does report abuse and manages to get away. 41% of women killed by a former partner in the UK in 2018 had separated or attempted separation from the partner. If not death, they are afraid of more stringent control and abuse.

Or she might be fearful of isolation. If a perpetrator has worked to cut a victim off from social networks, she would have become very dependent on the perpetrator for relationship. To leave means to abandon social interaction that the perpetrator would have provided.

She may be financially dependent on him. It may be his house she is living in. She may have never worked. She may have children that depend on him. She may have an insecure immigration status. In a contorted way, he has become her umbrella of safety, although he himself is not safe.

If her perpetrator is well-liked by the community, she may deny the abuse and make excuses for her perpetrator to protect him. Since she has most likely been told that she is worthless, she probably isn’t confident that anyone would listen to her when she speaks out anyway.

These are just a few reasons a victim may not disclose domestic abuse. Timothy Brehmer’s case is another reason to add to the stack. If victims of domestic abuse believe that they won’t be protected with due justice, then they will be wary to come forward.

Fortunately, under the unduly lenient sentence scheme, the manslaughter decision made in court is due to be reviewed.

If you are a victim of coercive control and/or domestic abuse, you can be heard. Either ring 999 or a domestic abuse helpline.

 If you know of someone that is being abused, or suspect it, you can be heard. But you must be careful. Please find guidance here on how to support someone you suspect is being abused.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

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