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EastEnders: Art Imitates Life – Domestic Abuse: How to access legal advice when you believe you are being watched

After being absent from our screens for some three months, we re-joined the socially distanced cast of Albert Square this week.  Unlike the other soaps, the BBC decided to go real time and we return to a point where our characters have also been living with Covid-19 and lockdown with the inevitable stresses and strains that has placed on them and, of course, have been real for us all.

Enter centre stage, Chantelle Atkins, who has been at the heart of a historical domestic abuse story.  We find her in a situation that clearly has been escalating throughout this difficult period and she is, at last, now seeking outside help to leave the marriage.  We see that her husband, himself a lawyer, is monitoring her every move, placing a tracking app on both her and the children’s phones, and looking at her browsing history as he senses her pulling away from his control.  Art has always imitated life, so if you find yourself in a similar situation, and you need help from a divorce lawyer, like Chantelle, we set out here ways to get the assistance you need.

Speaking to a legal advisor/support discreetly

What does it mean to speak ‘discreetly’? Your legal advisor should be able to advise you in private, in confidence and without anyone finding out which might put you at risk.

Why is it important? Many people are in situations where they fear that speaking to a legal advisor or someone who can help them would put their safety, or even life, at risk.

How do I do it? Your legal advisor should have a number of systems in place to allow you to speak to them discreetly. When you first make contact with a solicitor, confirm to them that you require legal advice that the abuser does not know about. Your solicitor will be able to explain the ways in which they will protect your privacy.  Your communication with a solicitor is also legally privileged and therefore cannot be shared, without your permission, to any third parties, you can therefore speak to your solicitor in confidence. We also recommend setting up a separate, password protected email address to use in all correspondence with your solicitor and, if possible, purchasing another mobile phone.

At Rayden’s, we have a number of systems in place which enable you to protect your privacy and ensure your abuser does not know you are seeking advice, for example:

  • you can contact us via our chat function on our webpage to save you emailing us;
  • We will not send post to your home address if it is a shared address;
  • We will call you from an unknown number so that the calls cannot be traced; and
  • We will redact any contact details of yours from documents sent to the other side if you do not want those contact details being shared. The Court can also do this is you fill in the correct form.

Browsing the internet in ‘private’ mode or Deleting your browser history

What is ‘private’ mode? ‘Private’ mode or ‘incognito’ mode is a way of browsing the internet (on a smartphone, tablet or computer) that does not save the data and cookies from the webpages you have browsed. N.B: this does not delete your browsing history.

Why is it important? If you search certain key words or browse certain websites outside of private mode, you will start to see adverts for that topic (i.e. if you google “family lawyer” everyone using your internet will start getting adverts for family lawyers showing up on social media channels etc.

What is browser history? Your browser history saves your internet searches and websites you have visited.

Why is it important? Someone else can see your browser history when using your computer or device if you have not deleted it. If you do not want anyone to be able to see what you have been looking at, you must delete the history. You may need to be careful to only delete the history for a relevant time or for specific sites because it can be obvious when entire history has been deleted.

How do I keep my internet use private or prevent someone seeing what I have searched?

Depending upon your choice of device or your internet browser there are numerous different ways to keep your usage private and ensure you are safe from your abuser finding out what you have been searching.

For more detailed instructions the National Domestic Abuse Helpline has a tech safety tool which can talk you through securing your location on your phone, changing your social media settings, and guide you through other safety options on your iPhone or android phone. This can be accessed at www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Tech-safety-tool. In addition you can also find advice on safely browsing the internet here.

Use a trusted friend/family member/colleague

What can a friend, colleague or family member do? A family member, friend or colleague is not just important for providing emotional support and listening to what is happening; they can also help you to take action. They can set up meetings with solicitors on your behalf, assist financially, arrange for you to move to safe accommodation or call the emergency services if you need help and cannot call yourself.

Why is it important? Friends, family members and colleagues are very often cut off from victims of domestic violence by the perpetrators. It is often difficult to know how to explain to someone how you have been treated and you do not know whether you are going to be believed. If you do have someone that you think you might be able to talk to, it can often be a much-needed lifeline.

How do I do it? Speak to a trusted friend, colleague or family member about what is happening to you. Ask them to only discuss the situation with specialists (lawyers, domestic abuse helplines) until you are in a safe place. Ask them to arrange a meeting with a solicitor on your behalf or to use their telephone/computer to contact specialists.

Other resources

There are a number of organisations and resources available to victims of Domestic Violence. Unfortunately the research shows that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. The figures are even higher when you include all forms of domestic abuse (such as emotional, psychological and financial). There are also a number of people who experience domestic abuse by other family members (as opposed to an intimate partner or ex-partner).

The Police – call 999 or 101 if it is not an emergency.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline / Refuge – www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk – a Freephone 24-hour helpline and secure online web form.

Womens Aid – www.womensaid.org.uk/ – grassroots organisation assisting victims of Domestic Abuse. Also provides a list organisations providing support near to you.

Mankind – www.mankind.org.uk/ – organisation aimed at male victims of Domestic Abuse.

Private investigators can also check your phones and devices to see whether there are apps/devices attached. Your solicitor should be able to provide you with local Private Investigators who can assist you.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this blog, please contact us to discuss your situation in confidence.

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If you require assistance with any aspect of Family Law, please contact us on 01727 734260.

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