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Advice

Violence against women and girls — protecting victims from abuse

It's time to strengthen the combat to tackle violence against females

The Home Office says forces must show more use of domestic violence protection orders and stalking protection orders, and swifter action on breaches.

Domestic abuse — some statistics

Almost one in three women aged 16-59 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. Of all crimes recorded by the police last year, 18% were domestic abuse-related. There were 163 domestic homicide deaths, of which 73% were female. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.

These statistics are shocking. The Home Secretary is saying 'enough' to violence against women and girls.

'Enough' campaign

On 1 March 2022 the Home Office launched its ‘Enough’ campaign with the aim to:

  • highlight the different forms of violence and abuse against women and girls
  • educate young people about healthy relationships and consent
  • ensure that victims recognise abuse and seek support, and
  • overcome barriers to challenging abuse.

Although the campaign talks about women and girls as the groups most disproportionately affected, it is in fact designed to support any victim of abuse.

The Home Office has launched a new website providing information on what abuse is and how it can be reported — by the victim or anyone witnessing abuse or behaviour that concerns them. In addition, a national Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) policing lead has been appointed to improve the national policing response. VAWG has been added to the strategic policing requirement and is a priority for the Crime and Policing Performance Board. New guidance will be issued to police forces and different agencies will be expected to work together to tackle abuse.

Protective orders

Tackling the violence is a key priority for many police forces which have implemented plans designed to robustly target perpetrators of domestic abuse and protect victims.

As well as police powers to prosecute offenders through the criminal justice system, there are a suite of civil orders available to the police through an application to the Magistrates’ Court. These have the advantages that they can be deployed quickly and do not necessarily require the input or support of the victim.

The most common are Domestic Violence Prevention Orders (DVPOs). These are designed to give the parties breathing space and are commonly used where the parties are or have been in an intimate relationship.

Following service of a Domestic Violence Prevention Notice (DVPN), usually issued when the police attend a domestic incident, within 48 hours the police apply for an order which lasts up to 28 days and prohibits the parties living together or having contact with each other. Support by the victim is not a requirement for the application but the victim is encouraged to engage with domestic abuse support services.

Breach of a DVPO carries a fine or sentence of imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the breach and history of past breaches. Breaches are prosecuted by the police and the case must be brought before the court within 24 hours of the breach, thus providing swift input into domestic abuse situations.

Another simple and effective civil tool is a stalking order. Stalking is a topic which receives press interest as the result of cases of celebrity victims, but it is unfortunately common and widespread. Again, the victims of stalking tend to be female, and it is not uncommon for the victim and perpetrator to have been in a relationship that has broken down. With the expansion of social media, stalking has become more prevalent and sophisticated.

Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) are designed to provide protection to those victims. Like DVPOs, they are civil orders made on application by the police to the Magistrates’ Court. The court can impose prohibitions and positive requirements on the perpetrator to tackle stalking behaviour, and orders last for a minimum of two years. Any breach is a criminal offence attracting a fine or custodial sentence.

Where the risk of abuse is one relating to sexual abuse, including grooming, the police can apply for a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) or a Sexual Risk Order (SRO). These are intended to protect the public from individuals who pose a risk of sexual harm through the use of prohibitions. The orders can be applied for by the CPS at the time of sentencing, or at any time by the police on application to the Magistrates’ Court. Any breach is a criminal offence attracting a fine or custodial sentence.

Other civil orders exist such as prevention and risk orders in respect of slavery and trafficking, FGM and forced marriage. In addition to assisting the police in tackling risks and abuse against women and girls, orders in respect of slavery and trafficking are increasingly being utilised to address county lines exploitation.

Further police powers

The Domestic Abuse Bill Act 2021 replaces DVPOs with Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs) to bring together the strongest elements of existing protective orders into a single comprehensive order which is more flexible and will provide more effective and longer-term protection to victims of domestic abuse. The intention is for the order to cover non-physical and controlling or coercive behaviour, to have flexible duration, and to include the ability to place positive requirements on the perpetrator. The intention is also to introduce alternative application routes so that victims and specified third parties can apply to the family court for an order, and to enable criminal, civil and family courts to make DAPOs of their own volition. The new provisions are expected to come into force in early 2023.

So what does 'Enough' mean for preventative orders?

The campaign aims to draw attention to abuse; empower people to challenge abusive behaviour; emphasise that abuse, in whatever form, is not acceptable; and educate young people about consent and what constitutes abuse. The resources provide for advice on how abuse can be safely challenged and reported; they also aim to educate people on the many different forms abuse can take, including coercive and controlling behaviour, unwanted attention, harassment, and use of modern technology to perpetrate unwanted behaviour and share information and images without consent. The list is non-exhaustive.

An increased awareness, coupled with a safe avenue to report abuse, should lead to an increase in reporting of domestic and other abuse to the police. In turn, VAWG has been made a policing priority, placing it on a strategic footing with terrorism, serious organised crime, and child sexual abuse. On reporting, police forces will be obliged to consider what actions they can and should take to protect victims and tackle the abusive behaviour.

The use of civil orders provides a quick and effective mechanism for the police to intervene and take steps to protect the victim. These orders can be implemented during a criminal investigation or as standalone applications, should a criminal investigation not be pursued. As well as providing immediate protective provisions, the orders allow for support agencies to engage with the victim, and discussions about intervention programmes for the perpetrator.

To find out more about the content in this article, contact Melanie Lee, Principal Associate, at melanie.lee@weightmans.com or on 0116 253 9747.

Violence against women and girls

Find out more about how we can equip police forces with the tools to protect victims against violence.

Visit our VAWG page