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The elimination of violence against women and girls

The statistics show that VAWG continues to be a problem across the UK.

The UN considers violence against women and girls (‘VAWG’) to be “one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today”.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAWG), which took place on 25 November has been established to raise awareness of the violence that women are subjected to.

The UK is not immune from this issue with the government labelling VAWG as a national threat. To combat this threat, a range of tools to protect women and girls against harm have been, or will be introduced.


VAWG is an umbrella term, used to cover a wide range of abuses against women and girls, including:

  • Domestic homicide
  • Domestic abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Honour-based abuse
  • Stalking

In the year ending March 2022, the national statistics published by ONS show that, among other issues:

  • 9% of women aged 16 and over were the victims of domestic abuse
  • 3% of women aged 16 or over were victims of sexual assault
  • 9% of women aged 16 and over were victims of stalking

This article highlights the legal support that is available for women in England and Wales and briefly examines some of the tools available to the police utilised alongside their traditional criminal investigation powers, including:

1. Family Law injunctions:

a. Non-molestation orders
b. Occupation orders

2. Domestic Violence Protection Notice / Domestic Violence Protection Orders
3. Offensive behaviour:

a. Stalking
b. Sexual assault

Family Law injunctions

If you require protection from an “associated person”, you can apply for a protective injunction from the Family Court under the Family Law Act 1996 (FLA 1996). An injunction is a civil remedy and does not require criminal proceedings: however, the breach of a family law injunction may be found to be a contempt of court which is a criminal offence and any breach can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.

An “associated person” has a specific legal definition that includes long-term partners, spouses or former spouses and other relatives. It is also possible to seek to extend the terms of a protective injunction to include a relevant child.

There are two types of injunction available under the Family Law Act:

  1. Non-molestation orders — an injunction used to protect a person from abuse or harassment, which prohibits a person from ‘molesting’ you or a relevant child. Molestation is not specifically defined but includes violence, harassment and threats. A non-molestation order may also include a provision to prevent a person form coming within a certain distance of you, your home address or your place of work.

    A non-molestation order usually lasts between 6-12 months: however, they can be granted for longer periods of time in certain circumstances.

  2. Occupation orders — an injunction which regulates who can, or cannot, live in the home or certain parts of it. An occupation order can extend to the entirety of the property, a zone around the property or just certain parts of the property. For example, it may prohibit someone from entering a bedroom. To apply for an occupation order, you must have a legal right to occupy the property, or you are or have been married to or are living with a partner who is the owner or tenant.

    Occupation orders are usually granted for up to 6 months. This can be extended in certain circumstances if you have a legal right to occupy the property.

To apply for a non-molestation or occupation order, you must complete a court application FL401 with a statement to support the allegations.

If there is a significant risk that the other party may cause you harm if they were aware of your intention to seek an injunction, you can ask the court to grant a non-molestation order “ex-parte”, without giving notice to the respondent. This affords an extra level of protection as you will have the protection of the non-molestation order when the respondent is served with proceedings.

A “power of arrest” can be attached to both non-molestation orders and occupation orders. If a power of arrest is attached to an order and the order is breached, the person in breach of the order can be arrested without the need to obtain a warrant.

Weightmans has a considerable amount of experience in assisting with applications seeking non-molestation orders and occupation orders.

Domestic abuse

The police can seek a Domestic Violence Protection Order (‘DVPO’) if, on the balance of probabilities, there has been an act of violence or threatened violence and it is necessary to protect from that violence or threat of violence.

A DVPO is a civil order intended to fill a ‘gap’ in providing protection to victims of domestic violence by enabling the police and magistrates’ courts to put in place protective measures in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident where there is insufficient evidence to charge.

Since their introduction, Weightmans has secured thousands of DVPOs for police forces across England and Wales and regularly appears in court to pursue those that breach them.

Despite the volume of DVPOs that have been secured, their effectiveness is limited due to the absence of criminal sanctions and they can only last for 28-days. As a result, Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (‘DAPO’) introduced by the Domestic Abuse Protection Act 2021 are set to be piloted by several forces for two years, starting in June 2024.

Weightmans has already delivered training on DAPOs to a police force that is participating in the DAPO pilot.


The Police can apply to the Magistrates’ Court for a Stalking Protection Order (‘SPO’) where it appears that:

  • The respondent has carried out acts associated with stalking.
  • The respondent poses a risk of stalking; and,
  • There is reasonable cause to believe that a SPO is necessary to protect that person from that risk.

SPOs were introduced by the Stalking Protection Act 2019 to deal with those who pursued a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which was not quite criminal and the victim did not have the resources to deal with.

Weightmans regularly makes applications for SPOs for police forces across England and Wales in both domestic abuse stalking (such as by a former partner) and ‘stranger stalking’. Weightmans also offers advice clinics to police forces to help inform the decision as to whether a SPO application should be pursued.

Sexual assault

The police can apply to the magistrates’ court for a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (‘SHPO’) if someone is engaging in behaviour of a sexual nature and has a previous relevant conviction and it is necessary for the public, or a member of the public’s protection or, a Sexual Risk Order (‘SRO’) if the suspect has no previous criminal conviction.

SROs and SHPOs are a long-established tool - introduced in 2014 as an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – to combat sexual behaviour that did not meet the criminal threshold but warranted intervention to protect the public.

Weightmans has a considerable amount of experience in advising and applying for SHPOs and SROs for police forces across the country.


The statistics show that VAWG continues to be a problem across the UK. The government is right to identify VAWG as a national threat. Weightmans can help police forces and other law enforcement organisations across the UK combat this national threat. We can offer services from early advice through to representation in court.

For more information on how we can help police forces protect women and girls from violence, visit our dedicated page.

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