If you know or suspect that a family member, friend or work colleague is experiencing domestic violence, it may be difficult to know what to do. Statistics show that an estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to the March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales. It is not unusual for a person to cover up domestic violence whether they are being physically or emotionally abused within their relationship. Victims often feel embarrassed to speak to others about their situation and will go to many lengths to cover up the abuse they are suffering.
Each year there are over 1 million calls to police in England and Wales about domestic abuse, and on average someone contacts the police every 30 seconds for help with domestic abuse. Domestic violence is a crime, and although perpetrators can be seriously punished for their actions through the criminal justice system, it is often the case that victims believe that they are at fault and that by changing their behaviour the abuse will stop. They may also experience a conflict of emotions. The victim may love their partner, but hate the violence, and may live in hope that the perpetrator’s good side will reappear. This results in many criminal charges being dropped before the perpetrator is sentenced.
What to do
It is important for domestic violence victims to recognise that they do not have to wait for an emergency situation to seek help. Whereas the criminal law is primarily aimed at punishing the offender, civil law also recognises domestic violence and is primarily aimed at protecting the victim. In addition to the many charities and refuges that can help victims seek temporary or permanent accommodation and therapy, a victim may be able to seek a civil injunction against their partner or ex-partner.
The two main types of injunctions available under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 are:
-A non-molestation order
-An occupation order
A non-molestation order is aimed at preventing the perpetrator from using or threatening violence against you or your child.
An occupation order regulates who can live in the family home and can also restrict the perpetrator from entering the surrounding areas.
Breaching a non-molestation order is now a criminal offence – meaning that victims can contact the police and the perpetrator can be arrested and, without needing to have committed any other criminal activity, sentenced under criminal law to a maximum of 5 years in prison. The Order is lodged with the Police so that they are aware of the power of arrest should any breach arise. An occupation order can have powers of arrest attached to it, which means that like a non-molestation order, a victim can call the police if the perpetrator breaches the order.
In order to have a non-molestation order made against your abuser, you must apply to the Court with a sworn Statement to support your allegation of domestic violence. The perpetrator will be notified of the application and you both need to attend a Court hearing. Provisions can be made to protect you at Court, known as ‘special measures.’
If the perpetrator admits to the allegations against them (or fails to attend Court) then the non-molestation order is made which will be effective for a specified period of time. Once the order has expired, an application can be made to renew the non-molestation order if necessary.
If the perpetrator denies the allegations or is not willing to leave the property, the case goes to a Contested Final Hearing where the Judge will decide whether to make the non-molestation or occupation order, or to dismiss the application altogether.
If there is a risk that notifying the perpetrator of the application could encourage more violence or harassment, then it is possible to apply without notice. This means that your abuser will be unaware of the application until it is served on them – at which point it comes into effect.
Once this has taken place, a Court hearing will then be listed in which you will both attend so that the Judge can either make the appropriate Injunction or dismiss the application.