Domestic abuse has devastating consequences for those affected, with an average two women a week being killed by current or former partners in England and Wales. So it is vital that every opportunity is taken to support anyone impacted by abuse to access to protection, support and justice and to prevent perpetrators from continuing their abuse.
DVPOs and DVPNs can offer survivors a ‘breathing space’ to grant temporary respite from the abuser, enable them to consider what they want to do and to access support services without interference.
These civil orders issued in Magistrates Courts form part of a coordinated community response to holding perpetrators to account and supporting survivors, but are not a substitute for bringing criminal charges. They provide short-term protection when an arrest has not been made but positive action is required, or where an arrest has taken place but the investigation is still in progress. Breach of either the notice or the order carries a power of arrest, so it is vital that orders are monitored and conditions enforced.
DVPOs are only as good as action taken to support survivors to access advice in the period of temporary protection and to enforce any breaches. Survivors have told us of their fear when reporting abusers to the police if orders are breached. Survivors also tell us that police may not take breaches seriously or be slow to respond, leaving them feeling unsafe even when a protection order was in place.
The data obtained by the BBC also suggests a significant disparity in Police forces utilising Domestic Violence Protection Orders in Wales, particularly as a response to incidents that result in no charges being brought. We would like to see more information from Welsh police about how these decisions are taken, whether they are issued as an alternative to proceeding with criminal charges or to protect victims whilst criminal action is pending, and whether orders have a positive impact on survivors, on holding perpetrators to account and preventing further abuse.
It is vital that all Police forces in Wales have effective training to identify and effectively investigate all incidents of domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour at the centre of so many survivors’ experiences of abuse. Welsh Women’s Aid, as the Wales-based training provider for criminal justice system agencies, offers training on all aspects of domestic abuse, coercive control, stalking and harassment to police forces across Wales, in accordance with national requirements.
Welsh Women’s Aid has welcomed the proposal in the recent UK Government consultation to treat a breach of an order as a criminal offence. Currently, any breaches of these orders is a civil contempt of court which may result in a fine or up to two months imprisonment. It is vital this is accompanied by action to safeguard survivors and prevent further abuse, with custodial sentences were necessary, and interventions with perpetrators to reduce their risk and change their behaviour.
Without access to effective support services and perpetrator programmes the impact of protection orders will be limited. Survivors have told us that it is through the support of dedicated violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence services that they can maximise their safety and meet their needs. Unfortunately we know that last year, funding cuts experienced by many services across Wales has contributed to further reduced capacity to support survivors.  If there is to be any improvement in the effective use of Domestic Violence Protection Orders in Wales, we must see urgent action by Governments and funders to sustainably fund specialist services for survivors and effective interventions for abusers.
Anyone affected by domestic abuse, sexual violence or any other form of violence against women in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 for 24-hour, for confidential information and support, and help to access local services.