Support with legal options

There is no specific offence called ‘domestic violence’, but abusers will usually commit one or more crimes against their victims. This covers a broad range of abusive acts and behaviour, from rape, sexual assault, and physical assaults to criminal damage, harassment, stalking, as well as anything else which fits this description: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Below is a brief guide to the law surrounding domestic violence and signposts to more information and support.

  • Many people do not realise that there are two sorts of law in the UK: criminal law and civil law. Domestic violence can fall into one or both categories
  • Criminal law punishes wrongdoing, whereas civil law is about pursuing justice in circumstances where there is insufficient evidence to take a case to the criminal courts
  • A civil court can award you an injunction or compensation; a criminal court can sentence your abuser such as with a fine, imprisonment and/or a restraining order
  • Coercive control is a criminal offence, committed when someone to whom you are personally connected makes you feel controlled, isolated, and afraid, and knew or could reasonably be expected to have known he was doing this. Controlling behaviour can include threats, damage to property, controlling your money, and monitoring your whereabouts
  • Harassment is a criminal offence, committed when an abuser repeatedly behaves in a manner intended to cause you distress. If your abuser put you in fear of violence that is a more serious offence and will be dealt with more severely by the courts
  • Stalking has been a specific crime since 2012. It covers regular behaviour, such as following, contacting, or spying on you, which makes you feel that you must constantly be careful
  • A non-molestation order prevents your abuser from intimidating, harassing, or pestering you, and an occupation order controls who can live in the family home and can bar him from the surrounding area too. These are injunctions you can apply for in Family Court, where you may also seek compensation from your abuser. If you need one urgently, or fear a violent response from your abuser, you may seek a temporary injunction without his knowledge at the judge’s discretion
  • If your abuser is charged and dealt with by criminal courts, the Crown Prosecution Service may request a restraining order, whether or not your abuser is found guilty. This will prohibit him from doing anything specified in it such as threatening or contacting you, or visiting specific places such as your home or work. It is up to the judge whether to grant such an order
  • A domestic violence protection order bars a perpetrator from returning to your residence, or contacting you, for up to 28 days. It can be applied for by the police and granted by a magistrate
  • • In an emergency, contact the police on 999, or by texting 18001 101
    • For non-emergency support you can contact the police by dialling 101
    • Rights of Women has a detailed online library of information about the law on domestic violence, which you can find here, as well as an advice service
    • If you are looking for a legal adviser, you can use the links on this Government website
    • Call the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid, on 0808 2000 247