What procedural and/or legal issues may prevent victims of domestic abuse from successfully obtaining an enforceable Family Court Order to protect them from future abuse?

This research was undertaken for Northumbria University and the Office for Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. Their main aims focus on improving the experience of domestic abuse survivors when using the Family Courts by gaining knowledge from stakeholders working closely with survivors to gain a perceptive of the barriers survivors face when obtaining Family Court Protection Orders (e.g. non-molestation and occupation orders). Further, we wished to understand how certain barriers limit survivors from seeking protection, when stakeholders encourage protection orders, and how they perceive what obstructions exist.

We used qualitative research methods to obtain empirical data by conducting group interviews and thematically analysing the data collected. The results indicate there is a lack of understanding of coercive and controlling behaviour due to the lack of training some of the participants received. We also found there is a benefit in Court Liaison Officer’s being accessible to survivors both before and during proceedings and encourage their role within the Family Courts. Finally, the impact of cuts to legal aid and the strain this puts on other stakeholders working with domestic abuse victims is discussed in detail.

Survivors will benefit from the research conducted by recognising the barriers they face and providing recommendations of how to improve the support they provide. This study can potentially impact the participants themselves, by encouraging an improvement of the advice and safeguarding they provide to survivors and increase awareness of the existing barriers within their field. The research is necessary to raise awareness of the problems with non-physical types of abuse that exist within a relationship, for example coercive and controlling behaviour. Furthermore, the research is necessary to raise awareness of the various victim characteristics and move away from the stigma attached to the notion of the stereotypical domestic abuse situation.