A report released by Plaid Cymru and Voice4Victims has exposed serious failures by the justice system to protect victims of stalking, harassment, domestic abuse and coercive behaviour.
The report outlines research carried out by the party examining the prevalence of online contact and vexatious court claims from perpetrators amongst victims of stalking, harassment, domestic abuse and coercive behaviour.
A survey of 122 victims of these crimes found that just 52% had a restraining order taken out against their perpetrators.
Despite the prevalence of online communication through social media, e-mail and messaging applications, two-thirds of restraining orders issued to perpetrators did not explicitly prohibit them from contacting their victims online. As a result, over half of the victims had been contacted online at least once by the person convicted of stalking or harassing them, with over a quarter of victims being contacted more than three times.
Satisfaction with the police in dealing with online contact by perpetrators was found to be low, with 65% of victims believing the service delivered by the police was ‘Poor’ or ‘Extremely Poor’.
One of the victims involved in the research, Julie, was a victim of stalking and had a restraining order taken out against her perpetrator that explicitly stopped him from contacting her online. In spite of this, he contacted her online more than three times. Although the police investigated this case as a clear breach of the restraining order, she felt the services provided by the police and Crown Prosecution Service were extremely poor.
The report also reviewed victims’ experiences of vexatious court claims initiated by their perpetrator, known as abuse of process. The analysis found that 55% of victims had had court proceedings taken out against them by those convicted of abusing them, despite having a restraining order in place. As a result, 64% of victims of domestic violence, stalking and coercive control had to appear in court, with a third of these high-risk or vulnerable victims then being cross-examined by their perpetrator.
A second victim, Matt, had a restraining order taken out against his ex-partner who was convicted of harassing him. Despite this, the perpetrator initiated court proceedings against him in the civil court, family court and at a tribunal. Matt then had to appear in court and was cross-examined by his perpetrator. This was reported to the police as a breach but was not dealt with.
Working alongside the victim support charity, Voice4Victims, Plaid Cymru has concluded that restraining orders lack the adequate sanctions to prevent online breaches and abuse of process through the courts. Their inadequacy causes further trauma, harm and mental distress to victims.
The report makes several recommendations, including introducing a presumption of custody for multiple breaches of restraining orders, and for all contact through court proceedings between a perpetrator and a victim to be referred by to the police as a breach of a restraining order by the courts.
Plaid Cymru’s Justice spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, has said that she will introduce a Private Members’ Bill to tackle these issues if re-elected to Parliament in June.
Liz Saville Roberts said:
“We had to carry out this research to uncover the experiences victims were having with restraining orders after we received an influx of cases where people had had distressing incidents involving their perpetrators.
“We found that the situation was much bleaker than we expected and it has become clear that there are serious inadequacies in the criminal justice system and serious failings by criminal justice agencies. The police, Crown Prosecution Service and all other agencies that work with victims of crime must be liable in law if they fail to comply with the Victims’ Code and provide a sub-standard service.
“Plaid Cymru has worked very successfully with Voice4Victims to improve victims’ rights in the past and our next step must be to reform restraining orders so that they work for the people who need them, ensuring they prevent contact through third parties or through vexatious applications to the family or civil courts. I will be introducing a Bill to this effect if re-elected in the next Parliament.”
Harry Fletcher, Co-Director of Voice4Victims added:
“Voice4Victims has seen an extraordinary rise in the number of perpetrators initiating legal proceedings against their victims, in order to emotionally harm them and continue unwanted contact. There should be a duty on perpetrators to inform the courts of the existence of any criminal convictions or Restraining Orders, and a right for victims to bring any convictions to the courts attention. In addition, Restraining Orders should prohibit contact via family and civil courts without leave of the District Judge.”
Claire Waxman, Founder of Voice4Victims and a former stalking victim who has had personal experience with abuse of process said:
“When Restraining Orders are not enforced or dismissed by the police and courts, this has a long term devastating impact on the victim. It is unacceptable that the police, CPS and courts are exposing high-risk victims to this form of state sanctioned abuse.”