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Coercive Control: Tough New Law on Domestic Violence

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently announced that there will be a new offence of controlling and coercive behaviour within relationships which will carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a fine. The new law is welcomed by many domestic violence campaigners and victims alike.

Historically, domestic violence offences were one off events of violent behaviour. The Home Office now recognizes that abuse within a relationship is not so straightforward. Sustained psychological threats and abuse that stop short of physical assault are now enveloped in this new law. The Home Office has listened to victims who have described their experiences of being utterly controlled by a partner. Perpetrators inflict coercive control by the use of many recognized tools such as humiliation, intimidation, deprivation, restriction of movement and degradation to name but a few. The prolonged nature of the abuse can have a devastating psychological effect on a victim. Cosmopolitan Magazine recently published an article entitled ‘10 ways to spot coercive control’ (19/12/2014):

Unreasonable demands. Often followed up by threats, pressure or physical restraint if you don’t agree to them.

  1. Degradation AKA malicious name–calling, or bullying behaviour. This could include buying clothes that are purposefully too small for you to ‘diet’ into, or constant belittling behaviour in front of your friends, designed to make you feel worthless.
  2. Restricting daily activities. Whether it’s your daily jog, or meeting your family. If you feel increasingly unable to carry out your normal routine, it’s usually a strong signal for concern.
  3. Threats or intimidation. If your behaviour isn’t to their liking, you are threatened or intimidated into changing it. This can include sex too.
  4. Financial control. Can include constant monitoring of your spending, or giving you an ‘allowance’ to live off (usually when it’s your own money they’re controlling).
  5. Monitoring of time. Stalking your movements, unwanted contacted, or being controlling about how you spend your time is a form of coercive control.
  6. Taking your phone away. Or changing passwords to your iPad or laptop so you can’t use them. This could include any form of restricting access to communication, information or services.
  7. The same goes for restricted mobility. If you’re unable to leave the house, or use your car because they won’t allow it. If your partner’s behaviour isolates you from friends, family or colleagues, then it’s important to seek help.
  8. Deprivation of food. Constantly – and purposefully – taking your food away, or limiting your allowance is controlling, abusive behaviour. Seek help.
  9. Destruction of possessions. Whether it’s something valuable, or emails or text messages.

Cosmopolitan Magazine 19/12/2014

This list of 10 demonstrates how certain behaviours that we can all recognize, whether or not we have been on the receiving end or not, could now be classified a criminal offence under this new law. It is important to make clear that this is not an exhaustive list – how could it be? On-going psychological abuse cannot be encapsulated in a bullet pointed list. The means of the abuse and effect of the abuse will be different in every circumstance. However, articles such as this help to ensure that widespread recognition of this offence in society generally as well as in the statute books, will empower victims to seek help and break the cycle of torment.

Theresa May commented as follows, “Domestic abuse is a hideous crime that shatters the lives of victims, trapping them in cycles of abuse that too often end in tragic and untimely deaths. Coercive control can be tantamount to torture. In many cases, dominance over the victim develops and escalates over the years until the perpetrator has complete control. Putting a foot wrong can result in violent outbursts, with victims living in fear for their lives. Meeting survivors of domestic abuse and hearing their shocking stories has made me all the more determined to put a stop to this scourge on our society. The government is committed to protecting the victims of this terrible crime and it is clear that this new offence has the potential to save lives.”

If you are or anyone you know is a victim of coercive control then seek help. Report the abuse to the police who now have the power to arrest perpetrators under this new law rather than having to wait until the abuse finally escalates into an act of violence.

If you would like specialist and confidential advice then please contact our family law team on 0161 969 3131. We can support you when you make your initial report to the police and thereafter. We will also advise you as to how to extract yourself from an abusive relationship and start afresh.