On the 29th of December 2015 the government’s new coercive or controlling behaviour offence meant that victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice. The offence carries a maximum of 5 years imprisonment or a fine and possibly both.
18 months down the line, how are the new measures working?
Research data from Safelives has highlighted that 89% of victims experience either jealous and controlling behaviour or stalking and harassment and the majority of the abuse they suffer is not reported to police. So what is coercive control and what does it look like?
As a specialist Domestic Abuse service we see victims everyday who disclose examples of coercion and control extremely worrying stalking behaviour and the majority of victims we see have not reported this abuse to the police. Often victims will disclose any physical abuse that has occurred but don't realise the significance of the risk that is linked with coercion and stalking behaviour victims may also feel that no one will take what they are saying seriously. Some examples of what victims disclose are that they are asked to give a detailed account of where they have been during the day if they drop children off at school how long it took them to return home if they have been shopping they have to show a receipt for the shopping they have done. They may only have a limited amount of money and every penny needs to be accounted for.
Some victims are locked in the house when the perpetrator goes out others have said that they have their phones monitored to check on there whereabouts. The majority of victims we see are isolated from family and friends which has a huge impact on their mental health. Victims have told us that they are under constant criticism, how they parent, what they wear, what they cook, how they clean the list is endless, children are often used to control victims and this is a very common factor in cases of Honour Based abuse.
Perpetrators often make threats of self harm or suicide as a means of control, cause damage to property or inflict suffering on family pets and are often able to manipulate not only the victim but also professionals. Professor Evan Stark in the clip below talks about the damage that occurs to a victims mental health when they are living with this pattern of abusive behaviour. Often victims start to disengage from services either because of a deterioration in their mental health or because when they report the abuse they are suffering they are either not believed or positive action isn't taken against the perpetrator.
Time and time again we have seen victims disengage from services, it takes a lot of courage for a victim to seek help and support talk about the abuse they are suffering and place their trust in professionals to help them. If the right response isn't given why would they disclose further abuse or seek help again?
More training needs to take place so professionals who hear a disclosure act appropriately or seek help from a domestic abuse service, and its equally important to recognise that positive action needs to be taken against the perpetrator without that we are unable to safeguard victims or end domestic abuse.