Theresa May to target emotional abuse

The Home Secretary is to introduce a new law which will criminalise psychological abuse and controlling behaviour. The law recognises the behaviours as a specific form of domestic abuse, and is part of continuing plans to tackle interpersonal abuse.

The crime will be labelled as ‘coercive control’, and is expected to be introduced before the 2015 election, with offenders potentially facing up to 14 years in jail.

The government hopes that it will encourage victims to come forward sooner, with the knowledge that their partner’s controlling behaviour is a specific crime. It may also help victims to identify the behaviour they are suffering from as wrong. It has been criticised however as not doing enough in its attempts to decrease the reluctance of victims to come forward, and adding legislation rather than enforcing existing laws.

The latest statistics reported in the crime survey in England and Wales suggest that 30% of women and 16% of men will experience a form of domestic abuse during their lifetime.

The charity Woman’s Aid emphasise that domestic abuse can affect every aspect of women’s lives; their emotional health, wellbeing, social life, and their finances. A campaign of violence may be the most visible form of domestic abuse, but it is far from the only aspect of it. Economic and psychological abuse also form key parts of domestic abuse; economic abuse through the control of a person’s finances for example, is a primary way of exerting control.

This may be indirectly, like the effect on a person’s job. The psychological abuse of a partner may prevent any career advancement, or could result in job losses, through causing them to miss days, leave early, or receive threatening phone calls in the office. It may also occur directly, through the controlling of their partner’s earnings and outgoings, and allowing them no access to the family’s money. Having no access to finances or any financial independence makes it harder to leave a controlling or violent partner.

Additionally, the use of social media is becoming more prevalent in cases of domestic abuse. Online harassment often goes hand-in-hand with offline abuse; the charity Woman’s Aid consider digital harassment to be an extension of domestic abuse, and that stalking and abuse by ex or current partners is now likely to also have an online element. Online tools are used as a further method with which to exert control over someone. The police response to such incidents has been criticised as inadequate however, and there is little awareness of the prevalence of interpersonal online harassment. Instances and reports of online abuse may not be taken seriously, but they can be a distressing manifestation of coercive control and may be an indicator of offline abuse.

Existing laws are in place to help sufferers and to convict those who abuse their partners, but concerns have been raised about the disparity between the reported cases and those which ultimately result in a prosecution or conviction. Victims of domestic abuse may be reluctant to report their partner, or have a lack of trust in the judicial system; many instances of domestic abuse remain unreported and it is considered a hidden epidemic. Women’s charities and refuges offer practical advice and emergency accommodation for victims of domestic abuse and are crucial to the stopping of harassment.

A further charity which offers solutions for protecting victims is domestic abuse charity CAADA (Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse). It uses co-ordinated plans to support victims, and involves a number of agencies to ensure that patterns of abuse are spotted, prevented and then followed up. Nurses, doctors, police and social workers attend conferences where they share and cross-check information to prevent victims of abuse going unnoticed. They then form an action plan to support the victim in the future; the recording of patterns and forms of abuse across services has proven to be successful in helping individuals. Increasing the awareness of domestic abuse as a phrase which includes a multitude of forms of abuse is crucial to helping victims.

25th November until 10th December commences the UN Women 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence; this is an opportunity to raise awareness of domestic abuse in an effort to stop it together. To support the campaign please retweet and use the hashtag #orangeurhood and #16days on all social media platforms.

Amanda Adeola, our specialist family lawyer says ‘Domestic violence is real and it affects our society as a whole therefore we must put a stop to it. Both men and women suffer from domestic violence and it is important to know that help and support is out there in order to give people the courage to take action and leave their abusive partners. There is still public funding available to victims of domestic abuse. We should all be raising awareness and supporting charities who do a fantastic job to assist victims of domestic abuse.’

Domestic abuse charity Harbour can be reached 24 hours a day on 03000 20 25 25.

Middlesbrough based, My Sister’s Place can be reached on 01642 241864.


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