Domestic abuse offence of 'coercive and controlling behaviour' announced

The maximum penalty for the offence is five years in jail

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The Independent Online

A new domestic abuse offence of 'coercive and controlling behaviour' has been announced with a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

Coercive and controlling behaviour can include the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining tiny aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

Witness testimony could be supported at prosecution through documentary evidence, including threatening emails, text messages and bank statements that show the abuser has sought to control the victim financially.

The new offence comes after the Government ran a consultation over the summer seeking views on whether the law on domestic abuse needed to be strengthened.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "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."

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During the consultation, 85% of respondents said the law did not provide sufficient protection to victims, while 55% said a new offence was needed to strengthen and clarify the law on coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said: "We hope this new law will lead to a real culture change, so that every woman experiencing control can get the support she needs to break free safely."

The new offence is launched alongside an investigation by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on the police response to domestic abuse and a national oversight group to lead implementation of the report's recommendations, which is chaired by the Home Secretary.

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "I don't think there is a great deal of dispute across Parliament about the impact that psychological abuse can have, just as physical harm and abuse can sadly take a very considerable toll.

"I think it is absolutely right that the law recognises this and the guidance will be set out and I do believe that it is something the criminal justice system can deal with."

The announcement of a new law on ‘coercive control’, including financial and emotional abuse, sends a clear message that these hidden forms of abuse will not be tolerated, says Citizens Advice.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, added: “Psychological cruelty and abusive financial control cause real harm. Abusers take out payday loans in victim’s names, force victims into debt and get back at them through joint finances even after the victim has got out of the abusive relationship.

“The Government must now ensure that victims can access the support they need from legal aid, that benefits are not being misused by abusers, and that the response from banks and creditors to financial abuse cases is improved.”

Additional reporting by PA