It wasn’t until after she had asked her husband for a divorce that Jessica realised she’d been a victim of domestic abuse. Though he had not physically attacked her, her husband had exerted complete control over her life by cutting her off from the family finances.
After Jessica (not her real name) gave up paid work to raise a family, her husband did not give her any money, insisting on paying all bills and shopping for food himself. Isolated in a rural area with no way to buy petrol, she became trapped.
“He would say ‘you’re rubbish with money, you’re no good at shopping for food’. If I questioned him about money, he would say ‘you only have to ask’, but there were never any answers,” she explains. Her husband even took her name off the deeds to their home when they moved house.
Jessica is a victim of coercive control – a form of abuse that can include financial and emotional manipulation and cutting off access to communication or transport. Now the Government is preparing to introduce an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill which will criminalise the behaviour and make it easier for police to investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
The amendment, first proposed by Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd and understood to have the support of the Home Secretary Theresa May and the prime minister’s office, is expected to unveiled before Christmas.
Domestic violence experts say it is currently difficult to monitor and tackle coercive control because the law has not previously recognised psychological or financial abuse. It is hoped criminalisation will allow police to fully investigate these complex cases over a longer time frame.
Harry Fletcher, a probation expert who was involved in drawing up the amendment, said coercive control caused “untold psychological damage” to victims. The new law will cover not only financial abuse but emotional manipulation such as preventing a partner from contacting and visiting friends, “all leading to the belief that a woman can’t get away”.
He said the amendment had been inspired by efforts to tackle domestic violence in California and Carolina which had led to a 50 per cent rise in reporting incidents and a 30 per cent drop in the number of incidents over a decade.
“What I think the amendment will mean is that police will have the power to investigate the totality of behaviour. In generating evidence they would look to family members, doctors, neighbours, any body language or recordings on camera or photos,” Mr Fletcher said.
“What I hope the Home Office does is embark on a public education campaign which results in greater knowledge of the dangers of psychological damage of control of movement and finances.”
Jennifer McLaughlin, a lecturer in forensic psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, has carried out research into the effects of domestic violence on the lives of victims. Her work revealed that coercive control such as financial abuse had the longest lasting impact and was most likely to be linked to depression, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts – even years after the end of the relationship.
“We found that levels of coercive control in the relationship were more predictive of negative outcomes such as depression or suicide risk. I think the thing is that coercive control is at the core of an abusive relationship. If you didn’t have the control you wouldn’t have the rest of it, as that’s what keeps the [victim] in the relationship,” she said.