Police forces in England and Wales are failing to take action on a new law against psychological abuse, it has been revealed, prompting concerns that domestic violence is not being targeted effectively.
Information obtained by an independent law firm highlighted a “worryingly low” number of people being charged under the new Coercive Control (CC) law brought into place last year.
Three forces – Kent, Hertfordshire and Norfolk – all reported 10 or more prosecutions between December 2015 and June 2016, but the majority of forces have taken action on fewer than two occasions during that time
Nine police forces in the country are yet to prosecute a single person under the new law.
An amendment to the Serious Crime Bill last year means that “coercive or controlling behaviour” in intimate or family relationships is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.
The law aims to reduce psychological bullying that includes extreme emotional abuse, even if it does not amount to physical violence.
Citizens Advice said it stepped in to help at least 3,000 victims of emotional abuse and 900 victims of financial abuse in 2014, but take-up of the new powers to prosecute offenders has so far been very low.
Emma Pearmaine, Head of Family Services at law firm Simpson Millar, who obtained the data, said the low figures were “particularly concerning” considering the high number of those seeking help for domestic violence each month, and called for increased awareness and understanding of the new laws.
She said: “One of the biggest concerns when it comes to coercive control is that victims are not aware that being isolated from friends or family, having access to money and bank accounts restricted, or even having personal medical conditions revealed, is domestic abuse and, now, a criminal offence.”
“With less than three coercive control offences on average per police authority, more needs to be done, so that people can involve the Police at an early stage – before coercion turns into physical abuse.”
Eight out of 22 Police forces - including Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire - have yet to record a single prosecution for coercive control.
Ms Pearmaine suggested that more specialist training for Police officers was needed, so that victims could be helped sooner.
“Coercive control can be many things,” she said, “but, essentially, it comes down to people exerting control via a pattern of behaviours, and these can sometimes be difficult to spot from the outside if you don’t know where to look or which questions to ask.”
“More dedicated training on the new legislation and how coercion can impact on a victim’s life might help push up the number of people who are identified as offenders, and prosecuted.”
Surrey Police noted that two people have been charged with coercive control since the law came into effect, believed to be after the freedom of information request was made.
A spokesperson said: “The Force has put measures in place to publicise the legislation both internally and externally and training on coercive control is now delivered to all new officers as a matter of course.”
“A publicity campaign on coercive control launched in Surrey this year as part of a continued drive to educate that this behaviour is a form of abuse and can be charged as an offence in its own right. We remain committed to increasing reporting and securing further prosecutions.”
According to the charity Refuge, one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence during their lifetime.