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‘Controlling behaviour’ recognised as a punishable offence…changes in domestic violence laws

29 December 2015 bought about a much needed change within the realm of domestic violence laws. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced the new criminal offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’.

It was introduced to strengthen the powers of the police who may have had difficulties in taking matters forward when there was no physical violence involved. Victims who have been subjected to a pattern of domestic abuse that involves psychological and emotional abuse can rely on this legislation to seek justice. The offence will carry a fine and/or 5 years imprisonment.

The change in the legislation shows a move in society’s views on domestic violence as emotional and psychological abuse are now being recognised. The change will allow victims suffering from psychological and emotional harm to prosecute their perpetrators for abuse such as controlling behaviour by being stopped from having friendships or hobbies, financial abuse sometimes having no access to money, controlling social media accounts, controlling/determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and what they are allowed to eat etc. Physical violence is not always involved and this change in legislation will allow those suffering to report matters to the police with the confidence that the police are able to take matters further.

The Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation Karen Bradley said, “Our new coercive or controlling behavior offence will protect victims who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives by the perpetrator. We are sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and that emotional and controlling abuse will not be tolerated.”

Victims suffering from such abuse have and can obtain non-molestation orders from the Family Courts which offer protection from controlling behaviour/emotional abuse however, with the increased assurance that this can now lead to their perpetrator’ prosecution, many vulnerable victims may have increased confidence to report such abuse.

The Statutory guidance can be found here.