New Law on Domestic Abuse
Why do we need new law?
The current law on stalking and harassment does not apply to controlling or coercive behaviour that takes place in an ongoing intimate relationship. It has only applied if the relationship had ended. The new coercive control offence has been created to close this gap in the law and cover patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour that happen during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together, or family members.
This new offence is designed to send a clear message that this form of domestic abuse can be a serious offence, particularly because it is a violation of trust. The law will provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse.
How does the law define coercive control?
Controlling or coercive behaviour does not mean a one off incident, it is a pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one person to deliberately gain power, control or coercion over another.
The Government definition of domestic violence and abuse explains controlling or coercive behaviour as:
- Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate
and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
- Coercive behaviour is: a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats,
humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten theirvictim.
This includes so called 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.
For the offence to apply:
- The controlling or coercive behaviour must take place “repeatedly or continuously”. Backed up by as much evidence as possible.
- The pattern of behaviour has to have a “serious effect” on the victim- this means that they have been caused to EITHER fear that violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, OR they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day-to-day activities, this will usually require there to have been more than one incident.
- The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or “ought to know” that it willhave a serious effect on the victim. “Ought to know” means that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.
- The perpetrator and victim have to be personally connected when the incidents took
place by either being in an intimate personal relationship (whether they lived together or not); lived together and were family members; OR
lived together and had previously been in an intimate personal relationship. It is not necessary for the perpetrator and victim to still be living together or in a relationship when the offence is reported as long as the incidents took place when they were “personally connected”, and after the offence came into force.
If they were not personally connected, or the incidents took place after a relationship/cohabitation, the stalking and harassment legislation may apply.
When should I call the police?
The police are a key 24 hr agency for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, and you can always call 999 in an emergency situation. Most police forces now have guidelines about how they should respond to domestic abuse. Many forms of domestic abuse and coercive control are crimes, and it is important to remember that these crimes are just as serious as if it were from a stranger.
What happens when I call the police?
The first role of the police when they are called after a domestic abuse incident is to ensure that you are safe, and to protect you from further harm. As your safety is the most important issue, the police should allow you to speak with them away from your abuser, so you do not feel intimidated or scared. The police will take a statement from you and you can request a woman police officer if you would feel more comfortable with this.
The police should help and support you by:
- Protecting you by removing the risk of further abuse - ideally by arresting and removing the perpetrator.
- Arranging first aid or other medical assistance, such as an ambulance.
- Finding out what has happened by taking into account the known risk factors associated with domestic abuse.
- Offering you support and reassurance by helping you to access other agencies (for example women's aid)
- Arranging transport to a safe place, if you want this.
What can the police do?
Police officers can use their powers to intervene, arrest, caution or charge your abuser. If your abuser is arrested they can be held for up to 24 hrs (36 hrs at the weekend) before the police need to charge him.
If your abuser is no longer at your house (or at the scene) when the police arrive, they can still be arrested. The police should circulate a description and make every effort to find him.
If the abuser is arrested by the police and then charged it is then their decision as whether to keep him in custody or to release him on bail. If the perpetrator is released on police bail you should expect that the police inform you about the conditions of the bail. If the bail conditions are then broken you will know what action you should expect the police to take in order to help keep you and your family safe.
What happens next?
Once your abuser is arrested and charged the police will pass the case onto the crown prosecution service (CPS). This is an independent body from the police; they have to decide whether the charge is correct and also decide whether or not to proceed with prosecution.
It can take some time before a full case is heard. The CPS will keep you informed about the case. They will inform you about any other statements that you have to make. They can also make decisions about how best to keep you safe.
You will be given information about court. If you do not wish to go to court as a witness you will be asked to make a statement about this. The case may still, however, go ahead and you may have to go to court and give evidence against your wishes. The CPS will consider the situation thoroughly and any concerns you have regarding your safety. They decide to proceed if it is in the public interest to do so.
The court where your case will be heard really depends on the seriousness of the charge. You will be given information about this through the police, by their court liaison officer.
Not ready to call the Police?
If you are experiencing or concerned about domestic abuse and not sure what to do, where to turn or who to trust, you can contact domestic abuse services for confidential advice.
Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid: 0800 800 0028 (freephone Monday to Friday 9.15-5.15)
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (freephone 24 hours)
More information on the law
Read about our campaign #thisisdomesticabuse raising awareness on coercive control as a form of domestic abuse.