This month saw the coming into force of new legislation around coercive control. Coercive control has now been criminalised as an offence under The Serious Crime Act 2015.
Under section 76 (1) of the Act ‘a person (A) commits an offence if: (a) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive, (b) at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected, (c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and (d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.’
This criminalisation of psychologically abusive behaviour provides an important legal protection to domestic abuse victim/survivors, who have previously been left vulnerable when experiencing non-physical abuse. The legislation is an important step in ensuring that domestic abuse is more readily recognised and it will provide support to criminal justice agencies such as the police, which have often struggled to respond adequately to non-violent abuse.
Traditionally, domestic violence has been understood to be isolated incidents of physical violence perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner. The term coercive control emphasises that it is not about fights, that abuse is on-going and that it comprises much more than physical violence. This is not to say that verbal and/or physical fights do not take place between partners, but it is important to distinguish between these and the social concern that is domestic abuse.
Even when we acknowledge the emotional, psychological, financial and sexual elements of domestic abuse, as practitioners we still focus primarily on acts of physical violence in our discussions and responses to domestic abuse. Talking about coercive control helps us to rethink what constitutes domestic abuse.