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New Law to Tackle Controlling or Coercive Behaviour

New domestic abuse legislation under the Serious Crime Act has been introduced today, 29 December 2015, to make actions of coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence.

This means that from 29 December, victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

The offence will not apply retrospectively.

The new offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour in an ongoing relationship between intimate partners or family members. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

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: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Such behaviours might include:

  • isolating a person from their friends and family;
  • depriving them of their basic needs;
  • monitoring their time;
  • monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
  • taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
  • depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
  • repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
  • enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
  • forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
  • financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • threats to hurt or kill;
  • threats to a child;
  • threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).
  • assault;
  • criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
  • rape;
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

Detective Chief Inspector Jez Noyce, from the Dorset Police Public Protection Unit said: “These behaviours can cause significant harm to the victim and their children.

“This is the ‘drip drip’ effect of long term abuse”.

This new domestic abuse offence will protect victims of coercive or controlling behaviour who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives by the perpetrator.

The offence applies when the behaviour takes place repeatedly or continuously, meaning on an ongoing basis.

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.

The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or “ought to know” that it will have a serious effect on the victim.

The victim and perpetrator must have been personally connected when the offences took place. It is not necessary for the perpetrator and victim to still be cohabiting 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.

Detective Chief Inspector Jez Noyce continued: “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.

“Perpetrators need to know that these behaviours are now criminal and we will pursue and prosecute”.

Dorset Police has specially trained officers to investigatedomestic abuse and support victims. Call 101 for non-emergencies only, and call 999 in an emergency. All reports will be dealt with in confidence.

Issue Date: 29 December 2015