Criminalisation of coercive control reaches six-year anniversary

On the six-year anniversary of landmark legislation that established coercive and controlling behaviour as a criminal offence, Women’s Aid is urging more police forces to get training to better understand the “hidden” patterns of abuse that happen behind closed doors.

Dec 29, 2021
By Paul Jacques
Picture: University of Bristol

The charity says the College of Policing Domestic Abuse Matters training, for example, has seen arrests for controlling or coercive behaviour increase by more than 40 per cent for trained forces.

Isabelle Younane, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Women’s Aid, said: “Coercive control is at the heart of almost all domestic abuse, yet only a small minority of survivors who experience it see justice.

“The past year has highlighted the constant male violence and abuse that women endure. The murders of Sarah Everard in March and Sabina Nessa in September, and countless more throughout the year, have shone a light on shocking incidents of male violence, but we must draw attention to the ‘hidden’ patterns of abusive behaviour that happen behind closed doors.”

She added: “Demand for Women’s Aid’s services over the past 18 months highlighted the number of women who do not feel safe at home. It is vital that all police officers and prosecutors truly understand coercive control as the backbone of domestic abuse and the damaging, lifelong impact it has on survivors and their children.

“Survivors need, and deserve, a consistent response to their experiences of abuse. It is a matter of urgency for the Government to invest in multi-agency and partnership working across services to build a safer world for us. Women’s faith in police and authorities shrinks day by day and it must be restored.”

Coercive and controlling behaviour was established as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 of England and Wales.

Coercive control is a pattern of abusive behaviour used by perpetrators to instil fear and restrict freedom. Often the perpetrator’s aim is total control over their partner, ex-partner or family member. Coercive control can include psychological and/or emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, financial or economic abuse, harassment and stalking, online or digital abuse.

Women’s Aid, alongside other organisations, campaigned for this landmark legislation that has brought many perpetrators to justice.

However, the charity says prosecutions for coercive behaviour “remain disappointingly low”.

In England and Wales, between April 2020 and March 2021, there were just 1,403 defendants prosecuted for controlling or coercive behaviour. There were 33,954 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021, which Women’s Aid suggests only a small proportion of perpetrators are being prosecuted.

Women’s Aid sees coercive control as part of wider phenomenon of male violence against women. The latest statistics show that almost all perpetrators convicted for controlling and coercive behaviour in England and Wales in the year ending December 2020 were male – 364 out of 374 (97 per cent).

“These figures clearly show the gendered nature of domestic abuse, which needs to be reflected in the Government’s upcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy,” it said.

On this sixth anniversary, Women’s Aid is urging police forces and public services to take up effective training on coercive control, such as the College of Policing Domestic Abuse Matters Change Programme, delivered by Women’s Aid and others, to better understand domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.

One study found that the Domestic Abuse Matters training was associated with a 41 per cent increase in arrest for controlling or coercive behaviour for trained forces.

With the recent introduction of the VAWG Policing Framework for Delivery, aiming to coordinate and standardise the policing of violence against women and girls, Women’s Aid says it hopes to see even more forces benefitting from this training.

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