Domestic abuse can affect anyone. It is something that forces up and down the country are responding to far too frequently. The abuse suffered can take many forms and until last year victims who experienced psychological, emotional or financial abuse were not protected by any specific legislation.
The coercive or controlling behaviour offence changed that.
On 29 December 2015, police forces were given the power to protect those who would otherwise be subjected to threats, humiliation and intimidation, often leading to total control of their lives by the perpetrator. In isolation, these incidents could be seen as insignificant but, to a victim, they can mean the gradual loss of confidence, freedom, friends and family. This not only affects them, but also affects their children and loved ones; it can destroy careers, life prospects and vital support networks. When victims try to break free from suffocating control they face great risk and their fears should be taken very seriously.
Nationally we have seen a positive response to these new powers, with forces taking this legislation and applying it to a wide set of circumstances to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
The convictions to date are diverse in their nature. We are starting to see an increase in standalone coercive control offences and in other cases it forms part of a catalogue of offences. Across England and Wales I have seen examples of cases involving partners, ex partners, young and elderly victims and a case involving a mother and son.
There have been some significant sentences to date, the longest being 4.5 years followed closely by a number of sentences for 4 years. The maximum sentence for this offence is 5 years.
To mark the first anniversary of the coercive or controlling behaviour offence, I wanted to share some of the stories that show the reality of coercive control but also how police can help victims take back control of their lives.
I hope these stories give others in similar situations the strength and confidence to talk to us and stop the abuse. If you have experienced any type of domestic abuse, or think it may be happening to someone else, call your local police on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.
The coercive or controlling behaviour offence is there to give victims the confidence to come forward and start to take back control from those who seek to intimidate and isolate them.
Whilst in hospital the victim disclosed to staff that her husband of 32 years had been bullying her for a long time. Officers spoke to the victim, who made some worrying disclosures.
The perpetrator had been convicted of a common assault on the victim back in September 2015 and as a result, he was issued with a six-month restraining order. A condition was not to go to their home but the suspect never left the marital home. The victim was too scared to challenge him about this.
She stated that there had been a number of incidents over the years where he had tried to stop her from seeing her family and that she would always have to make excuses to family members about why she couldn’t visit, or why she couldn’t stay long. This was out of fear that her husband would make a scene or become aggressive after they had left. The victim would not be allowed to make phone calls to her family in private; if her family called he would stand next to her in the hallway. He would check her emails constantly and this eventually stopped the victim from using email. He had also snapped numerous pairs of reading glasses, as punishment, if she “displeased” him. He would also control all finances.
The perpetrator was interviewed about all of the allegations and completely denied any wrongdoing.
He was eventually charged with breaching his restraining order and engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour. He was remanded in custody and given bail by the courts.
Over the next 3 months, he was arrested on a number of occasions for breaking his bail conditions by calling the victim at home, writing her letters and poems, and sending her drawings. He was arrested again and was remanded in custody until his trial.
He pleaded guilty to the controlling and coercive behaviour and breaching his restraining order. The victim was at court, ready to give evidence against him, along with her family. She looked like a different person and explained how happy she was now she didn’t have to tread on eggshells or answer to her husband.
The perpetrator was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. He was given a 12-month supervision order and a restraining order, not to contact the victim, or go to the street where she lives. This order is to run until further notice.
In Nottinghamshire, a man who used intimidation and violence to control every aspect of his partner's life was jailed for four and a half years.
He admitted using coercive and controlling behaviour, along with two charges of causing actual bodily harm, harassment with violence and two charges of criminal damage.
The court also imposed a restraining order - banning him from making contact with the victim or her family for life.
His victim bravely attended court to watch his sentencing and describe the effect he had on her life.
In a statement in court, the victim said: "He controlled every aspect of my life; from where I went, to what I wore, to what possessions he allowed me to own. I wasn’t a person, but an object to him. He undermined any confidence that I had to move away from him, and told me that he knew how to manipulate the legal system and Police into not being caught."