Breaking the pattern of domestic abuse?

The Serious Crime Act 2015 came into force on 29 December 2015. The Act contains a new offence which is designed to provide greater protection for victims of sustained patterns of domestic abuse.

The new offence is designed to target the perpetrators of coercive or controlling behaviour within an intimate or family relationship. It has long been recognised that domestic abuse does not only manifest itself in physical violence, nor is it limited to relationships between partners. Domestic abuse can also occur in relations between children and parents. The new offence is viewed as filling in the gaps left by existing laws that do not provide sufficient protection for victims of non-violent domestic abuse.

It seems that the offence is designed to target the perpetrators of a wide range of essentially non-violent behaviours that frequently occur in domestic abuse cases. Such abuse can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation. It could include stopping a partner or family member from socialising, controlling their finances, monitoring or controlling their social media accounts or dictating what they wear.

In order for the offence to be made out, the controlling or coercive behaviour of the perpetrator must cause the victim:

  • to fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions; or
  • serious alarm or distress which has a substantial effect on their usual day-to-day activities.

The offence carries with it a maximum of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. There appears to be no doubt as to the sound intentions behind the offence. However, it remains to be seen whether the Police and other agencies will have the necessary training and expertise to assist victims in establishing cases where coercive or controlling behaviour is a feature.

Victims of such abuse may not feel that they are a victim at all and may consider the pattern of abuse they suffer as ‘normal’ and a simple part of daily life. Guidance to the Police in respect of the offence highlights that it remains the function of the Police to build a case for the benefit of the victim, rather than it being the responsibility of the victim to build a case to present to the Police. To that end, the Police will be encouraged to consider a wide range of evidence sources to build up a picture of the pattern of abuse. This should include both traditional ‘witness evidence’ as well as social media accounts, emails, text messages and the like.

If you feel that you are a victim of domestic abuse in any context, please do not suffer in silence. We are here to help.