Emotional harm inflicted by a partner within a relationship could be introduced as a criminal offence.
The government is launching a consultation on strengthening the law by explicitly stating domestic abuse covers coercive behaviour. This move comes after the way that police respond to domestic abuse in England and Wales, reports the Guardian.
The consultation document says that police fail to see abuse, particularly in its nonviolent form, as a serious crime, adding: “Creating a specific offence of domestic abuse may send a clear, consistent message to frontline agencies that nonviolent control in an intimate relationship is criminal. Explicitly capturing this in legislation may also help victims identify the behaviour they are suffering as wrong and encourage them to report it, and cause perpetrators to rethink their controlling behaviour.”
The Home Office have said that the type of behaviour the new law could cover will include threatening a partner with violence, cutting them off from friends and family or refusing them access to money limiting their freedom.
The home secretary, Theresa May, said: “Tackling domestic abuse is one of this government’s top priorities. The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. Meanwhile, I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid, said the change, if implemented, could help give victims greater confidence to speak out sooner. “This is a vital step forward for victims of domestic violence,” she said.
“Two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and in our experience of working with survivors, coercive controlling behaviour is at the heart of the most dangerous abuse. This move demonstrates a strong commitment from the Home Office to listening to victims of abuse in framing the law that serves them.”
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, welcomed the move but said the coalition had presided over a “backwards slide” in action against domestic violence and support for victims. “Under this government, refuges across the country are cutting services and many are threatened with closure. Prosecutions and convictions as a proportion of recorded domestic crime are falling. And over the last four years over 10,000 perpetrators of domestic violence have been handed only community resolutions, with many simply being asked to apologise to their victim.”
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