Mason Baggott & Garton Partner, Sarah Regan, explains what coercive control is, how to spot it and how the law can help to protect you.
The recently reported case of Sally Challen, whose conviction for murder of her husband was quashed, is an instance of a court recognising that domestic abuse does not need to be a physical attack.
Mrs Challen confessed to killing her husband in 2010 and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial on the grounds that new psychiatric evidence including allegations that she had withstood decades of her husband’s coercive and controlling behaviour.
Coercive control was recognised as a criminal offence by the Serious Crime Act 2015 leading to a change in the definition of domestic violence to the more-encompassing definition of domestic abuse. The penalty for a conviction for coercive control is a sentence of up to five years or a fine or both.
Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. The term was developed by academic Evan Stark who said “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”
Examples of coercive control are
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food
- Monitoring your time
- Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
- Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
- Depriving you access to support services, such as medical services
- Repeatedly putting you down, such as saying you’re worthless
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
- Controlling your finances
- Making threats or intimidating you
It is usually a pattern of behaviour that goes on for many years as such many victims do not realise they are being controlled and are “brainwashed” into accepting it as part of their relationship. Perpetrators rely on their victims doubting themselves and by making the victim emotionally and psychologically dependent upon them.
The Serious Crime Act allows such behaviour to be reported to the police who should investigate the matter which can then be prosecuted by the CPS in the same ways as physical violence.
Protection is also available through the family courts. The Family Law 1996 enables “associated parties” to obtain non-molestation orders to stop the perpetrator approaching or contacting the victim, and occupation orders to get them out of a shared home or keep them out if they have left. Associated parties include spouses, civil partners, co-habitees, people who have a child together, relatives i.e. parent and child, siblings etc.
Legal Aid continues to be available for protection from domestic abuse which means you may not need to pay for legal fees.
Mason Baggott & Garton works closely with The Blue Door domestic abuse support agency in North Lincolnshire and provides a regular free legal advice clinic at its premises. Details are available from Blue Door which also provides support and wider advice for those suffering domestic abuse. They can be contacted on 0800 1974787 (helpline), 01724 841947 (office number) or email [email protected].
Alternatively, contact our experienced family team directly
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