Criminalisation of coercive control reaches six-year anniversary 

29th December 2021

Women’s Aid campaigned for landmark legislation 

Today marks the six-year anniversary of landmark legislation which established coercive and controlling behaviour as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 of England and Wales. 

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. 

“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 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. Prosecutions for coercive behaviour, however, remain disappointingly low. In England and Wales, between April 2020 and March 2021, there were just 1,403 defendants prosecuted for controlling or coercive behaviour1. There were 33,954 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021, suggesting only a small proportion of perpetrators are being prosecuted.2 

Women’s Aid sees coercive control is 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 Dec 2020 were male: 364 out of 374 (97%). These figures clearly show the gendered nature of domestic abuse, which needs to be reflected in the government’s upcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy. 

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% increase in arrest for controlling or coercive behaviour for trained forces.3 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 hopes to see even more forces benefitting from this training.  

Notes to editors 

  • Contact the Women’s Aid press office at [email protected], 020 7566 2511 / 07517 132 943 Notes to editors 1 Domestic abuse and the criminal justice system – Published by ONS, 2021 Domestic abuse and the criminal justice system – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk) 2 Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk) 3 From: Brennan, I.; Myhill, A.; Tagliaferri, G. and Tapley, J. (2021) ‘Policing a new domestic abuse crime: effects of force-wide training on arrests for coercive control’, Policing and Society, 31:10, 1153-1167 Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Since 1974 we have been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic abuse, with survivors at the heart of our work. We are a federation of over 170 organisations which provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. Women’s Aid provides expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated. An estimated 1.6 million women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020 with young women aged 16-24 years continuing to be the age group at most risk (ONS 2020). If you are worried that your partner, or that of a friend or family member, is controlling and abusive, go to womensaid.org.uk  for support and information, including Live Chat, the Survivors’ Forum, The Survivor’s Handbook and the Women’s Aid Directory. Live Chat is open from 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday and 10 am – 6 pm on weekends for confidential expert support from specialised support workers. 

© 2022 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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