Sentences for coercive control must reflect the severity of the crime

Sentences for coercive control must reflect the severity of the crime

Hilary Fisher, Women’s Aid Director of Research, Policy and Campaigns comments on the recent case of Harley Smith who was convicted of coercive control:

“Harley Smith’s lenient sentencing sends a dangerous message. Chelsea Bush’s life was made an absolute misery during the two years she was abused by her then-boyfriend Harley Smith. Smith tried to cut Chelsea’s contact with her family and friends, he restricted her access to her bank account, he snapped her SIM card so she lost all of her contacts, and he also physically assaulted her. On one occasion, Smith even accompanied Chelsea to a job interview, such was the intensity of his coercive and controlling behaviour. For two years, Chelsea Bush’s life was like living in prison, only the four walls around her were the fear, control and intimidation exerted by Smith. When she worked up the courage to leave him and take him to court for the abuse, what did justice serve him? A 12-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic abuse and has a devastating impact on survivors yet since it was made a criminal offence in December 2015, only a small number of cases have been prosecuted and the full force of the law is yet to be felt by those who continue to perpetrate this appalling crime.

The criminal justice system continues to fail to understand the lived experience of domestic abuse, something that has been referred to as “intimate terrorism” as a way of describing the control, and indeed, trauma experienced by survivors who are often in fear for their lives. It is a repeated pattern of intimidation, isolation, humiliation and threats which result in the perpetrator exerting their control and instilling fear in the victim, not only an isolated incident of physical violence.

Coercive control has frequently been charged in conjunction with physical assault. Even when there is a sentencing for coercive control, as in the case of Harley Smith, it is outrageous that judges are overlooking current Sentencing Council guidance which proposes a two year custody for coercive control instead ordering a much more lenient sentence which completely undermines the severity of the offence and the lasting pain it has caused to Chelsea.

Women’s Aid urgently calls for sentences for coercive control to reflect the severity of the crime and to hold perpetrators accountable, not only to ensure that justice is done but to also improving survivors’ confidence in the criminal justice system and to send a clear message that coercive control is unacceptable and that this crime is taken seriously.”

Read more about the case in the Daily Mail

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