Women’s Aid and survivor campaigners mark the third anniversary of the coercive control legislation coming into force
Saturday 29th December
Today (Saturday 29th December) marks the third anniversary of the coercive control legislation coming into force in England and Wales.
An estimated 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse last year alone and the police recorded over half a million domestic abuse-related crimes in the year 2017/18. Yet the police recorded just 9,053 coercive control offences in 2017/18 and less than 300 offenders were convicted for this crime in England and Wales during 2016 and 2017.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“All too often abuse that does not leave bruises is not taken seriously enough. Yet we know from our work with survivors that coercive control is at the heart of domestic abuse. Although coercive control was made a criminal offence three years ago, it continues to be a largely misunderstood and underreported crime. It is clear from the latest criminal justice figures that the full force of the law is yet to be felt by those who continue to perpetrate this devastating form of abuse.
“Survivors often worry that if they have no evidence of physical violence they will not be taken seriously by the police. We want to continue to work closely with police forces to give survivors the confidence that, whether the abuse is physical or mental, their concerns will be treated seriously by the police. We urge police leaders to invest in in-depth domestic abuse training, co-delivered by specialists like Women’s Aid, to ensure that they can identify coercive control and give the right support to survivors the first time they reach out for help.
“We also want to see the police and CPS working hand-in-hand to make sure that the necessary evidence is gathered, which does not rely solely on the victim’s testimony or evidence of physical violence. A successful criminal justice response to coercive control must both hold perpetrators to account and keep women and children safe by giving a good response to every survivor, regardless of whether the abuse is physical or emotional.
“At Women’s Aid, we continue to work with women who have experienced coercivecontrol in a relationship to raise awareness of this devastating form of abuse. This year, we started a national conversation about gaslighting to help raise awareness about what is – and what isn’t – healthy in a relationship. Abuser often use gaslighting, a subtle form of psychological abuse that makes the victim question her perception of events and even herself, as part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. We know that it can be incredibly difficult to recover from psychological abuse which is why survivors need specialist support. It is vital that life-saving domestic abuse services are protected. We want the forthcoming domestic abuse bill to deliver both the legislation and the resources needed to transform the response to domestic abuse and ensure that every survivor and her child can get the support they need to rebuild their life free from fear and abuse.
“If you are concerned that your partner, or that of a family or friend, is controlling and potentially abusive, you are not alone, Women’s Aid is always here to listen to you, believe you and support you.”
Luke and Ryan Hart, survivors and campaigners, said:
“It crucial that we recognise domestic abuse is fundamentally about control. Violence is only one method abusers can use to enforce that control. We were looking for violence to indicate the danger we were in, but the true danger was indicated by the amount of control our father demanded over our lives.
“It is very easy for an abuser to entrap someone they know intimately, they can personalise their abuse and leverage socio-economic constraints to make it very hard for their victims to separate and live independently. Coercive control allows abusers to turn their partners and families into hostages; hostages without chains and without bruises.Coercive control is so dangerous because it can be so invisible and this is why it is so important we all learn about it.
“Ryan and I have been campaigning, as well as training police officers and legal and health professionals for example, to raise awareness of coercive control – a paradigm of abuse we weren’t aware of until our father murdered our mother, Claire, and 19-year-old sister, Charlotte. We have also written our book, Operation Lighthouse, to explain what it was like living through coercive control to help others to understand it.”
Natalie, survivor who successfully secured a conviction for coercive control, said:
“There were red flags from the start but it was a slow drip effect over six years. It’s hard to recognise when you’re living it every day, you hold on to the hope that they will change or it will get better – because surely it can’t get any worse. But it never got better, only worse.
“Coercive control had a devastating impact on me. I was living and walking on eggshells. I felt like my body was giving up on me; I lived daily with panic and anxiety attacks and would shake from head to foot like I was having a fit. I became very withdrawn and a former shadow of my happy, bubbly self. I would not speak, silent tears fell regularly, and I had an empty feeling like I wanted to just run away and never be found.
“I had to put my faith in the police and court system to get the right outcome. With the support of Essex Police and Women’s Aid, I had enough evidence of controlling and coercive behaviour to secure an arrest, charge and conviction. The conviction and restraining order is allowing me time to heal and rebuild my future.
“I’m now campaigning with Women’s Aid to raise awareness about coercive control and be a voice for other people who are living within abusive and controlling relationships to let them know that you are not alone, there are a team of specialist who are ready to take your call. I was not aware about what support is available until Essex Police gave me Women’s Aid’s details. It took me a lot of strength but I made that call, and I’m so thankful for their services. I’m not sure where I would be now without my caseworkers. The more we talk about coercive control the more people will have the confidence to reach out for support.”
If you are worried that your partner is controlling and abusive or if you need advice on safety planning or reporting to the police, please call the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.womensaid.org.uk.
For more information, please contact the Women’s Aid press office: 020 7566 2511 /[email protected]