The Domestic Abuse Bill and coercive control
The Domestic Abuse Bill this week received its second reading in the Commons. The Bill creates a legal definition of domestic abuse, appoints a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and creates Domestic Abuse Protection Orders in an effort to protect the UK’s estimated two million victims of domestic abuse.
Yesterday was striking for two stand out speeches, the first by ex PM Theresa May in which she described the bill as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”, going on to suggest that that it was “imperative” that the bill became law, arguing that it would “improve people’s lives”.
The second speech was delivered by the MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield. She received a standing ovation after telling MPs about her own experiences of coercive control.
Although both powerful for their own reasons, it was Ms Duffield’s speech that I found the most poignant. Abuse does not always leave a visible bruise. It does not always manifest itself physically, and coercive control (where a person with whom you are personally connected repeatedly behaves in a way which makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared) is indeed such an example. It is important to remember that the absence of physical harm renders this abuse no less serious.
Whilst controlling and coercive behaviour is a criminal offence, as family lawyers, we can see allegations of such behaviour being made in family court proceedings (in both divorce and children proceedings) without concurrent criminal proceedings.
In family cases a person no longer needs to be in a relationship or live with their abuser for coercive behaviour to be considered, there are routes within the family courts that seek to protect victims of domestic abuse; namely non-molestation orders and occupation orders under the Family Law Act 1996.
However, individuals affected should seek advice from both family and criminal law perspectives to ensure they are taking the steps best suited to them and with their safety and wellbeing in mind.
Coercive control can have profound familial repercussions. If you are a victim of controlling and coercive behaviour, there are many organisations which offer support;
Where divorce and/or children proceedings are relevant, seeking the advice of solicitors with experience in these areas can be a big step in what will hopefully prove to be a restorative journey to recovery.