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Domestic abuse doesn’t always leave a mark

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Family Law on Thursday, April 28th, 2022

Long gone are the days when cuts and bruises were needed for domestic abuse to be recognised by the authorities and wider society. These days, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, as well as controlling or coercive behaviour, are all legally recognised as forms of domestic abuse and are punishable by law.

In a House of Commons report published just a year into the coronavirus pandemic, it was revealed that abuse from current partners increased by 8.1% between April and June 2020, while abuse from family members increased by a shocking 17.1%. One result of this was the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which came into force on 29 April 2021 and extended the scope of the domestic abuse crimes that are now punishable.

What constitutes domestic abuse?

The statutory definition of domestic abuse, which was introduced by the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act, is as follows:

“Behaviour is ‘abusive’ if it consists of any of the following –

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Violent or threatening behaviour
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour
  • Economic abuse
  • Psychological, emotional or other abuse.’

The definition also stipulates that both parties must be over 16 and ‘personally connected’ (i.e. married, in a civil partnership, in a relationship or related to one another).

What is controlling or coercive behaviour?

Controlling or coercive behaviour is a form of psychological abuse where the abuser makes their victim feel controlled, manipulated, humiliated or isolated. They may attempt to render their victim dependent by isolating them from friends and family and to control them by threatening them, putting them down, constantly monitoring their whereabouts and otherwise curtailing their freedom. A common form of controlling or coercive behaviour is ‘gaslighting’, where the abuser attempts to make their victim question their own sanity by insisting that something didn’t happen, twisting what actually occurred, or telling the victim they are forgetting things.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is a form of controlling or coercive behaviour, where the abuser restricts their victim’s access to money in order to control them and limit their freedom. Economic abuse can be used to prevent a victim from leaving their abuser by removing their financial means to do so. Economic abuse can also involve the abuser misusing the victim’s own money (for example to fund a gambling habit), leaving them heavily in debt or even homeless. According to the charity Women’s Aid, a survey of 79 domestic abuse survivors revealed that a third were forced to give up their home and nine became homeless as a result of economic abuse.

What other forms of psychological and emotional abuse are there?

There are a huge range of abusive behaviours that fall under this umbrella; just some of them include:

  • Intimidation
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stalking
  • Insults or belittlement
  • Shouting and yelling
  • Denying physical or emotional abuse
  • Accusing the victim of having affairs or looking at other men/women
  • Threatening to take their children away

It is important to remember that all of these forms of abuse are just as legitimate as a punch in the face or sexual assault.

What protections did the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduce?

The legislation made introduced three main new provisions:

  • Non-fatal strangulation (where the abuser strangles the victim with the intent to control and dominate, rather than kill) was made a criminal offence and is now punishable by up to five years in prison
  • Controlling and coercive behaviour is now a criminal offence even where the abuser and victim do not live together
  • The ‘revenge porn’ offence (i.e. sharing intimate images or videos of the victim to distress and humiliate them) was widened to include the threat of sharing intimate images.

Seek specialist advice

Domestic abuse can have huge repercussions not only for the victim’s life, but on the lives of their children, family and friends. If you are suffering domestic abuse, then it is important to look at the options available to you and to seek professional legal advice. At Attwaters Jameson Hill, our sympathetic and friendly Family Law team can help vulnerable domestic abuse survivors to take back control. Please get in touch at familylaw@attwaters.co.uk or call 0330 221 8855.

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