A bill that would create a new criminal offence of domestic abuse and coercive control is about to be put before parliament. Most people are incredulous when they realise that there is no criminal offence of domestic abuse or domestic violence under English law and that instead laws which were never designed to prosecute this type of behaviour are used. In April 2013 I wrote an article highlighting the need for such an offence so I was delighted when I heard about the new domestic violence bill.
The legislation was campaigned for and put forward by Paladin the anti-stalking advocacy charity and the Sara Charlton Charity and has now been sponsored by Women’s Aid.
As the legislation is currently drafted the offence of domestic abuse will be committed if it can be proved that the perpetrator has caused a course of conduct which is designed to cause physical or psychological harm to the victim. This includes threatening, controlling or coercive behaviour of a physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse.
In practice this will mean that two separate incidents are needed before a prosecution can be brought which will force the police and CPS to link together separate incidents which will show the severity of the behaviour that separate incidents would not. The legislation is similar to the existing harassment and stalking legislation but is designed to prosecute behaviour occurring during a relationship rather than after it has ended. The maximum sentence proposed is 14 years imprisonment which reflects the seriousness of the crime and the devastating impact it has on victims. Many victims tell me that they feel that mental abuse is far worse than the physical abuse as it takes away their confidence and never leaves them. In addition to this they also feel helpless as they can’t show anyone a bruise so they feel that no-one will believe them.
The legislation is based on similar laws brought in the US across all states in 1994. The statistics in the US show that from 1993 to 2010 there was a reduction in domestic violence of 67% and a decrease in domestic violence murders of women of 35% and a 46% decrease in male domestic violence murders. There was a corresponding increase of reports of domestic abuse of 51% which demonstrates that the public acknowledgement of domestic abuse as a crime lead to a decrease in violent attacks and murder. When you consider that domestic violence costs the UK £20 billion each year and kills over 2 women a week there would be a significant saving of not only money but most importantly – lives. How can anyone object to that?