The government is considering introducing a new law on domestic violence which would make nonviolent abuse illegal.
The government launched a consultation last month in response to a damning report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published in March.
The report critisised the police response to domestic violence, saying that in many areas help and support was not being offered to victims of domestic violence and that all too often police were failing to take domestic violence seriously.
The report, which described the findings about police behaviour as “alarming and unacceptable” also pointed out that police were often not recognising non-physical abuse as a serious crime.
The report suggested introducing a new law which would specifically target nonviolent domestic abuse.
“Creating a specific offence of domestic abuse may send a clear, consistent message to frontline agencies that nonviolent control in an intimate relationship is criminal.
“Explicitly capturing this in legislation may also help victims identify the behaviour they are suffering as wrong and encourage them to report it, and cause perpetrators to rethink their controlling behaviour.” the report said.
Currently, a perpetrator who uses coercive behaviour against a partner causing them emotional and psychological harm can only be prosecuted under legislation that covers stalking and harassment. These laws do not explicitly apply to intimate relationships, causing additional confusion.
Nonviolent behaviour that could be covered by the new law:
- threatening a partner with violence
- cutting a partner off from friends and family
- refusing a partner access to money in order to limit their freedom
The home secretary, Theresa May, told a press conference: “Tackling domestic abuse is one of this government’s top priorities. The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. Meanwhile, I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid, said the change in the law, if implemented, could help give victims greater confidence to speak out sooner. “This is a vital step forward for victims of domestic violence,” she said.
“Two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and in our experience of working with survivors, coercive controlling behaviour is at the heart of the most dangerous abuse. This move demonstrates a strong commitment from the Home Office to listening to victims of abuse in framing the law that serves them.