Domestic abuse may not always be in a physical form. A victim may not recognise that coercive behaviour has taken place as any specific incident may appear isolated or the conduct by the perpetrator may seem innocent as the victim may rationalise it as being an isolated incident. As a result, many victims experience emotional and physical harm constituted by such behaviour.
Although coercive behaviour was not recognised as an offence until 2015, in recent years such behaviour has received growing attention, resulting in the Government providing guidance on coercive behaviour. The guidelines provided by the Government explain that ‘coercive behaviour is a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim’*.
As well as the Government providing guidelines, the criminal offence of coercive behaviour came into force on 29 December 2015. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015** provides that:
(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—
(a) A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person
(b) at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,
(c) the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and
(d) A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.
The offence recognises that the harm caused by repeated or continuous abuse and its cumulative effect on the victim can be more injurious and harmful than a single incident of violence.
The following examples have been provided to illustrate some of the types of action that may constitute coercive behaviour:
• Isolating somebody from their family and their friends
• Controlling where a person can go
• Controlling what a person may wear
• Monitoring a person’s time
• Putting the person down
• Controlling the person’s finances
• Preventing a person from working or studying
The office for National Statistics provided that ‘for the 38 forces for which data were available, 4,246 offences of coercive control were recorded in the year ending March 2017’^. It also noted that ‘the number of these offences that have been recorded by the police has increased over the last year’^^.
This suggests that as a result of coercive behaviour becoming a criminal offence, such behaviour has become better recognised in society and that the new law is providing justice to victims who would not previously have been able to bring criminal proceedings. It is important that actions which constitute coercive behaviour continue to be more widely recognised and that there are meaningful legal remedies for victims in such cases.