On December 18 the Government announced that it would introduce legislation to create a criminal offence of coercive control. The aim of the new law is to protect domestic violence victims from sustained patterns of psychological abuse. The maximum sentence for anyone found guilty could be imprisonment for up to five years.
This is a breakthrough victory for our Domestic Violence Law Reform Campaign spearheaded by Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service, Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation and Women's Aid.
It is also history in the making: the All Party Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform campaign was achieved in 15 months and was heralded as the shortest and most successful in Westminster, I was told - up until now. Domestic Violence Law Reform has been achieved in less than a year.
Partnership working, as well as our esteemed advisory group, and listening to the voices of victims and professionals has been a crucial part of the campaign's success. We published the 'Victim's Voice' Survey in March which showed that 98% of victims were subjected to controlling, domineering and/or demeaning behaviours in their relationship.
When asked about whether the controlling behaviour was taken into account by the Criminal Justice System (CJS), 88% stated that it was not. Respondents also indicated that they felt that the CJS is only interested in physical injury and not the psychological. 96% of victims felt that the CJS should take the impact of psychological abuse into consideration. Significantly, 98% of respondents believed that a reform of the law was needed to effectively criminalise domestic violence.
In the spring we published a number of key briefings highlighting and evidencing the current gaps in legislation using stated cases. We also consulted with many subject matter experts in the police and CPS and tabled numerous debates in the House of Commons and Lords.
In the summer the Government then ran a consultation, again echoing the Stalking Law Reform Campaign. Just under 800 people submitted a response to four key questions. Overwhelmingly 85% of respondents said the law currently fails to offer protection to victims. 55% said they wanted a new offence on coercive control in relationships.
We have been working closely with the Home Office on the draft of the new offence. It is imortant, just as it was with the stalking legislation, that it is clear, proportionate and practical. It will be introduced as an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill in the new year.
We must get this right and ensure the new law is effective. We are trailblazing and just because it has not been done before in this way, it doesn't mean that it shouldn't. Many said that marital rape did not need to be criminalised and the same was said for stalking. I am sure the USA and other countries will now follow in our footsteps.
Raising awareness and making it clear that domestic violence is a crime will hopefully ensure more victims of domestic violence will report much earlier. Many have continuously said to me that they are amazed and shocked that this is not the case already. Law change must lead to an investment in specialist led training and along with the implementation of the recommendations from the HMIC (2014) report, ensure that police, along with the CPS, judiciary and court and other agencies understand the nature of coercive control and that it is a pattern of behaviour that limits a victims space for action.
I do not dispute that existing laws must be used as well as existing tools such as the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) Risk Model. Training is also an absolute must for all agencies working with victims of abuse. But at the heart of this campaign is much needed cultural change. Reframing domestic violence as coercive control and how women become entrapped is an important step forward and awareness raised by this campaign has been significant, again mirroring what happened with stalking. Significantly with stalking, more victims came forward to report and this was why Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service was launched in July 2013.
Closing down criminalisation gaps and ensuring our legislative framework reflects the reality of domestic violence in all its guises is in everyone's interest. It's not a case of doing one thing over another - all of it has to be done. Only then will we truly better protect victims and their children and effectively intervene to save lives.
For more information on the campaign: