On Sunday, many news outlets were reporting that psychological abuse and coercive control were going to be criminalised. Some articles used sensational headlines to grab attention, leading to comments that complained of a "nanny state", arguing that such a law was unenforceable.
Whilst most of the comments I read were positive, some were not. Being one of the people who have been campaigning for the Domestic Violence Law Reform (Sara Charlton Foundation are working in partnership with Women's Aid and Paladin on the campaign) you may think that those negative comments would upset me. Surprisingly, they didn't. In fact, they gave me the opportunity to explain why this potential law change is so desperately needed and how misleading headlines due to a lack of confirmation of anything from the Home Office, miss the point.
Domestic violence is the name we give to a situation where one intimate partner (the perpetrator) controls the other through fear. This control can include 'what to wear' or 'who to see' but as much as it isn't a single incident of physical violence, nor is it a single incident of verbal abuse either. It is a pattern of usually both, designed to create an environment of fear, resulting in that victim believing that they have no choice but to be at the mercy of their perpetrator and as a result are forced to change their daily lives to their detriment. Society often assumes that physical violence IS domestic violence, and it is true that it often plays a role. However, it is only used when the threat of pain is no longer persuasive enough. Once a scar has faded, the memory of that violence lives on, compounding that control and further forcing the victim to stay and be controlled.
The creation of these invisible handcuffs is currently not a criminal offence and victims often have little legal recourse to become a survivor. Currently, unless there are bruises, most people assume that the perpetrator has done nothing wrong. That pattern of abuse, which includes coercive control and psychological abuse, is not a crime. We can all agree that creating an environment of fear using many different tactics is not the same as a bar fight; yet we prosecute them in the same way.
We are always asked, "why doesn't the victim leave?" Often, the fear and control created by their partner is so damaging, they don't see it is as an option. Sometimes, the situation has escalated to the point where they know that leaving might result in them becoming a different statistic, one of those two women who get murdered every week by their partner or ex partner. Most worryingly, as shown by the recent HMIC investigation, they may feel that if they do leave, they cannot be protected. This is unacceptable, we need systems in place where victims know that they can be safeguarded properly and where interventions are possible earlier.
The DV Law Reform campaign are not asking for legislation that controls the way people interact within healthy relationships. We are asking for legislation that not only fills the gaps that currently allow perpetrators to continue abusing but also to accurately depict the true nature of domestic violence within our judicial system. We agree that the Home Office definition is accurate, but if the law does not back it up, it is largely unenforceable.
The police receive one domestic violence related call every minute, yet only 6.5% of domestic violence related crimes are prosecuted. Something has to change. We need legislation that breaks those invisible handcuffs by offering victims the chance to go to the police, say that something is wrong and subsequently give the police and the judiciary, real tools to be able to do something about the violence. Instead of opposing it, we should be proud that our country, should this become a criminal offence, will join other global leaders on tackling violence between intimate partners.