Today, our legal system is one step closer to being able to hold domestic violence perpetrators accountable for their crimes. It is one step closer to being able to accurately depict the true nature of domestic violence within the courtroom and further protect victims of domestic violence and their children.
The announcement that there will be a domestic abuse offence of coercive and controlling behaviour means that our laws aren't going to fail victims any longer.
Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation in partnership with Women's Aid and Paladin have been campaigning for a law reform of our current legal system. Most people assume that domestic violence is a crime, shockingly, it isn't. Psychological abuse and coercive control are not criminal acts; whilst assault can be psychological, unless it results in a psychiatric harm, it is not a crime. Despite the fact that stalking and harassment are offences, they do not apply to cases where abuse took place within an ongoing relationship. Although single acts of physical violence are criminal offences, they are only a symptom of the abuse, not it's totality. Domestic violence is a culmination of all of the above acts; it is a series of actions that cause the victim to be controlled by the perpetrator through fear, by whatever means necessary. It can include physical violence, but the purpose of the abuse is not to wound their victim, but to control them.
We hear many stories from victims of domestic violence who tell us that after asking for help, authorities have turned them away as there was little that could be done. Instead, victims are forced to flee their homes, stay in refuges or try to protect themselves using civil remedies. It is not the victim's fault that they are being abused; yet as we cannot protect them adequately, they are forced to go into hiding (often with their children). This is wrong; the burden should never be on the victim to stop the abuse by running away, the burden should be on the perpetrator for committing the abuse in the first place.
We hope that this law change will not only reflect the reality of domestic violence within our legal system but also raise awareness of the issue. The HMIC report into the police response to domestic violence revealed that some police forces don't treat domestic violence seriously and many police officers have little understanding of coercive control. This change in law, coupled with the necessary training, will hopefully create a culture change, where victims, upon reporting domestic violence, are believed and subsequently protected.
Any criminal offence has two elements, action and intent. These gaps in the law meant that we did not accurately depict the action, nor correctly identify the intent of domestic abusers and as a result we failed their victims. This lack of legal recognition left many victims vulnerable at the hands of their abusers, missing the true nature of the abuse and enforcing the view that unless there are bruises, a crime hasn't been committed. We welcome this change, and we thank the Home Secretary for her commitment to protecting victims of domestic violence and their children.
Today's announcement is much needed in order to protect those living, and dying, in fear.