Abusive relationships come in many forms. Most people would probably recognise a violent relationship and may even know a friend or relative who has been the victim of physical violence. However, it may not be quite so easy to recognise an abusive relationship where the abuse is psychological or more discreet.
Paula Bloomfield, Family Law expert at Family Law Group in Nottingham looks at the different sorts of behavior that can make a relationship abusive and explains how a new criminal offence has been introduced to help tackle the problem.
New criminal offence
A new offence was created by the Serious Crime Act 2015 which criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship where the behaviour has a serious effect on the victim.
This offence was created to protect those involved in relationships being subject to control by their partners. Coercive and controlling behavior can be subtle and often those involved in such relationships may not recognise that they are in fact abusive.
Types of coercive and controlling behaviour
Examples of coercive and controlling behaviour include:
- keeping a person from their friends and family;
- depriving them of their basic needs;
- monitoring their time;
- monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
- taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what they can wear and when they can sleep;
- depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
- systematically eroding self-confidence, such as by repeatedly telling them they are worthless;
- enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
- forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity, such as shoplifting and neglect or abuse of children in order to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
- financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
- threats to hurt or kill;
- threats to a child;
- threats to reveal or publish private information, such as threatening to ‘out’ someone;
- criminal damage, such as destruction of household goods;
- rape; and
- preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.
This is not an exhaustive list but is illustrative of the types of behaviour which could be considered controlling or coercive.
For there to have been a criminal offence, the people concerned must be connected to each other. For example, they must be or have been married or in a civil partnership, or they may be related or have agreed to marry, or could be parents or have parental responsibility for a child.
The offence does not apply to actions between people who are simply friends or acquaintances.
Also, for an offence to have been committed, there must have been more than one incident of the type of behaviour identified and it must have had an adverse effect on the victim.
Quite often a pattern of behaviour is repeated over many years and the victim does not realise that what is happening to them is coercive or controlling. If they do recognise it, they may feel that they have no way out of the relationship, particularly if they have been subject to financial control.
What can I do?
Do not suffer in silence because help is available. If you or someone you know is in a controlling or coercive relationship it is important that you let someone know. Abusive behaviour is against the law and the police and the courts have powers to assist, including the power to arrest the perpetrator and control their future movements to prevent the abuse continuing. There are also several charities and voluntary agencies who can help provide emotional and financial support. It is also possible that help towards the costs of legal advice may be available.
It is important that you seek legal advice about your options if you are intending to end a relationship of this nature. A solicitor will be able to guide you through the routes available to you and ensure that you and your children are protected.