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'The victim lives in constant fear' - Calls for action over control abuse

By Dominic Robertson | Crime | Published:

A domestic violence campaigner wants more support for victims of “coercive control” after it emerged that only 16 per cent of people arrested for the offence are charged.

Coercive control is a new category of domestic abuse

The figures, which have come from a series of Freedom of Information requests, show that since “coercive control” became an offence 3,937 people have been arrested, with 666 being charged as a result.

For the police force that covers Shropshire 72 people have been arrested for the crime since January 2016, with 10 being charged with the offence.

The term ‘coercive control’ spans a broad range of actions that are intended to intimidate, restrict and control a partner’s behaviour.

They can include restricting access to money, refusing to socialise with family or friends, threatening to release intimate details or pictures, monitoring e-mail and social media accounts and tracking people’s movements through smartphone software.

On December 31, 2015, controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship became a new offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.

Superintendent Richard Long, head of vulnerability and safeguarding at West Mercia Police said it was essential victims feel supported and that the force was carrying out analysis into the threat of domestic abuse and how it responds.

Supt Long said: “Coercive control is domestic abuse and is an extremely serious and complex issue.

“West Mercia Police is currently undertaking in-depth analysis into the threat of domestic abuse and how we are responding to it, including our approach to the arrest of domestic abuse perpetrators.

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“This will be followed in January by an audit looking into how we have managed previous cases.

“From today, all front-line officers and staff will undertake a new mandatory training course on recognising and responding to vulnerability, which includes domestic abuse.

“It is essential that all victims feel supported and protected so that more people are encouraged to come forward to report any incidence of domestic abuse.

“If you feel you are a victim of this kind of controlling or coercive behaviour, or any other kind of domestic abuse, then please come forward and we will do everything we can, with partner agencies, to support you.”

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Emma Pearmaine, head of family law at Ridley & Hall and a long-term campaigner for victims of domestic violence, said the rise in arrests was a positive sign of increased awareness, but more needs to be done to see abusers charged.

She said: “Coercive control describes a complex web of sustained abuse, threats, intimidation and restrictions, where the victim lives in constant fear.

“It is a pattern that usually only ends when the victim finds the courage to seek help and leave, or something far more tragic happens.

“I was pleased to see a rise in the number of people arrested for coercive control, with some forces in particular visibly focusing on the issue. But we also know that gathering enough evidence to meet the demands of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a charge is challenging, and many cases are dropped because of insufficient evidence or because the victim withdraws their support. Overall, only one in six people arrested under the new law are charged with that offence.

“The point where someone approaches the police for help, or when an officer suspects and records that a person might be the victim of coercive control, is absolutely critical.

“Returning home to an abusive partner who is aware that the police have become involved is a truly frightening prospect for the victim. They might find any access to money they had completely removed, and the seriousness of threats to themselves and their loved ones amplified.

“It is vital that victims are wrapped in the blanket of support that enables them to leave the abuser, the very moment they come forward and ask for help. This, however, requires more resources than is currently available.

“In a large proportion of cases, no one is charged because the victim decides not to support further police action. This does not mean that a crime has not been committed, or that the abuse will stop, but most likely that fear has prevailed.

“Unless victims feel safe and able to leave at the point of reporting the abuse, they will remain trapped and at serious risk of harm in a huge proportion of cases. Everyone involved has a responsibility to make it possible to get to and remain in a safe place.”

Ms Pearmaine said that despite “coercive control” being a relatively new offence it has a hugely damaging effect on people’s lives.

She said: “Emotional abuse is every bit as damaging to a person’s life as physical abuse, and it is vital that those who come forward are given every chance to escape the psychological captivity they are living in.

“Being able to spot the sometimes subtle signs that someone is being abused is an acquired skill, and the more officers learn about coercive control, the more lives of women in particular will be saved. This is an area where I know for a fact that the time I spend teaching and raising awareness about domestic violence, equals lives saved.

“Everyone can help combat domestic violence and coercive control. If you experience or hear that a friend, family member or colleague is changing their behaviour because they are concerned about their partner’s reaction, then they are quite possibly suffering from abuse. Talk to them about it, acknowledge their fear and concerns for themselves and their family, and encourage them to seek help either from the police, a specialist charity or a family lawyer who specialises in domestic violence.”

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