Forcing your partner to wear specific clothes, deciding which friends they cannot see and ‘excessive jealousy’ could all become criminal offences as part of changes to domestic violence legislation it has been suggested this week. The measures coincide with domestic abuse awareness week.
Ministers are considering whether to make forms of ‘psychological abuse’ which do not involve violence into criminal offences. The Home Office’s own definition of domestic violence already includes ‘coercive control’, but until now has been no move towards making them a criminal offence. This coercion can include being excessively jealous, stopping someone from seeing family and friends or controlling what the victim wears.
The moves follow campaigning from women’s groups who say crimes of domestic abuse should include non-violent acts against partners. They say current laws are too focused on specific incidents where someone was physically hurt by their partner and say the law should take account of a ‘course of conduct’ and ‘address a broad range of harm’.
However, many have criticised the criminalisation of non-violent acts suggesting that this gives the police too much power to intervene in individual relationships.
Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think tank, said:
“Lots of couples are going to exchange angry words from time to time but there’s not the least chance of it turning into a fight. For others a raised voice or a fierce glare might be terrifying.”
“It’s very easy for society to slide in to a kind of police state where police can define something as against the law when in reality they are a bit of a barney but not something the police should get involved in.”
“Before you know it you could be in a Police State where a little bit of aggro could lead to the police being involved and someone being carted off to the police station.”
The proposals were published yesterday by the Domestic Violence Law Reform Campaign, which said existing legislation fails to take into account ‘power and control’ in relationships. It is calling on ministers to criminalise ‘coercive control’ and behaviour which causes psychological harm.
Home Office officials confirmed the proposals would be considered as part of a review of how the police currently deal with allegations of domestic abuse.
Crime Prevention Minister, Norman Baker, said:
“The government is committed to working with the police and other criminal justice agencies to ensure the response to domestic violence and abuse offers the best possible protection to victims.
“The Home Secretary has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to conduct a review across all police forces of the response to domestic abuse.
“We will carefully consider the case for any change to the law against the backdrop of HMIC’s findings and recommendations.”