A new criminal offence of domestic abuse could be created under new plans being considered by ministers. Home Secretary Theresa May is currently consulting on creating the new offence in England and Wales. Existing law already covers coercive and controlling behaviour however it does not explicitly apply to behaviour within the context of a relationship.
The Government defines domestic violence as:
“Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.”
Domestic violence is currently considered a priority crime for both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Earlier this year the Home Secretary ordered police chief constables to draft domestic abuse action plans by September of this year.
There are currently a number of non specific domestic violence crimes which already include acts of violence, stalking and harassment, however, none of them refer specifically in their wording to personal relationships.
Ministers are now asking whether a specific crime would end any ambiguity, leaving police with greater powers to intervene. The offence could cover not just acts of violence but incidents of psychological control which cut off victims from friends and family, or deny them money or other means to live freely.
Mrs May said:
“The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.
“We will look at the results of this consultation carefully in order to continue providing the best possible protection and support for victims of domestic abuse.”
Polly Neate of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid welcomed the move and said the consultation was a vital step forward.
“Two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and in our experience of working with survivors, coercive controlling behaviour is at the heart of the most dangerous abuse,” she said.
However, Labour commented that the proposed legislation did not go far enough. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said:
“We’ve called for the law on domestic violence to be strengthened for some time and have pledged new legislation in the first Queen’s speech of a Labour government.
“Theresa May just isn’t doing enough to reverse the backwards slide in action against domestic violence or support for victims on her watch.”