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'Coercive Control' to be criminalised?

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An amendment to the Serious Crime Bill has been drafted which would, if incorporated, add ‘coercive control’ to the definition of domestic violence.

The Serious Crime Bill, will, if passed, treat Domestic Violence as a serious crime. In the context of a continuing failure of victims to report domestic abuse, and low conviction rates, this has been welcomed by many campaigners.

The amendment to the bill, co-ordinated by Harry Fletcher of the Digital Trust charity, and Elfyn Llwyd MP, suggests that an individual who engages in a course of conduct amounting to ‘coercive control’ could, on conviction on enticement, face up to 14 years imprisonment.

So what is ‘coercive control’? The bill defines 'coercive controlling behaviour” as  a ‘course of conduct, knowingly undertaken, making a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.’

'Coercive or threatening behaviour' is defined 'a course of conduct that knowingly causes the victim or their child or children to (a) fear that physical violence will be used against them or (b) experience serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day to day activities’

But some say that the proposed amendment is unhelpful, and what is really needed is proper implementation of the existing law relating to domestic violence, and a need to empower victims in speaking out against abuse.

Julie Bindel, co founder of Justice for Women, has said in a recent article for the Guardian “(m)any women experiencing this type of abuse will not know what coercive control actually means in law. Not because they are stupid, but for the simple reason that most behaviours defined as such are so commonplace in unequal heterosexual relationships that women have been told to put up with it, and that they are usually to blame…In reality, it would be almost impossible to prove coercive control in a court of law, which means that only the most extreme cases will be acted upon.”

The amendment to the Bill will be debated in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.