Sunday Express By: James Fielding
Published: Sun, October 19, 2014
FOR SHIREEN JAMIL, her partner's domineering presence was every bit as terrifying as the brutal violence she suffered at his hands.
The ritual humiliation of being screamed and sworn at in front of her children left scars as deep as those caused by the physical abuse.
"What people don't understand is that the psychological control is every bit as frightening and soul-destroying as the actual violence," says the 58-year-old from North London.
"You effectively become a slave to that person, with every shred of dignity torn away so your life is ruled by fear."
Such coercive control in domestic violence cases, through both physical and psychological means, will be made a specific crime later this year. MPs are to vote on the groundbreaking legislation, dubbed "Shireen's Law", which would make the offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Currently most domestic violence cases are covered by common assault, requiring the crime to be reported within six months. The new Bill, which is supported by 92 MPs from all parties, will mirror that of rape and sexual assaults cases. It will have no time limit on reporting and, for the first time, will criminalise a pattern of behaviour.
Shireen was once a model but the mental and physical torture she suffered altered her good looks and left her confidence shattered. "There are thousands of women all over the country who are suffering the abusive relationship I had to endure," she says. "I felt trapped with no way of escaping.
"The first incident came when my partner put his hands around my throat and throttled me for taking my son from a previous relationship to see his father, but that was only the start of it.
"He twice broke my nose, the second time in front of my two children who were aged nine and 18 at the time, and I suffered a brain haemorrhage."
The nerve damage caused unrelenting pain and led to two strokes that will likely shorten her life. But it was the mental abuse that Shireen says really made her life hell.
"I was given £5 a day in 'housekeeping' and at the end of the day I would have to produce a receipt which my partner would check while I stood in front of him. Any perceived waste, like if I bought some new washing powder and we still had a tiny bit left, would see me questioned and humiliated in front of the whole family.
"On the many occasions he insisted I accompany him socially, he would shout at me for wearing make-up and tell me I looked like a clown. Yet if we went, say, to the cinema and I wore a tracksuit, he would scream at me for not dressing up. My confidence was eroded to the point where I stopped accompanying him anywhere and was in bed by 5pm.
"Sometimes I was expected to sleep on the floor, which I did, but in my son's room because of the embarrassment."
Shireen was given a 4pm daily curfew and banned from having dinner with friends.
"I was not allowed to speak at home, especially when my partner was watching television. If I had to speak to my son I would whisper but was still yelled at and told to go to my room if I wished to speak. He once struck me so hard that the left side of my head throbbed in agony and I could only speak with a clenched mouth.
"Yet he would shout at me and say, 'Don't speak to me like the Godfather! If you can't speak properly, be quiet.' I became increasingly agoraphobic after being controlled to within an inch of my life on a daily basis. My voice felt choked in my throat until I stopped speaking altogether and existed in silence."
After enduring a decade of threats and violence Shireen finally summoned the courage to leave in the mid-1990s. However, she only felt strong enough to report the abuse to the police last year.
Her former partner was arrested but failure to obtain her medical records and not reporting the offences within the six-month legal limit meant there could be no prosecution. "I felt let down by the entire system," she says.
"The Government must understand that all victims are different. Some have the courage to come forward immediately to report their abusers while for others it can take weeks, months, years and even decades. They should not be punished because they were not ready to come forward within a six-month period."
The draft Bill for Shireen's Law is being tabled as an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill by Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd.
"Domestic abuse is characterised by a catalogue of incidents, a pattern of behaviour which can include coercive control and emotional blackmail as well as physical violence," he says.
"It was positive that the Association of Chief Police Officers amended its definition of domestic abuse in 2012 to have regard of this fact but it is high time that the criminal law was also amended so that domestic abuse was made a criminal offence in its own right."
Supporting the Bill is Harry Fletcher from Digital Trust, a charity that campaigns against online abuse.
"Shireen's case illustrates the need to criminalise coercive control in domestic abuse relationships," he said.
"She was controlled financially, she was controlled in terms of movement and in terms of who she could associate with. She was controlled with fear of violence as well as actual violence. She was controlled psychologically, which has had long-term damaging effects. Equally, it is essential that there are no time limits on complaints of coercive control because the behaviour occurs over many years. The new laws will be laid before Parliament at the end of the year and have support from all parties."