By Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent for The Telegraph
28 Nov 2014
Theresa May expected to unveil plans to put psychological and emotional abuse on a par with domestic violence
A new law on domestic violence, making it illegal for someone to exercise ‘coercive control’ over their partner, will be unveiled by the Government this week.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce new powers allowing the police to prosecute those who are guilty of psychological and emotional abuse.
It means for the first time men who control their partners through threats or by restricting their personal or financial freedom, could face prison in the same way as those who are violent towards them.
Campaigners have long called for a change in the law to put psychological exploitation on a par with physical violence, in the hope it will encourage more victims to come forward and report abuse in the home.
According to the charity, Women’s Aid, only 6.5 per cent of domestic violence incidents reported to the police result in a conviction, while a quarter of cases that are passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) result in no action being taken.
It is thought as many as 1.2 million women experience some kind of domestic abuse in Britain each year.
But many do so silently, having little faith they will be believed or protected if they go to the police.
Those who do find the courage to report an abusive partner often do not do so until there have been at least 30 incidents.
Tragically it can be too late for some as the escalating pattern of abuse and violence sees an estimated two women murdered by a partner or ex-partner every week in Britain.
While the government’s definition of domestic violence recognises the impact of coercive control and threatening behaviour, this has not previously been reflected in law.
Police investigating reports of domestic abuse, are often left frustrated as abusers are not prosecuted due to a lack of clear evidence or gaps in the legislation.
In cases where perpetrators are brought before the courts, they are often only charged with isolated crimes, with years of psychological and emotional abuse not taken into account.
The new law will be introduced as a series of amendments to the Serious Crime Bill, currently going through the House of Lords, and is expected to be on the statute books in the New Year.
Under the terms of the Bill a person convicted of coercive control could face up to 14-years in prison and there will be no statutory time limit for the offences, meaning abuse dating back years can be taken into account.
When similar laws were introduced in the United States it led to a 50 per cent rise in the number of women coming forward to report domestic abuse.
Plaid Cymru MP, Elfyn Llwyd, who introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill on coercive control back in February, said he was delighted the government had recognised the urgent need for a change in the law.
He said: “Following the Home Office's consultation upon the issue it is clear that there is a real and urgent need for this change in the law which will effectively underpin the definition of domestic violence adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which already includes coercive control.
“It is a fact that for every single act of abuse or violence there are usually thirty or more previous occurrences which have not been the subject of any reporting.
“Coercive behaviour can be as insidious and as damaging as physical violence and this must be recognised in law.”
Harry Fletcher, the director of Digital-Trust, who helped worked on details of the Bill said: “Any move to criminalise coercive control without time limits will be a major step forward. It will increase victims’ confidence in the system and lead to more successful prosecutions.”