The number of people being arrested and charged for a much more hidden type of domestic abuse is rising in the Thames Valley.
It’s called coercive control.
It’s all about abuse which might be isolating victims from friends and family, monitoring their time, taking control of who they can see, what they can wear, what they spend their cash on.
In the Thames Valley, there were 51 people arrested for coercive behaviour in the first six months of the year and 11 were charged.
That’s a rise from the same period last year (33 arrests, 2 charged).
Under Freedom of Information, law firm Ridley & Hall asked all Police forces in England to reveal how many people were arrested, and how many people were charged under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 for Controlling or Coercive Behaviour during the first 18 months of the new law.
Figures from 35 Police forces found that, in the first six months of the new law, 798 people were arrested and 130 were charged.
The following year, that number had more than doubled to 1709 arrests and 287 people charged between 1 January and 30 June 2017.
In the 18 months from 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2017, a total of 3937 arrests were made but only 666 (16.9%) were charged (this includes figures from Hertfordshire Constabulary which provided figures as a total for the full 18 months).
Emma Pearmaine is Head of Family Law at Ridley & Hall and a long-term campaigner for victims of domestic violence.
She says the rise in arrests is a positive sign of increased awareness, but more needs to be done to see abusers charged.
“Coercive control describes a complex web of sustained abuse, threats, intimidation and restrictions, where the victim lives in constant fear. It is a pattern that usually only ends when the victim finds the courage to seek help and leave, or something far more tragic happens.
“I was pleased to see a rise in the number of people arrested for coercive control, with some forces in particular visibly focusing on the issue. But we also know that gathering enough evidence to meet the demands of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a charge is challenging, and many cases are dropped because of insufficient evidence or because the victim withdraws their support.
“Overall, only one in six people arrested under the new law are charged with that offence.
“The point where someone approaches the Police for help, or when an officer suspects and records that a person might be the victim of coercive control, is absolutely critical.
“Returning home to an abusive partner who is aware that the Police has become involved is a truly frightening prospect for the victim.
“They might find any access to money they had completely removed, and the seriousness of threats to themselves and their loved ones amplified. It is vital that victims are wrapped in the blanket of support that enables them to leave the abuser, the very moment they come forward and ask for help. This, however, requires more resources than is currently available.
“In a large proportion of cases, no one is charged because the victim decides not to support further Police action. This does not mean that a crime has not been committed, or that the abuse will stop, but most likely that fear has prevailed.
“Unless victims feel safe and able to leave at the point of reporting the abuse, they will remain trapped and at serious risk of harm in a huge proportion of cases. Everyone involved has a responsibility to make it possible to get to and remain in a safe place.”
Emma is also Chair of the Corporate Alliance – a membership charity working with employers to lessen the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.
She has previously provided training to Police forces around coercive control – something she continues to offer.
“Emotional abuse is every bit as damaging to a person’s life as physical abuse, and it is vital that those who come forward are given every chance to escape the psychological captivity they are living in.
“Being able to spot the sometimes subtle signs that someone is being abuse is an acquired skill, and the more officers learn about coercive control, the more lives of women in particular will be saved. This is an area where I know for a fact that the time I spend teaching and raising awareness about domestic violence, equals lives saved.
“Everyone can help combat domestic violence and coercive control. If you experience or hear that a friend, family member or colleague is changing their behaviour because they are concerned about their partner’s reaction, then they are quite possibly suffering from abuse. Talk to them about it, acknowledge their fear and concerns for themselves and their family, and encourage them to seek help either from the Police, a specialist charity or a family lawyer who specialises in domestic violence.”