Shocking low prosecution rate for new domestic abuse crime

Coercive control hit headlines last year when The Archers brought it to the fore in the Helen and Rob domestic abuse storyline.

The new crime is perhaps an all-too-common story, where victims suffer persistent abuse, often unrecognised as it leaves no physical mark.

Perhaps that is why the number of people charged with the offence in Cambridgeshire is significantly lower than the number of arrests made.

Since coercive control became a crime in January 2016 Cambridgeshire police have arrested 101 people for the crime – but only 13 people had been charged by June 2017

‘Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ became a new offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act.

Law firm Ridley and Hall found through Freedom of Information requests that in the 18 months since it became an offence 3,937 people were arrested nationally but just 666 were charged.

What is coercive and controlling behaviour?

In 2015 The Home Office Statutory Guidance issued a guidance framework which helps us to understand what constitutes coercive controlling behaviour. It includes but is not limited to;

  • Isolating a person from friends or family
  • Depriving them of their basic needs
  • Monitoring their time and their online communication tools or using spyware
  • taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
  • repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
  • enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
  • forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
  • financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • threatening behaviour
  • threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).

Why are charges so low compared to arrests?

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire police said: “The offence is very difficult to prove and very often comes down to one word against another with no corroborating evidence.

“Alternative offences may be charged such as harassment, stalking, assault.

“With it being new, [the Crown Prosecution Service] initially had a high threshold for charge however this has improved as the offence becomes more understood.”

What are specific difficulties when investigating this crime?

“As stated above the main issue is that the evidence is very often one word against another with very little way of corroborating this,” the spokesperson continued.

“Another aspect is that reporting this is a very big step for a victim and they may have concerns as to the effect on their life going forward. This is both from an emotional and financial perspective.

“For this reason victims sometimes initially report the offence but withdraw their support later down the line. In certain circumstances police would still continue with the investigation however with the majority of evidence being from the victim themselves this can prove very difficult.”

Who can victims reach out to for help?

“In terms of victims getting in touch with police there are numerous ways including:


Webchat reporting

Through Womens Aid

Domestic Violence Helpline (through the National Centre for Domestic Violence)

Through the IDVA service

Karma Nirvana

Victim Hub

Schools and colleges