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  • Arthurs Solicitors

What is domestic abuse?

What is "domestic abuse" includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse. Domestic abuse also includes culturally specific forms of abuse including, but not limited to, forced marriage, honour-based violence, dowry-related abuse and transnational marriage abandonment".

Many people automatically assume that domestic abuse only relates to physical abuse however, this could not be further from the truth. Domestic abuse comes in all various forms which are explored above.

A recent judgement from Justice Hayden in the case of F v M explored the concept of coercive and controlling behaviour and the prominent role it plays within domestic abuse relationships. Mary-Joyce Insaidoo and Elaine Flynn have both explored and superbly illustrated the significant of Justice Hayden’s judgement in F v M when identifying controlling and coercive behaviours.

What is coercive and controlling behaviour?

Coercive and controlling behaviour is defined in the Family Procedure Rules 2010 PD12J:

"coercive behaviour" means an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim;

"controlling behaviour" means an act or pattern of acts designed to make 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;"

Within controlling and coercive relationships, patterns of behaviour are the significant factor to consider when exploring this form of abuse. As, these behaviours

may seem meniscal when looking at them in isolation however, when one divulges further into these behaviours and the patterns that accompany them, the true extent of the abuse is revealed. This is why coercive and controlling abuse can be often to be hard to identify as, the wider context of the behaviour is often not correctly explored.

What are the signs of controlling and coercive behaviour?

In the case of A County Council v LW & Anor [2020] EWCOP 50 Justice Hayden identified several examples of behaviour that can amount to controlling and coercive abuse:

o Isolating a person from their friends and family

o Depriving them of their basic needs

o Monitoring their time

o Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware

o 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

o Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services

o Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless

o Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim

o 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

o Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance

o Control ability to go to school or place of study

o Taking wages, benefits or allowances

o Threats to hurt or kill

o Threats to harm a child

o Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to 'out' someone)

o Threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet

o Assault

o Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)

o Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

o Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University

o Family 'dishonour'

o Reputational damage

o Disclosure of sexual orientation

o Disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent

o Limiting access to family, friends and finances

Section 76, Serious Crime Act 2015 also explore the behaviours that can amount to controlling and coercive behaviour:

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if

(a)A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (B) that is controlling or coercive,

(b)at the time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected,

(c)the behaviour has a serious effect on B, and

(d)A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.

(2)A and B are "personally connected" if

(a)A is in an intimate personal relationship with B, or

(b)A and B live together and—

(i)they are members of the same family, or

(ii)they have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

(3)But A does not commit an offence under this section if at the time of the behaviour in question

(a)A has responsibility for B, for the purposes of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (see section 17 of that Act), and

(b)B is under 16.

(4)A's behaviour has a "serious effect" on B if

(a)it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or

(b)it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on B's usual day-to-day activities.

(5)For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) A "ought to know" that which a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.

(6)For the purposes of subsection (2)(b)(i) A and B are members of the same family if

(a)they are, or have been, married to each other;

(b)they are, or have been, civil partners of each other;

(c)they are relatives;

(d)they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);

(e)they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);

(f)they are both parents of the same child;

(g)they have, or have had, parental responsibility for the same child.

(7)In subsection (6)

"civil partnership agreement" has the meaning given by section 73 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004;

"child" means a person under the age of 18 years;

"parental responsibility" has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989;

"relative" has the meaning given by section 63(1) of the Family Law Act 1996.

(8)In proceedings for an offence under this section it is a defence for A to show that—

(a)in engaging in the behaviour in question, A believed that he or she was acting in B's best interests, and

(b)the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable.

(9)A is to be taken to have shown the facts mentioned in subsection (8) if

(a)sufficient evidence of the facts is adduced to raise an issue with respect to them, and

(b)the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

(10)The defence in subsection (8) is not available to A in relation to behaviour that causes B to fear that violence will be used against B.

(11)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable

(a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;

(b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or a fine, or both."

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