Domestic Coercive Control and the Law
A consideration of whether UK and Welsh law against coercive control contribute to the empowerment and security of women and children
Will the growing sensitivity to coercive control as framed in recent UK and welsh legislation empower women and children through early intervention, thereby increasing their safety and wellbeing outcomes due to improved offender accountability?
The Serious Crime Act (2015) establishes in law that coercive control in domestic relationships constitutes a criminal offence, with perpetrators being held responsible (Home Office, 2015).
This would appear to be good news. The recent legislation aims to close the lacuna wherein domestic abuse is prevalent but invisible (Ockwell, 2012). The difficulty, however, lies not with legal legitimation of available remedies, but with achieving access to them (Ockwell, 2012). Those who suffer from familial coercive control, even if they have the courage to approach agencies who are able to offer help, face the difficulty of subsequent consequences, which could culminate in the breaking up of the family unit and loss of the family home (Refuge, 2016). In women’s terms this could mean financial as well as emotional stress, whilst in children’s terms it could mean insecurity and the heartbreak of separation from an imperfect but much-loved parent (Quilliam, 2001). These consequences are of such gravity that achieving remediation through the law is something from which many women and children understandably shy away (Miller and Barberet, 1995).
In light of this, it seems that the new law provides power in respect of women and children, but it does not facilitate the exercise of that power and the consequent exposure of perpetrators to legal sanction (O’Donovan, 1993). This barrier between provision and remedy suggests that the answer to the question must, therefore, be a qualified ‘no’: the new law is to be welcomed, but its effect is hampered by the obstacles that stand in the way of its application.
Home Office (2015) Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship, London: Home Office
Miller, S. and Barberet, R. (1995) “A cross-cultural comparison of social reform: the growing pains of the battered women’s movements in Washington, D.C. and Madrid, Spain” in Law & Social Inquiry, 19, pp. 923-966
Ockwell, M. (2012) “Why does so much domestic violence go unreported?” in Law Brief Update [online]
O’Donovan, K. (1993) “Law’s knowledge: the judge, the expert, the battered woman, and her syndrome” in Journal of Law and Society, 18, pp. 427-437
Quilliam, S. (2001) Relate Guide to Staying Together: From Crisis to Deeper Commitment, Vermilion: London
Refuge (2016) Refuge: For Women and Children, Against Domestic Violence [online]