Domestic Violence- Widening the Definition to include control

The Home Office recently announced a(nother) consultation – this one on the definition of domestic violence. They are proposing two changes:
1. That it be extended to include young people aged 16 and 17
2. That it include control in addition to other forms of abuse.

Well, just to show what a bad judge I am of what will make news, I thought the media focus would be on the reduction in the age range. WRONG. The whole focus was on the ‘control’ point which was quickly translated into ’emotional’ abuse. I had four chances to clarify this on the radio and TV but for those of you who missed it…here is another attempt.

Control matters in my opinion because it is linked to risk – risk of homicide and serious harm. Some of the most tragic deaths have occurred where there has been no physical violence, no calls to the police, but extreme levels of control. And in these cases the control will frequently involve threats – of loss of children, of murder or some other extreme event. To reiterate what I was told by a colleague in the early days of CAADA, “we are not talking about bad relationships- but about people living in fear.”. In a recent article in the Mail Online Erin Pizzey said that domestic abuse could be defined as people living in fear of their lives. She obviously knows about 100 times more about this than I do, but I would suggest that living in fear is the distinguishing feature of an abusive relationship.

Control is also crucial to recognise in the Family Courts. Research shows the impact of an abusive relationship on a child’s brain (see earlier post) and it plays a particularly important element in contact, residency and divorce arrangements.

Of course control is just one risk factor-but one which is frequently missed. I hope that if this change is adopted it will lead to wider recognition not just by professionals but also by friends, family, colleagues of one of the most pernicious forms of domestic abuse – those people who might see early the danger that someone is in and give them the encouragement to get help.

3 Comments to “Domestic Violence- Widening the Definition to include control”

  1. Whilst I agree fully that control is the key factor in any form of abuse- I do feel we are creating a real problem if we created a criminal offence. For one thing, proving “beyond all reasonable doubt” that someone is obsessive or controlling is going to be very difficult to prove. Control is something I look for as an indicator but looking to prosecute for alleged “controlling abuse” is going to open the door to every abuser to turn the tables on their victims disclosing what really goes on. I’ve worked as a police officer in a DAIU for 7 years and one of the constant claims from perpetrators is that they are victims. They will often try to claim they were reduced to violence because of “nagging” or justify their abuse by claiming that the victim was a “control freak” amongst many other things. Whilst I may well see these claims for what they are, if it becomes a criminal offence- we may well have to take ridiculous counter allegations and investigate them. This dilutes the real abuse and masks the problems and will create an extra hurdle to those of us trying to offer assistance through the criminal justice system.

    • I take your point, but we have other examples where behaviours enter a ‘grey’ area such as in harassment. As you know, the Protection from Harassment Act talks about a reasonable person judging the behaviour to put someone in fear. Perhaps a similar approach could be used in relation to control?

  2. Interesting Consultation: A couple of points I would like to make maybe it is time to look at two definitions of DVA one for a Young person and another for 18 plus.As an ex Domestic Abuse Officer now working with young people who have experienced/traumatised by DVA. I have seen the age of victims lower and lower over this decade. I would like to see one defintion include 14 – 18, then we can have strategies and inteventions specific for the late teens in an attempt to break this cycle of abuse. The current ACPO/Home Office works well for adults but now should include control and extended family (HBV).
    With regards to the use of Control, anyone who works in this field understands that Control is a major tool used by perpertrators on partners, their families,friends. A good investigation with the right Interviewer will show evidence of control however at present these are very rare and when there is that evidence it is not considered by CPS and the Courts. It is good to have these consultations but it is clear that Police Forces around the country have cut back their resources on adult DV but improved on resourcing Child protection/DV. Most Forces I feel see that a lot of the DV work should be done by outside agencies and not investigated/Supported by the Police as they have done in the past. It is perhaps time to consider where we go from here. there appears to be a lot of mixed messages coming from Goverment/Policing Strategy/Budgets etc.

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