Coercive and controlling behaviour, what can you do about it?
Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic there has been a global surge in reports of domestic abuse, there has been a marked increase in calls to helplines and evidence suggests that the incidents are becoming more complex and serious. Not only have there been increased reports of physical violence but also of coercive and controlling behaviour. So what is coercive and controlling behaviour, and what can you do if it is happening to you?
Coercive behaviour is defined as a continuing act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used by a person to harm, punish or frighten their victim. Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent on another 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.
Coercive and Controlling behaviour within relationships was criminalised by the Serious Crime Act 2015 and can carry a prison sentence of up to five years for those found guilty of this offence. There were 17,616 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in the year ending March 2019. (ONS, 2019)
In some circumstances though it may not be possible to pursue criminal proceedings, it may be that a criminal conviction would have undesirable financial consequences for the family or the higher burden of proof required in criminal proceedings may not be met. Under criminal law once a relationship has ended and there is no further cohabitation, coercion can no longer take place for the purposes of criminal proceedings. However, within the family court a person no longer needs to be in a relationship or to live with the perpetrator for coercive and controlling behaviour to be considered.
Data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales suggests that around 1.2 million adult women aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2017. However, women are not the only victims of this type of abuse.
As family lawyers we often see allegations of coercive and/or controlling behaviour within divorce and children proceedings. In these cases it may be possible for victims of domestic abuse to seek protection through the family courts.
Victims of domestic abuse can seek the protection of a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order under the Family Law Act 1996.These two types of orders are as follows:
A Non-Molestation Order prohibits contact or activities of behaviour of one party against the other or their children.
This can include, but is not limited to, prohibiting one party from threatening any violence against the other or encouraging another person to do so, prohibiting communication or attempts to communicate with the other party and prohibiting them from entering or attempting to enter their home.
An Occupation Order determines who should live at the property. The Order can exclude one party from the home or from a defined area within the home and also may exclude that party from a defined area surrounding the property.
It is possible for an Occupation Order to require one party to permit another party to enter the property or part of that property.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and would like any advice regarding this, or any other family law issue please contact a member of our specialist Family Law Team.