Coercive Behaviour Offences

As of 29th December 2015 new offences have been created to help protect those being subjected to controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships.

With the rise in social media and technology being used as further weapons in the armoury for those seeking control over their “loved ones” many argue the implementation of these new offences is a long time overdue.

However, this new offence can be added to the over 65 other offences designed to protect vulnerable victims of domestic abuse (physical and psychological) in familial settings.

The requirements of the offence are straight forward enough:-

  • That the victim and the alleged perpetrator must be “personally connected” at the time the behaviour takes place
  • That the behaviour must be “repeated and continuous”
  • The behaviour must have a “serious effect” on the victim in that it has either, on at least 2 occasions feared violence will be used against them OR it has had a “substantial adverse effect on victim’s day to day activities”
  • The alleged perpetrator must have known or ought to have known their behaviour would cause the “serious effect” set out above

There are obvious examples of those caught by the new legislation relates to couples in an intimate personal relationship or between family members who are living together.

As with many offences there is a defence available to those accused – namely that they can show on the balance of probabilities that in the particular circumstances the behaviour was “objectively reasonable”.  Understandably perhaps this defence is not available for those whose behaviour has been alleged to have caused fear of violence as it seems illogical that there would ever be circumstances which would make the same “objectively reasonable”

It is clear from the terms that the offence recognises harm caused by repeated or continuous abuse and its cumulative effect  the victim which can sometimes be more injurious and harmful than a single incident of violence.

Moving on to consider the behaviour itself – what is coercive and controlling?  Well perhaps unsurprisingly this is not defined within the act and no doubt in the months to come there will be many examples making their way to the Appeal Courts for further and better clarification of this test.

However, it is evident that controlling behaviour will include acts designed to make a person subordinate 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, resilience and escape or regulating their daily behaviour.

Coercive behaviour relates to acts of assaults, threats, humiliation, intimidation and other acts intended to harm punish or frighten the victim.

In simple terms, the following are common examples of behaviour caught by the Act:-

  • Isolation
  • Monitoring – checking phones, facebook, social media
  • Controlling who they talk to; what they do; where they go; what they wear
  • Putting them down constantly
  • Forcing them to commit criminal acts
  • Threatening to report them
  • Threatening to share intimate photos on social media or with others

If convicted, the perpetrator faces up to 5 years imprisonment and as usual ancillary orders such as a Restraining Order are likely to follow.