New UK Law to Help Bullied Victims Takes Effect On January 05, 2016

There is a brand new law which takes effect on Tuesday, January 5th aimed directly at helping those who are being psychologically bullied in their relationships.
The Serious Crime Act 2015, which received royal ascent on March 3rd 2015, creates a brand new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships (Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015). The new offence closes a gaping hole in the suite of previous laws around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour in an ongoing relationship between intimate partners or family members.
The offence will carry a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. There are several things that are important to note about the way in which this offence needs to be proven in order to get to court:

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• This offence is constituted by behaviour on the part of the perpetrator which takes place “repeatedly or continuously”
• The victim and alleged perpetrator must be “personally connected” at the time the behaviour takes place
• The behaviour must have had a “serious effect” on the victim, meaning that it has caused the victim to fear violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, or it has had a “substantial adverse effect on the victims’ day to day activities”
• The alleged perpetrator must have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim, or the behaviour must have been such that he or she “ought to have known” it would have that effect
There are so many important things about this new legislation that I applaud.
Having been in policing for so many years myself, on both sides of the Atlantic, this type of tool to use in order to permanently break a cycle of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate partner and familial relationships is going to be vital. So many victims remain in abusive and coercive relationships because they see no way out- and that becomes their ‘normal’, something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome in many ways.
Looking at the definition within the legislation, that last piece…where the alleged perpetrator “ought to have known” that their behaviour would have an effect….is going to be interesting when you hold it up against the list of types of behaviour that this legislation is designed to deal with. The “ought to know” test is going to essentially be the same as the “reasonable person” test. What a reasonable person in possession of the same information would know.
Of course the real problem is that a ‘reasonable person’ would never even think of engaging in this behaviour in the first place.  The types of behaviour associated with ‘coercion or control’ may or may not constitute a criminal offence in their own right and it will be important to remember that the presence of controlling or coercive behaviour does not mean that no other offence has been committed or cannot be charged.

Coercive behaviours might include:

• isolating a person from their friends and family
• depriving them of their basic needs
• monitoring their time
• monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware
• 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
• depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services
• repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
• enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanize the victim
• 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
• financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance
• threats to hurt or kill
• threats to a child
• threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’
• someone)
• assault
• criminal damage/mischief (such as destruction of household goods)
• rape
• preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

Note that this is not an exhaustive list….but don’t you just love the thoroughness of the concerns that the UK Government want to address with this legislation?

The arrival of the new legislation is being widely broadcast in the UK at the moment:  Check out some of the stories

  1. Newscast #1
  2. Newscast #2
  3. Newscast #3

As with any new piece of legislation, it will require individual cases to work their way through to Court before ultimately being interpreted, but reading through the legislation as it is written, it certainly looks like help is on the way for hundreds and probably thousands of people trapped in intimate partner or familial relationships by controlling and coercive behaviour.

A great start to 2016.