Partners of disabled women could avoid domestic abuse prosecution even after ‘coercive control’ is criminalised, a campaign group has claimed.
Coercive control concerns patterns of behaviour which cause mental and emotional harm rather than physical. These can include threats, intimidation, and restrictions of someone’s financial or personal freedom. Currently, such behaviour is not punishable by law in the same way domestic violence is.
However, earlier this month, the government added an amendment to the proposed law which creates a defence against charges of coercive control by people who take care of disabled partners. If they can convincingly argue that the actions they took were both in the best interests of their partners and “in all the circumstances reasonable”, they will not be prosecuted.
Polly Neate, chief executive of domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, said they were “not totally happy with the defence” amendment. She added that while they charity does not oppose the defence altogether, “it can’t be up to a man who is accused of coercive control to determine what is in a woman’s best interest”.
She said that women with disabilities are “more vulnerable to domestic violence than non-disabled people”, and that it is already difficult to identify abusive behaviour in their relationships. While most people would see their partners as caring, she claimed, some may use their disabled partners’ vulnerability “to further their control”.
The new offense of coercive control was included in the Serious Crime Bill following a consultation on the subject. The proposal received very favourable responses: around 85 per cent of those who participated said they would support strengthening the current laws regarding domestic abuse.