In light of a new domestic abuse law that could see someone get up to five years in prison and a fine, Marilyn Stowe was asked to give her thoughts on the matter, and in particular on proving coercive control. The interview covers what this could mean for those involved ahead of a conference in Bury St Edmunds to raise awareness of coercive control.
BBC Radio Suffolk – Etholle George – 6 October 2015
EG: Etholle George
MJS: Marilyn Stowe
EG: Family lawyer Marilyn Stowe joins us this morning. Marilyn, thanks for your time this morning.
MJS: My pleasure, thank you.
EG: Do you believe that there are intrinsic difficulties in proving coercive control?
MJS: Yes, I suppose after 30 odd years in family law, practicing with both men and women clients and being against both men and women I’ve seen all kinds of allegations of what’s called unreasonable behaviour thrown at the opposite party and it’s very difficult actually to get to the bottom of it. But sometimes you do and sometimes you realise, and I think that this is the most pernicious kind of behaviour that the person who is saying that they are the victim is in fact the perpetrator and in my experience that is very often a woman. It’s a woman who has been left, abandoned as she sees it, for somebody else, she will want to make life as difficult as possible for her husband, she will use children as a weapon and she will make allegations which are very serious allegations against the husband. Very often, the phrase that’s used it ‘control’, “he controlled me”, “he was very controlling” and this new offence which is section 76 of the serious crime act is, in my view, absolutely potential for a weapon to be used against a man, it’s a tough one this.
EG: But, and we’ve met one lady this morning who said she went through years of this and it took her a long, long, long time to even recover, so it seems that some form of legal redress is required in a lot of cases.
MJS: Well obviously it’s very much a he said she said kind of situation. It’s a very, very difficult area and it very often doesn’t have masses of proof. Obviously I suppose if they’re deciding whether or not to bring a prosecution, they will want some sort of corroboration and in order to do it but I find the whole area quite worrying and as I say, in my experience it isn’t always the victim who is the victim. You go to court with these cases and I can remember one particular very serious case when an allegation of sexual abuse was being made against the father and everybody was terribly sympathetic towards the mother, the father had to move out, it was a really awful situation and it turned out that she was the abuser. So I suppose my view is, I’m sort of on the fence about this. I can foresee the difficulties with this particular crime.
EG: We are going to be speaking with the police a little bit later on. I guess that that potentially then, taking on board what you’ve said, could be very hard to police.
MJS: It is. They are having special training about, they are being taught how to recognise signs of this type of behaviour but it’s not unusual. Let me say that in the vast majority of cases people tell the truth, there’s no question about it but every so often you do come up against a determined person who does present as a victim, who sounds plausible, who is very bright, who has got it go it spot on and actually it isn’t the truth and that’s the thing that worries me about this particular thing.
EG: Really, really interesting to speak to you, Marilyn. Thank you for your time this morning
MJS: Thank you.
EG: Marilyn Stowe on her view of the difficulties legally speaking of that burden of proof.
To listen to the show, click here. Marilyn’s interview begins as 01:37.