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Divorce law blog

New Domestic Abuse Guidelines for Prosecutors

13/01/2015   By:

There is no specific statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse: it is a general term describing a range of controlling and coercive behaviours, used by one person to maintain control over another with whom they have, or have had, an intimate or family relationship.

It is a sad fact that domestic violence and abuse is a significant cause of family breakdown but also that some people may feel trapped in relationships with a violent or abusive partner and do not feel they can safely separate.

Physical violence clearly falls within the definition of domestic abuse and in most cases the victim will be in no doubt that it has occurred or is continuing. However, many people will be subjected to behaviour from their partner throughout the course of a relationship without appreciating that it actually amounts to abuse, leaving them unaware that there are steps that can be taken to protect them.

For this reason, the CPS has broadened its definition of domestic violence and abuse. It is defined as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”

Encompassing but not limited to the following categories of abuse:
1. psychological
2. physical
3. sexual
4. financial
5. emotional

“Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependant 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 behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim”

Family members are defined as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister and grandparents whether directly related, in-laws or step-family. However, this is not an exhaustive list and may also be extended to uncles, aunts and cousins etc.

The CPS guidance later gives a series of examples to illustrate the varied and sometimes subtle ways that this abuse can happen. Significantly in terms of divorce proceedings and other family disputes the examples include the following:

“Some women may use children within the relationship to manipulate a male victim, by for example threatening to take away contact rights.”

While this sort of coercive behaviour is undoubtedly deployed by both mothers and fathers in particularly difficult circumstances (and whichever way round could fall within the definition of abuse), it is interesting to consider the prospect of threats concerning contact with children amounting to domestic violence and abuse and therefore pursuable and potentially punishable under the criminal law.

Statistics show that the vast majority of domestic violence and abuse victims are women but the recent CPS guidance stresses the importance of challenging stereotypes and not making assumptions about, for example, the gender of victims/perpetrators. This broadening of the definition of violence and abuse reflects this.

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