Domestic Abuse: What the new laws regarding psychological abuse mean

Towards the end of 2015 new laws were put in place to protect those who fall victim to psychological or emotional abuse. This newly passed legislation will mean that if found guilty, psychological abusers will face either a large fine, up to five years in jail or both.

Before this change in legislation, there were no specific offences regarding domestic abuse, particularly regarding the criminalisation of controlling or coercive behaviours. Most domestic abuse cases are prosecuted under a number of offences ranging from common assault, to harassment, to threatening behaviour. The only issue is that victims would have to report any abuse within six months of it occurring. With the new legislation, victims now have up to two years to report the crime.

What is classed as ‘controlling and psychologically abusive’ behaviour?

  • Financially abusing the individual
  • Threatening to reveal or publish private information of the individual
  • Isolating the individual from their friends or family
  • Controlling their lives e.g. where they go, what they do, who they can see
  • Regularly putting them down and making them feel worthless
  • Enforcing rules which degrade and dehumanise the individual

When does this offence apply?

When these behaviours are repeated on an ongoing basis and the victim is suffering from them the offence will apply. Each case is considered on an individual basis but generally the courts will look for evidence of behavioural patterns rather than isolated incidents. There is also no set number of incidents of controlling or coercive behaviour that had to have occurred for a case to be proved.

This behaviour must have also had a serious effect on the victim. This ‘serious effect’ refers to the victim either fearing that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions or that they have been caused serious alarm or distress. It must also be calculated behaviour in that the abuser knows or should know that what they are doing will have a serious effect on the victim. Finally, the abuser and victim must have been personally connected during the incidents whether that be in a relationship or are family who live together.