Is the law on domestic violence changing? article banner image

Domestic violence is generally a hidden crime – it happens behind closed doors. Sadly it is much more common than most people might think.  The latest statistics reported in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) suggests that 30% of women and 16.3% of men will experience domestic abuse during their lifetimes.

Domestic abuse

In recent years, the government has sought to improve the response to domestic abuse. They put in place the ‘This is Abuse’ campaign to help young people recognise abusive behaviours. They have increased the facilities available to the police through Clare’s Law, and Domestic Violence Protection Orders.

In March 2013 the government continued to seek to expand the definition of domestic abuse to capture non-violent behaviour.   The Home Office has now launched a consultation to look at whether the current law on domestic violence needs to be changed to offer more protection to victims of such crimes.  The consultation will focus on whether there should be a new specific offence which relates to coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships.

To explain these terms in more detail: controlling behaviour is an act designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating and exploiting them; 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 assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

At the core of most abusive relationships is the desire to control, whether by threats or intimidation or through actual physical violence. The effects on the victims is often life changing.

The government is requesting comments from members of the public as to whether they feel the law needs to changed. Surveys by the campaign indicate very strong support for criminalising these behaviours: 98% of women who have experienced domestic violence and 97% of professionals working with domestic violence support such a change.

Whilst the current criminal definition of domestic violence is open to review, the civil courts interpret the term widely: non molestation orders are already available to protect victims of controlling behaviour, and that protection is certainly not limited to the victims of actual violence. If you or a family member would like to be able to discuss these difficult issues with one of our experienced family lawyers, please do contact us.

Hayley Symes is a legal executive in the family law team in Truro and can be contacted on 01872 265100 or by email to