New domestic abuse law needs to highlight controlling partners

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May 29, 2018
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Natalie Lewis-Hoyle died after being in a coercive relationship

House of Commons/PA

Charities that support victims of domestic abuse have called for better training to help medical and legal professionals and the police to identify signs of psychological abuse known as “gaslighting” (Greg Hurst writes).

Theresa May has said that she is ready to strengthen the law to prosecute more people who abuse their partners through controlling behaviour that leads victims to doubt themselves.

This form of abuse was highlighted when Helen Archer, one of the characters in the BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers, was manipulated and undermined by her husband, Rob.

The prime minister created a domestic abuse offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in 2015 when she was home secretary. It has a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and has led to 300 prosecutions.

May told MPs that she was ready to strengthen this as part of a new consultation on domestic abuse law, after being told that Natalie Lewis-Hoyle, 28, who was found dead in December and was the daughter of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, deputy speaker of the House of Commons, had been in a coercive relationship.

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, urged the government to concentrate on raising awareness of gaslighting as a form of psychological domestic abuse.

“We need more awareness of existing law and a real understanding among professionals of the dynamics of domestic abuse, what is going on behind closed doors, and an understanding that professionals can fall victim to the manipulation of the perpetrator,” she said.

“A clever, charming, manipulative perpetrator may pull the wool over the eyes of the police officer or the judge in the family court.”

The term gaslighting is drawn from the 1944 American film Gaslight, which starred Ingrid Bergman as a woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is going mad.

A charity for men who suffer domestic violence and abuse said that any further changes must not focus solely on women victims. Mark Brooks, chairman of ManKind Initiative, said: “The most common form of domestic abuse men suffer from is psychological and emotional abuse.

“It is vital therefore that any new legislation and statutory guidance both reflects and recognises that it happens to both women and men.”

Last month Jordan Worth, 22, was jailed for seven and a half years for coercive behaviour and grievous bodily harm against her boyfriend, Alex Skeel, also 22, from Stewartby in Bedfordshire.

She isolated him from his family, broke his mobile phones, told him what to wear and falsely claimed that his grandfather had died, as well as beating and starving him.

It was the first case in which a woman was convicted of coercive behaviour.

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