More on the UK Law Criminalizing "Coercive, Controlling" Behavior

We highlighted the 2015 UK law criminalizing "coercive, controlling" behavior last week. Thankfully, because legal documents pertaining to the law are all in English (as opposed to the law in France), we have been able to access some of the information that's been utilized to assist victims, direct service providers, police officers, hospital staff and legal professionals navigate cases where coercive control may be utilized by an abuser.

We have found the legal guidance, as well as the guidelines for police investigation, to have very useful and practical information as to how the coercive control pattern is translated into tangible pieces to use as evidence in an investigation. Additionally, those tangible parts (text messages, bank statements, etc.) may be practices or investigative methods that could be utilized to strengthen current policies and practices in the United States, regardless of the lack of a law that explicitly criminalizes coercive control.

Below are guidelines created by the College of Policing to teach officers how to investigate domestic violence cases with the new law in place, encouraging officers to "focus on identifying a pattern of behaviour across different types of evidence. Much of it will be evidence of the victim and perpetrator’s day to day living and their interaction."

[Note: we have included hyperlinks to those UK gov pages in the titles of the sections below.]

COLLECTING EVIDENCE

Examples of evidence utilized in successful cases include:

-  Records of communication between the victim and perpetrator (emails, phone records, text messages, social media)
-  Audio or visual recordings of interaction between the victim and perpetrator, demonstrating body language and tone (including 999 recordings, which is the UK equivalent of a 911 call in the United States, Closed Circuit TV, Body Worn Video footage)
-  Local inquiries (neighbors, regular deliveries, postal services, window cleaner)
-  Witness testimony (from family and friends, as to observed behavior by both parties and its effect and impact)
-  Diaries kept by the victim and/or children
-  Records of lifestyle and household, including photographic evidence of the scene
-  Evidence of isolation (lack of contact with family and friends, withdrawal from social activities and clubs)
-  Records of interaction with services which show the perpetrator adopting a dominant role (always accompanying the victim to banking or medical appointments)
-  Bank records showing financial control
-  Medical records
-  GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles
-  Care plan, where the perpetrator has caring responsibilities

The guidelines indicate this list is not exhaustive and any evidence which shows a pattern of control or coercion is relevant and to be recorded.

See Home Office (2015) Statutory Guidance Framework and Crown Prosecution Service (2015) Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship for further information.

CONDUCTING THE VICTIM INTERVIEW

When interviewing victims, investigators are instructed to elicit information on the current event to which they are present, general information about the victim and their families, as well as relationship context, depending on the individual circumstances of each case. Related specifically to the presence of coercive or controlling behavior, investigators are tasked with determining the following:

-  Victim’s view of how they feel the suspect controls their life and, if so, how (this can be difficult to explain and describe to an outsider as the small controlling behaviors on their own can sound trivial)
-  Victim’s views on the rules or expected behaviors set by the suspect in the relationship (what the victim must and must not do)
-  Victim’s account of any threats used to maintain control (to ‘out’ their sexual orientation, medical condition, immigration status, other personal information or criminal activity, or to use intimate photos on social media to cause upset and risk of exclusion or dishonor from wider family members or community)
-  Victim’s account of the use of threats relating to children (to limit child contact, to take the children, or to have them taken away)
-  Whether other persons are involved in planning and/or executing the abuse

Any of this activity that came before the law was enacted (December 29th, 2015) may not be used as evidence, but some forms of it may be able to be used as evidence of “bad character evidence” as explained here.

Hopefully, you found this information helpful. There are several resource available online that provide direction for those wanting to understand how the UK law is being implemented, some of which we have made available on our Take Action page. If you have any resources you'd like to share with us, please feel free to leave any in the comments.

Written by Abigail Hazlett & Chelsea Brass