Couples, Control and Kids
Published on 29 April, 2019 | Laura Guillon
Over the course of my career as a family lawyer, one of the things which I’ve become aware of is the difference between the perception of the kind of work which myself and my colleagues at Hall Brown Family Law deal with and the reality.
For instance, many individuals whose only experience of divorce is from the pages of our national newspapers are generally surprised to learn that the vast majority of divorces are resolved quite amicably.
Nevertheless, whilst most spouses are capable of ending marriages without rancour, some domestic relationships involve considerably more friction.
I’ve recently been talking to Gabriella Swerling, the Daily Telegraph’s Social Affairs and Religious Correspondent, regarding new research about the incidence of coercion and control (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/03/09/men-becoming-increasing-victims-coercive-control-legal-experts/).
The study found that 53 per cent of the men who took part had experienced bullying or controlling behaviour at the hands of their partner – exactly the same percentage of women who reported falling victim to the same abusive conduct.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that such issues have been analysed.
In November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data showing that some two million people in England and Wales aged between 16 and 59 experienced some form of domestic abuse in the 12 months to March last year (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018), roughly two-thirds of whom were men.
Some commentators have suggested that the official figures tracked by the ONS may only be the tip of the iceberg and that the frequency of abuse noted by the Telegraph may well be more accurate.
Coercive behaviour is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service as “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”.
Even allowing for the fact that it became a specific criminal offence in December 2015, coercive control certainly remains a feature in cases which we handle, although it is true that many people find it difficult to admit that they have been subjected to it and even harder to bring to the attention of lawyers or the authorities.
Much of the control which I’ve been made aware of is financial (eg, keeping check on how money is being spent) and, as the statistics seem to show, is more used by men towards women than the other way ’round.
However, as the ONS and the new research has indicated, men are quite often on the receiving end too.
As I have explained to the Telegraph, the women responsible sometimes engage in spying on who their partners are speaking to or socialising with but more often use fathers’ concerns about continued access to their children as a means of applying pressure.
Official research has noted how this can form a pattern of repeated behaviour rather than be a single, unfortunate episode.
The situation need not be entirely bleak, though.
Just as there can be lasting consequences for the victims, those found guilty of coercion are also being penalised.
The 9,053 offences of coercion and control recorded by police forces across England and Wales in the 12 months to the end of March last year resulted in 235 convictions, as a result of which 223 people were sentenced.
Three per cent of those individuals were women, something which might hopefully reassure more men who find themselves in abusive relationships in the future that their plight will be taken seriously.