Domestic abusers who use “coercive or controlling” behaviours but stop short of physical violence could face a fine and up to five years imprisonment under a new law in England and Wales.
The legislation, which came into force on Tuesday, will prosecute those who repeatedly humiliate, intimidate, or subordinate their partners using psychological and emotional methods.
"This new law looks at a very specific area of a serious pattern of repeated coercive and controlling domestic abuse," Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, told BuzzFeed News.
The law is aimed at dealing with cases where the abuser over a period of time deprives the victim of their freedom and human rights, for example by controlling their finances, monitoring their eating, or limiting access to family and friends.
One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, told BuzzFeed News that after a year of marriage her husband began to be abusive towards her.
"He gradually reduced my self-esteem by making extra work for me, refusing to help and watching me struggle, criticising me and my care of our child," she said.
"If I resisted his behaviour, he would become consumed with rage and he would throw things. Once, he threw a candle in a glass pot and it smashed all over the kitchen.
"As time went on, the attacks became more unpredictable. I would try and leave the house, sometimes late at night, taking the baby from her cot – at which point he would threaten to burn the house down."
She told BuzzFeed News that he would monitor her every move. She became scared of him, especially the way he would present himself differently to other people.
"To others, he was charming and normal and a hero for working so hard for us and being such a good father," she said.
"Things continued to get worse and I temporarily separated from him – although I later felt guilty and went back to him. He was threatening suicide and saying he could not live without me.
"I was always making excuses for him... Increasingly my family were not allowed to come to our house and visit us, and I made the excuse that he was stressed from his job.
"Eventually, after yet another aggressive episode in our local town centre where he stood up close to me, threatening me for wanting to go into a different shop to him, I decided to leave him."
Women's Aid campaigned for this sort of abuse to be criminalised, after "women had complained that authorities would do nothing until they were being physically assaulted", Neate told BuzzFeed News.
The victim may not actually be on the receiving end of physical violence, but they're often under the threat of violence, she said. "Quite often that type of abuse is not recognised – but this new law sends a clear message to victims and perpetrators that, as a society, we don't tolerate any sort of abuse. There's no excuse for it".
Victims are often abused in a whole variety of different ways, but using online tools is becoming more and more common, Neate added.
"Tracking devices and apps are used to monitor their every move, their phones, and their emails. Gradually the victim loses their independence, their confidence, and starts to doubt their own version of the world."
Although Neate welcomed the new law, she said that more needed to be done to ensure victims have the right support and help.
"We need thorough, professional training within the police force so that officers know how to recognise abuse and the effects of it.
There also needs to be more public awareness of coercive and controlling behaviour to avoid victim blaming, she said, as well as training for other professionals, such as social workers, who work with victims.
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Fiona Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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