Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Cassandra Wiener, Doctoral Researcher and Associate Tutor at the School of Law, Politics & Sociology, University of Sussex (DAB47)

Submitted in support of proposed amendment NC28 to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 currently under consideration by the Public Bill Committee

1. Executive Summary

· I am a lawyer and a researcher, based at the University of Sussex; my expertise is in coercive control (a type of domestic abuse) and the criminal law.

· The current definition of coercive control in section 76(2) of the Serious Crime Act 2015 excludes ex-partners from its remit (if they are no longer living with the victim).

· Coercive control does not end with an abusive relationship.

· Much of the control post separation takes the form of insidious economic abuse and abuse of child contract arrangement which can’t be prosecuted currently because of the restrictive definition in section 76(2).

· Currently, these forms of post separation abuse are outside of the remit of the criminal law.

· The new Statutory Definition of domestic abuse in Part One of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 has an improved definition of domestic abuse which includes ex-partners.

· I support proposed amendment NC28 to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 which replaces the faulty and restrictive definition in section 76(2) with the more appropriate and improved definition in Part One of the Bill.

· This would be legislatively consistent, but more importantly would allow police and prosecutors to take action against perpetrators who cause misery to victims after the abusive relationship has ended.

· Finally, separation from an abusive partner is a well-known homicide trigger – extending the protection of section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 in this way would also allow the police to take early action against dangerous perpetrators. This will save lives.

2. Introduction and personal background/experience in domestic abuse law

2.1. I am a lawyer. I originally trained and practiced as a corporate litigator at Simmons & Simmons LLP in the City before embarking on a second career in academia.

2.2. 2014 – 2020: I am an ESRC funded Doctoral Researcher at the School of Law, Politics & Sociology at the University of Sussex, where I also teach criminal law. In addition, I am a Visiting Lecturer in Sociology at City, University of London where I teach sociology (victimology).

2.3. My doctoral research is on domestic abuse and the criminal law, and I am recognised as a legal expert on the type of domestic abuse that has come to be known as ‘coercive control’. I speak regularly at national and international conferences and have published on the subject of domestic abuse law reform. [1] Outside of the academy, I have advised governments and activists in the UK and around the world on domestic abuse law reform. I am currently working with the Home Office on their review of section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 (which criminalises coercive control) and have been consulted by the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in relation to the proposed domestic abuse legislation in Northern Ireland, and by the Director of Domestic Violence Policy at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office on proposals for domestic abuse law reform in California. My monograph ‘Coercive Control and the Criminal Law’ is being published by Routledge next year.

3. Coercive Control

3.1. Professor Evan Stark published his ground-breaking book ‘Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life’ in 2007, [2] and the decade since then has seen a steady improvement in the public understanding and recognition of coercive control as an insidious form of domestic abuse.

3.2. Survivors of coercive control tell me that it is a particularly devastating form of domestic abuse, whereby they are forced to comply with their abusers’ unreasonable demands while desperately trying to keep themselves and their children safe. Escape is difficult, and dangerous.

3.3. While domestic abuse as a phenomenon is not necessarily gendered (women also abuse men) coercive control is highly gendered. Perpetrators of coercive control are almost always male, and victims are almost always female.

3.4. There is a well-established link between homicide and coercive control: recent research by the University of Gloucestershire shows that coercive control was present in 92% of the domestic homicides they reviewed. [3] Tragically two to three women lose their lives every week at the hands of their partner or ex-partner, [4] and this number is on the increase. Women’s Aid reported at the end of last year (before lockdown) that domestic homicides had surged to a five-year high, referring to homicide as ‘the final, fatal act of control from an abuser, when the perpetrator, far from losing control, exerts the ultimate control over their victim… coercive control is a significant indicator’. [5] Lockdown has made the situation much worse, with 32 suspected domestic homicides (killings of female victims at the hands of their partners or ex-partners) in the 8 week period between March 23 (when lockdown began in the UK) to May 17, which amounts to an 100% increase. [6]

4. Ending an abusive relationship and post separation abuse

4.1. The sad truth about coercive control is that it does not end with the relationship. In fact, it often gets worse. One survivor told me of her experience post-separation: ‘I have never been more controlled by him than I am now’.

4.2. Furthermore, leaving a relationship is very, very dangerous. It is a well-known domestic homicide trigger. [7] Survivors have told me that they know and fear this. One survivor I interviewed who had managed to leave her abusive and controlling partner explained to me how her abusive ex-partner ‘wasn’t violent until the end. And I think that’s quite common in domestic violence? Until the end, when the relationship breaks down, I think that’s the point where it can be incredibly dangerous and that was the case.’

4.3. Because leaving an abusive relationship is dangerous and difficult, it is often protracted. Women tell me that they spend months trying (and sometimes failing) to escape from abusive and controlling partners. In these situations, where victims are tracking back and forth between ‘leaving’ and ‘staying’ they are at their most vulnerable. As US academic Deborah Tuerkheimer has put it, ‘there is typically no moment of breakup; rather, domestic violence victims "leave" relationships multiple times, in different ways, to varying degrees of success’. [8]

4.4. There are currently no national statistics on the types of post-separation abuse experienced by survivors, but the two most common forms I came across in my research interviews were economic abuse and abuse of co-parenting orders. Both of these forms of abuse can devastate the lives of victims and their children.

4.5. Economic abuse takes many forms, but survivors explained to me how their ex-partners had run up bills in their names, refused to co-operate on the sale of property and refused to pay child maintenance costs – in some cases making it difficult for them to feed and clothe their children. One survivor I interviewed explained how the most distressing aspect of her experience of the post-separation coercive control was the way in which it impacted her son: ‘but I’m living with my son, and with an order that is really unworkable – trying to co-parent with a perpetrator and a narcissist actually is really tricky.’

5. Section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015

5.1. In December 2015, the Serious Crime Act 2015 came into force, making ‘controlling or coercive behaviour’ a crime and thereby creating the first bespoke domestic abuse criminal offence in England and Wales.

5.2. My research has focused on the early implementation of section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015. There have been some significant improvements in the way that criminal justice agencies can now tackle domestic abuse (as a result of the new law) while a relationship is ongoing. However, because of the way that the crime of controlling or coercive behaviour is defined, post separation abuse remains outside of the remit of the Act.

5.3. Sub-section (1) of section 76 states that a person commits an offence if he is controlling or coercive and, at the time of the behaviour, he and his victim are ‘personally connected’.

5.4. Sub-section (2) states that two people are ‘personally connected’ if they are in an intimate personal relationship, or, if they live together and have previously been in an intimate personal relationship. This ‘residency requirement’ means that if you have separated from your abusive partner and so are no longer in an abusive relationship with him and you no longer live with him then you are excluded from the protection of section 76.

5.5. When section 76 was being debated in the House of Commons on 20 January 2015, then Attorney General Robert Buckland explained that it was important that the new offence (of controlling or coercive behaviour) ‘does not overlap the existing criminal law’. [9] It was for the this reason – so that the new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour did not overlap with existing law – that the definition of ‘personally connected’ is restricted in the way that it is. Robert Buckland explained that ‘the new offence does not apply to extended family members who have never lived with the victim, because stalking legislation is applicable in those circumstances’. [10]

5.6. In fact, as explained in para 5.4 above, the definition of ‘personally connected’ in sub-section (2) of section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 means that it is not only extended family members who have never lived with the victim who are excluded from its remit. Ex partners who no longer live with the victim are also excluded. And while the former Attorney General is absolutely right to point out that the so-called ‘stalking legislation’ (the Protection From Harassment Act 1998 as amended) does offer some protection to victims who are no longer living with their abusers, unfortunately it does not cover many of aspects of post separation abuse. In particular, it does not cover the abuse of child contact orders and economic abuse that typically forms part of an abusive ex partner’s toolkit and that survivors tell me is devastating.

5.7. This means that women who have successfully left an abusive partner and no longer live with him are not protected by s 76 Serious Crime Act 2015, and that much of the abusive behaviour they are subjected to is not a crime, in circumstances where it would be a crime had they stayed with their abuser. This is confusing and demoralising to survivors of abuse.

5.8. It also has the unfortunate effect of obscuring which piece of law should apply in circumstances where a woman is in the process of leaving an abuser. As explained in paragraph 4.2 above leaving is a difficult and dangerous exercise that can take days, weeks, months, sometimes years. It is when a woman is most in need of protection and support. Creating a legal boundary around the relationship status makes it hard for police to know which crimes are being committed at this unstable time. This is unhelpful, and also confusing and demoralising for survivors of abuse.

5.9. The judiciary are aware of this problem. As one Crown Court Judge said to me: ‘If you have had the strength to leave - we are suddenly not supporting those people? They have got the legislation wrong, haven’t they? They are probably missing about 50 or 60 per cent of the people who need to be protected? Those that manage that to escape but are still being controlled? That has got to be wrong. We have to change the law.’

6. Domestic Abuse Bill 2020

6.1. Part 1 of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 introduces the new Statutory Definition of domestic abuse. There are two points that are important here. Firstly, the definition includes economic abuse at clause 1(4). Secondly, paragraph (2) introduces a new, improved definition of ‘personally connected’. Paragraph 2(1) includes in the definition of ‘personally connected’ two people who ‘are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other’. [11]

6.2. As it stands this would mean that once the Domestic Abuse Act 2020 becomes law, the Statutory Definition of Domestic Abuse in England and Wales would conflict with the definition in the only bespoke piece of criminal law that tackles domestic abuse.

6.3. Proposed amendment NC28 to the Domestic Abuse Bill would substitute the faulty definition of ‘personally connected’ in section 76 Serious Crime Act with the improved definition of ‘personally connected’ set out in section 2 of the Bill .

6.4. This would achieve legislative consistency, but more importantly would bring the post separation abuse experienced by many women within the remit of the criminal law for the first time. It would allow the police to intervene early, and therefore to prevent violence from escalating at an earlier stage.

6.5. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs gave oral evidence at the Public Bill Committee hearing on 4 June 2020. She offered her support of both the new Statutory Definition of domestic abuse and extending section 76 Serious Crime Act to include post separation abuse: I really welcome the inclusion of economic abuse. We are seeing, particularly with covid -it is coming up time and time again each week-people needing support for economic-related, financial abuses, and that is increasing quite substantially. It is a really important time to recognise that. One of the things we need in order to do that better would be to amend our coercion and control legislation to include post-separation abuse. That is incredibly important to consider and do.’ [12]

6.6. One survivor opened her interview with me by explaining that although she had – finally - separated from her abusive partner, the control continued: ‘I am obviously still "in it", but obviously most people are anyway as it doesn’t actually generally go away; that’s the sad thing.’

6.7. We must use this opportunity to replace the faulty definition of ‘personally connected’ in section 76(2) Serious Crime Act 2015. If the control doesn’t ‘go away’ our protection shouldn’t, either.

7. Oral Evidence

7.1. I would be very happy to make myself available to come and give oral evidence before the Public Bill Committee in relation to the above points if this would be helpful.

Cassandra Wiener

8 June 2020

[1] For example, Cassandra Wiener, ‘From Social Construct to Legal Paradigm: the New Offence of Coercive or Controlling Behaviour in England and Wales’ in Marilyn McMahon and Paul McGorrery , (eds) Crim inalising Non-Physical Family Violence: Coercive Control and Autonomy Crimes (Springer International 2020).

[2] Evan Stark, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Open University Press, 2007).

[3] Jane Monckton-Smith, Karolina Szymanska and Sue Haile, ‘Exploring the Relationship between Stalking and Homicide’ (Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 2017) available at accessed 6 June 2020.

[4] For the most recent intimate partner homicide statistics see Office For National Statistics, Domestic Abuse in England and Wales for the Year Ending March 2018, available at

[4] <> accessed 1 September 2019.


[5] Women’s Aid, ‘Domestic Homicides Surge to a Five-Year High’ available at accessed 6 June 2020. Laith Al-Khalaf and Alexandra Topping, ‘Femicide Census for 2018 shows 149 Women Killed, the Highest Number Since Census Began’ The Guardian, 20 February 2020 available at accessed 6 June 2020.

[6] Karen Ingela Smith operates the Femicide Census and these are her latest figures – see Asama Day, ‘Lockdown Trapped Women With Their Abusers. Lifting It Could Kill Them’ Huffpost June 1 2020 available at accessed 6 June 2020.

[7] Monckton-Smith et al, see note iii above.

[8] Deborah Tuerkheimer, ‘Breakups’ [2013] (25) Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 51, 15.

[9] HC Deb, 20 January 2015, Vol 591, Col 172

[10] ibid.

[11] My italics.

[12] HD Public Bill Committee, 4 June 2020 Vol Col 15.


Prepared 11th June 2020