Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Carla James, MSc Psychology and Aetiology of Coercive Control (DAB53)

Call for Written Evidence: Domestic Abuse Bill 2019/2020

Public Bill Committee - Scrutiny Unit

House of Commons



Re: Philip Davies proposal. Clause 1, line 2, page 4, at the end insert -

4A) ‘‘Psychological, emotional or other abuse’ also includes but is not limited to -

a) Parental alienation, or

b) False allegations of domestic abuse by A against B, or

c) Deliberately preventing B having contact with their child or children for no good reason.’’

Members explanatory statement

This amendment gives specific examples of domestic abuse - parental alienation, false allegations of domestic abuse and the prevention of contact with a parent for no good reason.


Evidence for opposing this clause.

See Reference List for academic research papers supporting this opposition.

Domestic abuse, and in particular, coercive control is something that many purport to understand, but do not understand adequately as it is a complex issue which is reflected in the generally low conviction rates for this crime. An often overlooked yet significant issue is that domestic abuse and coercive control are significantly gendered with men generally perpetrating this form of terrorising someone in their own home far more than women do. It is often argued that the reason that we do not see more women psychologically brutalising men in their own homes is due to ‘under reporting’ by men due to social factors such as not wanting to be viewed as ‘weak.’ However, I would strongly counter that argument by stating that domestic abuse has always been largely gendered (male perpetrator to female victim, or generally more male perpetration even in same sex relationships in contemporary times) and it is worldwide as was sadly evidenced during the murders of women that took place during the first weeks of lockdown during the pandemic on a global scale. I assert that women are ‘under reporting’ too yet the domestic homicide rate and domestic abuse statistics are still highly gendered.

The word ‘terrorising’ is not used lightly as there is evidence and it is widely accepted among domestic abuse workers (of which I am one) that Biderman’s Model of Coercion (1957) was originally devised to explain how tactics were used to ‘break the spirit of or brainwash Prisoners of War’ can be equally applied to all forms of coercion. The methods that Biderman (1957) identified were; isolation (to remove all social support from the victim and make him/her dependent on the captor), monopolisation of perception (restriction of freedom), induced debilitation / exhaustion (overwork sleep deprivation or food / medical treatment restriction), threats (vague or direct, which, in the case of domestic abuse may include threats to make allegations of parental alienation against a PROTECTIVE parent), occasional indulgences (variable ratio reinforcement in the form of kindness), demonstrating omnipotence and omniscience (to make the victim feel resistance is futile), degradation (humiliation and denial of privacy to dehumanise the person) and enforcing trivial demands (to keep the victim in a high state of alert as the demands constantly change).

Bishop & Bettinson (2017) outlined that the Crown Prosecution Service suggested that victims gather evidence of coercive and controlling behaviour in the form of diaries, texts, emails and testimonies from witnesses (including the observed decline in the victim’s normal levels of functioning to indicate ‘’serious harm’’), but that even when this evidence was available, the Crown Prosecution Service did not always consider it sufficient and so cases did not proceed to trial. Clearly, the challenges faced by victims, first responders and prosecutors themselves are reflected in the data from the Office of National Statistics (2018). Domestic abuse of women almost always includes rape too, yet only 1.9% of all rape cases are prosecuted (Home Office, 2019). The need to believe victims of domestic abuse (and they are mainly women) is a burning issue in society. If we are to secure convictions for this crime, which has devastating impacts on the victims and hold perpetrators accountable, we must have a better understanding of what constitutes coercive control in the first place as the subtleties and insidious nature of it appears to be more than calculable from a tick list of what currently is deemed to constitute it. Nonetheless, the inclusion of ‘parental alienation’ as a form of psychological abuse, while seemingly noble, is fundamentally flawed and will lead to the criminalisation of (mostly) women who are protecting their children from an abusive father. With startlingly increasing numbers, the (civil) Family Courts are removing children from a protective mother, ordering contact with the man who abused her, telling her to ‘resolve differences in the interest of promoting contact’ (even in cases where the same judge has granted a non-molestation order weeks’ earlier to the same woman in respect of her ex partner and/or he has been convicted in criminal court of domestic violence and sexual offences, a conviction being a rarity among the survivor community in general) or even awarding full custody to the man who abused her as she was not believed in court and/or he claimed she was alienating him and/or the Judges don’t understand domestic abuse. The presumption of contact in civil court is dangerous for women and children. Morrison (2015) found that domestic abusers often use child contact to continue their abuse of the children’s mother. Psychologically, one of the main features of a perpetrator (even in the light of his previous history) is that he will morph into the victim with such compelling and convincing conviction as to be able to deceive anyone; even the courts whether criminal or civil. Pathological charm is a marker of them. Craven (2008) in her book Living with The Dominator, has a section about the tactics of the abusive man, and I would urge all persons who are in the judiciary or other professional fields where domestic abuse is prevalent, to read this short book. The abusive man (and it is of note to reflect on the statistics again relating to the gendered nature of domestic abuse as aforementioned) will use the narrative of ‘she’s a manipulative woman who is stopping a loving father from seeing his children’. What is disturbing is that he is believed even in the light of significant prior evidence of his abuse of their mother. As a slight digression, when a mother is a victim, even in the post-separation period, so are the children in their own right, yet if the children are under 16 they or the parents are living apart, they have no recourse in criminal law under S.76 of the Serious Crime Act, 2015. Protracted legal proceedings are a form of financial abuse that the law currently does not recognise at all as a result of the ‘due process’ each person has a right to in this country. Nonetheless, that experience is one that is very real for many survivors, often spanning decades and costing them significant sums of money as well as their peaceful enjoyment of life and that of their children. It is the perfect way to continue abuse in silence and never be questioned about it. If Philip Davies’ proposal goes through, this will put predominantly women at risk and increase the chances of the children being sent to live with the perpetrator. This cannot be emphasised enough.

Barlow & Walklate (2018) in their paper ‘Policing Intimate Partner Violence; the Golden Thread of Discretion’, found that 87% of crimes that could be recorded as coercive and controlling behaviour were not recorded as such by the police. The majority of coercive and controlling behaviour and domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women according to the available data from global statisticians. It is essential to train police first responders to detect domestic abuse, but also for those making statutes to understand it too. Philip Davies does not understand this issue and his proposals are as much evidence of that that is required.

In line with the evidence surrounding the background of coercive control, (Stark, 2007; Kelly & Westmarland, 2016), the data demonstrating a highly significant number of women experiencing it disproportionately (Office of National Statistics, 2018; Stark 2007; Dobash & Dobash, 1979), the problems inherent in measuring it (Bishop & Bettinson, 2017) the potential for 1.) a victim to not be believed (few victims make up allegations), and 2., to be accused of parental alienation when she is safeguarding the child/ren to be exploited by an abuser is massive if this clause is included.

Robinson, Myhill & Wire (2018) conducted a large scale study using the title ‘Practitioner (mis) understandings of coercive control in England and Wales.’ Their study involved two different mixed methodologies (both qualitative and quantitative) across various participants including, first responder police officers as practitioners making assessments of coercive control from both victims and perpetrators, probation officers and victim advocates. Domestic abuse has one of the highest re-victimisation rates of all crimes according to Hester (2013. 83% within a six-year time frame.) Ongoing post-separation abuse is just one aspect of that. To allege parental alienation and have a person criminalised, possibly imprisoned and their children removed is the ultimate act of vengeance for an abusive ex. This clause hands it to him on a plate as his right. Jeffries (2016) exemplifies women’s experience of continued abuse through the civil courts and the injustices that are perpetuated there. Let us not bring similar injustices to already violated women into the criminal courts.

A victim will often have every aspect of their life closely monitored (Pitman, 2017) and controlled by a perpetrator in order to isolate, subjugate and sexually control them. 86% of ‘revenge porn’ incidents online (Office of National Statistics, 2018) were deemed to be relating to domestic abuse. Other forms of digital coercion, harassment, stalking and spying on victims also are common according to the same data from the Office of National Statistics (2018); 85% of victims experienced abuse from a partner or former partner online, 29% had experienced the use of spyware, 50% had received threats online to them or someone they knew and one third of those threats were carried out.

That the vast majority of coercive control and domestic abuse is male to female perpetrated based on the available statistics (Office of National Statistics, 2018), it may mean that even in the presence of police of whom only 30% are women (Police Workforce England and Wales, 2019), a victim may be inadvertently being subjected to engendered beliefs that support male privilege to her disadvantage. Taylor (2020, p. 22) states ‘’Men make up 75% of High Court Judges and 61% of Lower Court Judges (The Guardian, 2019). 67% of UK MPs are men. 87% of police and crime commissioners are men (Home Office, 2016).’’ Philip Davies’ clause that I wholeheartedly oppose is perfect to enable this in line with these statistics too.


Barlow, C., & Walklate, S. (2018). Policing intimate partner violence: The ‘Golden Thread’ of Discretion. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, pay001, 8(2), 222-228. doi: 10.1093/police/pay001

Bishop, C., & Bettinson, V. (2017). Evidencing domestic violence*, including behaviour that falls under the new offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour’. International Journal of Evidence and Proof, 22(1), 3-29. doi: 10.1177/1365712717725535

Craven, P. (2008). Living with the dominator. A book about the freedom programme. Knighton: Freedom Publishing.

Dobash, R., E., & Dobash, R. (1979). Violence against wives. New York: The Free Press.

Hester, M. (2013). Who does what to whom? Gender and domestic violence perpetrators in English police records. European Journal of Criminology, 10(5). doi: 10.1177/1477370813479078

HMCPSI (2019). Rape Inspection. Retrieved from

Home Office. (2019). Police workforce, England and Wales, 31 March 2019, 2nd edition. Retrieved from

Jeffries, S. (2016). In the Best Interests of the Abuser: Coercive Control, Child Custody Proceedings and the ‘’Expert’’ Assessments that Guide Judicial Proceedings. Laws, 5(1).

Ministry of Justice. (2015). Serious Crime Act. UK General Public Acts. c.9. Part 5. Domestic Abuse. Section 76. Retrieved from

Morrison, F. (2015). ‘All over now?’ The Ongoing Relational Consequences of Domestic Abuse Through Children’s Contact Arrangements. Child Abuse Review, 25, 274-284

Office of National Statistics. (2018). Crime Survey for England and Wales . Retrieved from

Pitman, L. (2017). Living with coercive control: Trapped within a complex web of double standards, double binds and boundary violations. The British Journal of Social Work, 47(1), 143-161. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcw002

Robinson, A. L., Myhill, A., & Wire, J. (2018). Practitioner (mis)understandings of coercive control in England and Wales. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 18 (1), 29-49.

Stark, E., & Hester, M. (2019). Coercive Control: Update and Review. Violence Against Women, 25(1), 81-104.

Taylor, J. (2020). Why Women Are Blamed For Everything. England: Victim Focus

CV of Writer

Carla James

Winner of the British Psychological Society Prize 1995

BSc Psychology (Hons) First Class

MSc Psychology and Aetiology of Coercive Control (graduating 2020)

Freedom Programme Facilitator

Survivor of Domestic Abuse and Campaigner for Reform

Victim of the Crown Prosecution Service ‘Hidden’ Rape Conviction Rate Targets (2019)

June 2020


Prepared 11th June 2020