Police on Wearside are ‘way ahead of the rest of the country’ in preparing for a new law to help victims of domestic violence, says a leading campaigner.
Today sees the introduction of a new domestic abuse offence which means victims who are subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours, such as emotional, psychological, sexual or financial abuse, as well as violence, can bring their abusers to justice.
The offence will carry a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
Sunderland domestic violence charity Wearside Women in Need (WWIN) was involved in helping Northumbria Police prepare for the introduction of the new legislation.
“We worked with Northumbria Police and they are way ahead of the rest of the country in being acquainted with what ‘coercive control’ is and how they can help the victims,” said WWIN co-ordinator Claire Phillipson.
“It is very important, because it sends a message to the public and police, to judiciary and victims that domestic violence is not just physical.
“This is a sea change in how we think about domestic violence.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said making coercive control an offence would help raise awareness about what constitutes an abusive relationship.
“The new law will allow officers to investigate domestic abuse more thoroughly and help them to become more pro-active in identifying victims who are often too frightened and too controlled to speak out,” she said.
The force has been running a campaign entitled ‘Beneath the Surface’ to highlight coercive control and how a relationship can be very different in reality than it appears on the surface.
“Coercive control is used by perpetrators to control every part of someone’s life,” said Vera Baird.
“It can be sexual abuse, financial control, constant criticism, isolation from family and friends, repeated threatening texts or stalking whenever the victim is out of sight - all are familiar tools adopted by the abuser and all can be hard to spot.
“Many victims are seriously undermined and afraid, fearing for their safety and sometimes even their lives. Without a bruise or a scar they can be afraid to speak out but this has to change.
“We’re well prepared here in Northumbria and take violence against women and girls extremely seriously. Our officers, of all ranks, have been the first in the country to be fully trained in this field. They will now be able to put their skills and knowledge to good use, recognising the signs, helping victims and seeking convictions for this appalling behaviour.”