The police are certainly being scrutinised at the minute following the disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard and the following protests.
I was brought up to respect the police and always feared a police car being behind me when driving in case I was going to be pulled over. I never had reason to doubt the work of the police until my first direct experience with them.
A few months after leaving my abusive relationship I was encouraged by the local domestic abuse agency to consider reporting the abuse to the police. I was very hesitant about this for numerous reasons including fear of any repercussions and wasting police time. I was assured by the domestic abuse agency that there would not be any repercussions and that I would not be wasting police time. It took me awhile to consider what to do but it the end I decided to report it with the aim of helping other women speak out.
I found the whole experience incredibly nerve racking and emotionally draining – from the initial phone call to the first meeting with a police officer to the 3-hour video interview. After the initial conversation with the police, I was told that based on what I had shared that if my ex had lived in the same county as myself that she would have been immediately arrested, however because that wasn’t the case, I was told the decision had to be made by an officer in the county that she lives in. I never realised that decisions that the police make differ depending on where you live and assumed that the police would all sing from the same hymn sheet.
In 2015 a new law came into force banning emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. It was stated that the new law meant that people who use emotional abuse to control their partners – for example by threatening them, stopping them seeing their friends or denying them access to their own money – could face prison.
‘Controlling or Coercive behaviour’ describes behaviour occurring within a current or former intimate or family relationship which causes someone to fear that violence will be used against them on more than one occasion or causes them serious alarm or distress that substantially affects their day-to-day activities. It involves a pattern of behaviour or incidents that enable a person to exert power or control over another.
According to the crown prosecution service (https://www.cps.gov.uk/) an offence is committed by A if:
- A repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person, B, that is controlling or coercive; and
- At time of the behaviour, A and B are personally connected; and
- The behaviour has a serious effect on B; and
- A knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on B.
A and B are ‘personally connected’ if:
- they are in an intimate personal relationship; or
- they live together and are either members of the same family; or
- they live together have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.
There are two ways in which it can be proved that A’s behaviour has a ‘serious effect’ on B:
- If it causes B to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them – s.76 (4)(a); or
- If it causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities – s.76 (4) (b).
The phrase ‘substantial adverse effect on Bs usual day-to-day activities’ may include:
- Stopping or changing the way someone socialises
- Physical or mental health deterioration
- A change in routine at home including those associated with mealtimes or household chores
- Attendance record at school
- Putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children
- Changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work
A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable:
- On conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine, or both;
- On summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or a fine, or both.
Relevant behaviour of the perpetrator can include:
- Isolating a person from their friends and family
- Depriving them of their basic needs
- Monitoring their time
- Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware
- Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep
- Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services
- Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
- Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim
- Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities
- Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance
- Control ability to go to school or place of study
- Taking wages, benefits or allowances
- Threats to hurt or kill
- Threats to harm a child
- Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone)
- Threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet
- Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)
- Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working
- Preventing a person from being able to attend school, college or University
- Family ‘dishonour’
- Reputational damage
- Disclosure of sexual orientation
- Disclosure of HIV status or other medical condition without consent
- Limiting access to family, friends and finances
The Statutory Guidance outlines a non-exhaustive list of the types of evidence that could be used to prove the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour;
- Copies of emails
- Phone records
- Text messages
- Evidence of abuse over the internet, digital technology and social media platforms
- Photographs of injuries such as: defensive injuries to forearms, latent upper arm grabs, scalp bruising, clumps of hair missing
- 999 tapes or transcripts
- Body worn video footage (Who goes around wearing a hidden camera?!)
- Lifestyle and household including at scene photographic evidence
- Records of interaction with services such as support services, (even if parts of those records relate to events which occurred before the new offence came into force, their contents may still, in certain circumstances, be relied on in evidence)
- Medical records
- Witness testimony, for example the family and friends of the victim may be able to give evidence about the effect and impact of isolation of the victim from them
- Local enquiries: neighbours, regular deliveries, postal, window cleaner etc
- Bank records to show financial control
- Previous threats made to children or other family members
- Diary kept by the victim
- Victims account of what happened to the police
- Evidence of isolation such as lack of contact between family and friends, victim withdrawing from activities such as clubs, perpetrator accompanying victim to medical appointments
- GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles etc.,
- Where the perpetrator has a carer responsibility, the care plan might be useful as it details what funds should be used for
(The blue text covers some of my personal experience of abuse)
Just reading through this, I believe that my experience would be a classic example of coercive and controlling behaviour, however, I felt the police never took my case seriously.
The police officer who originally interviewed me was incredibly supportive and certain that my case would be taken seriously – this officer was female. She had to compile her report and send it to the police in the area my ex-lives for them to take over the case, however I found out through my sources (I knew someone who worked for the police) and by making a formal complaint, that the police officer dealing with my case had been prevented from actioning the case by her boss (who was male). It came to my attention that they didn’t want her to carry on with the investigation, but I was never told why.
After my complaint, another female officer contacted me to organise a video interview and again another officer/s tried to prevent this from happening. In the end this female officer and a colleague of hers managed to arrange for me to do the video interview but the only way they managed to organise it was by the 2nd officer coming into work whilst off sick (because they valued my case and knew what had been happening).
After my file was sent off to the police where my ex lives (which included the 3-hour video interview, a full transcript, letters from the local domestic abuse agency, letters from my GP and midwife, diary entries etc) it was taken over by a female investigating officer who was very on the ball, keeping me updated all the time and who appeared to be taking it very seriously.
I was told that they would be bringing my ex in for questioning under caution but then shortly before they interviewed her the officer contacted me to tell me that she had been suddenly taken off the case and had been replaced by a male police officer.
The male police officer never contacted me and when I chased up the outcome of the interview with my ex, he informed me that it was just my word against her and that he didn’t have any evidence to take it any further, he denied seeing the 3-hour video interview, transcript and that there was any evidence (in forms of letters) from my GP, Midwife of local domestic abuse agency.
I could have appealed but by this point I was so drained and felt incredibly let down, that I wasn’t been listened to and that despite the domestic abuse agency and the female police officers reassuring me I was doing the right thing and that they were certain my ex would be brought to justice that it was just empty words and that I had put myself through a highly stressful and emotional experience for absolutely nothing. At this point I hit an all time low and wanted to run away to a deserted island.
I’m not sure how many if any prosecutions will be made under this new law and have the impression that the police aren’t generally bothered about looking into cases like mine because they are hard work. If I was black and blue and beaten within an inch of my life, then maybe they would have taken my seriously.
I’d put it all to the back of my mind until reading about the recent incidents with the police and how male police officers have been seen treating women.
I questioned if the male police officers didn’t take me seriously because I was a woman or because the person who had abused me was female or because they just couldn’t be bothered.
It’s fair to say that I have lost pretty much all my faith and confidence in the police.
I then read that a woman who attended a vigil for Sarah Everard walked past a man who was standing on a pavement with “his genitals out of his fly”. After which she went up to a group of “about five or six police officers” to ask them if they could address the situation as she was feeling “very uncomfortable”. “The female officer said ‘ok, fine, we’ll go’ and she was about to go when a male colleague said, ‘we’re not dealing with this anymore, no, we’ve had enough with the rioters tonight, we’re not dealing with it’,” she said.
This is an absolute disgrace and once again leading to women feeling belittled and that they are not being taken seriously.
I must admit that I wish I had not put myself of my family through my experience of reporting the abuse to the police. If anyone ever asked me for my opinion on whether they should report abuse or not I would always want to say absolutely as I don’t believe anyone should get away with treating anyone this way, however based on my experience I would probably be hesitant to encourage them unless they had a lot of concrete evidence (e.g., video footage from a long period of time) which saddens me.
Having said that, I know that I have done the hardest and best thing by walking away and starting a new life for myself and my daughters. I no longer feel trapped or suffocated to live my live or be me and I am no longer (nor will I ever be) a puppet on a string!