We Have to Wake Up to the Reality that Coercive Control is the Heart of Domestic Abuse. 2/6/2017

Published by INEWS

Lance Hart, 57, killed his wife Claire, 50, and their daughter Charlotte, 19, in Spalding. After the attack, newspapers quoted neighbours as saying Hart was a”very, very nice guy”. Speaking to the Victoria Derbyshire programme, their son Luke Hart said: “Someone like our father was a terrorist.

He was planning to kill all of us three weeks before killing them.

“When it’s your own father… the anger is inexplicable. It’s so complicated and horrible and the media treated it like a one-off, but for us it was a culmination of a lifetime of struggle. “He was vitriolic and a bully who would be verbally abusive and threaten us.” Polly Neate is the chief executive of Women’s Aid.

This family’s heart-breaking story; their years of struggle at the hands of an abuser, and an ultimately tragic final act of control over their mother’s and sister’s lives is sadly all too common. On average two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales.

It’s a horrifying statistic. Yet what is so troubling about their story is the dismissal of any abuse that does not leave bruises. Controlling behaviour can seem inconsequential when isolated; restricting a partner’s time, money, how they dress or who they have contact with. But theses subtle behaviours are about control and slowly eroding a woman’s confidence and independence.

It’s very perceptive that the sons refer to the abuse as terrorism – “intimate terrorism” is a phrase often used to describe the control, and indeed, trauma experienced by survivors; similar to that of people taken hostage and tortured. People struggle to understand abuse that is not physical It’s very common for people who have never experienced controlling behaviour to struggle to understand abuse that is not physical, but many survivors have told me that it is the coercive, controlling, psychological abuse that is the hardest to recover from. A new law was introduced 18 months ago which made this type of abuse, coercive control, illegal, yet still too few people are aware of it or recognise the signs.

This lack of understanding by the media, professionals and even some police officers and judges, is one reason why survivors don’t come forward and fear that they won’t be taken seriously. This simply has to change. The lives of women and children are at risk if we don’t wake up to the reality that coercive control is the heart of domestic abuse. That’s is why at Women’s Aid we have launched a scheme called Change the Lasts which aims to increase awareness, both in the community and within professionals as to the signs of domestic abuse, and the help that is available for survivors. Abuse does not end when the relationship does It is also true that abuse does not end when the relationship does.

Perpetrators will often stop at nothing to make sure that their victim can never escape their control – this all too often means killing the victim, but can also include causing life-changing injuries, harming children, or harming other loved ones or pets. Leaving an abusive partner can be a dangerous time; our Femicide Census showed that 76 per cent of women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse were killed within the first year following their separation and for anyone thinking about leaving an abusive relationship, we offer expert advice online to help them make the safest escape possible at www.womensaid.org.uk.

This case illustrates how critical it is that we provide safe spaces for survivors of domestic abuse. We must find better ways of making women and children safe within their own homes. But we must also ensure there are refuges available for them to flee to, which also provide support to rebuild their lives.

The criminal justice system can’t solve domestic abuse on its own, particularly because the majority of victims don’t want to involve the police. Any response to domestic abuse which makes the criminal justice system, or a risk assessment, the only gateway to safety and support will be doomed to fail a vast number of victims. What women experiencing domestic abuse need is safe spaces in their community where they can disclose abuse in full confidence of being believed and listened to, and where they can get support from experts who understand their experiences – particularly coercive control. Get daily news updates Subscribe to the newsletter Sign up today Subscribe to the National Newspaper Of The Year National Newspaper Find out more