Extending the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to post-separation (economic) abuse

Cyrene Siriwardhana, Legal and Policy Advisor at Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), explains why SEA are calling for legislation on controlling or coercive behaviour to be extended to post- separation

Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) with the support of SafeLives and others is calling for the legislation on controlling or coercive behaviour to be extended to post- separation abuse. Coercive control continues after separation and victims are most at risk of homicide in this period. Given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity it can continue, escalate or even begin after separation.

The Domestic Abuse Bill was an ideal opportunity to achieve this change, and we drafted a proposed amendment to this effect. Now that the Bill has fallen, we will be calling on a new government to extend the offence via a new Bill.

The current legislation covers situations where people are either a) in an intimate relationship with each other or b) living together and are either family members or have previously been in an intimate relationship with each other. This means that where two individuals are no longer in an intimate relationship and they do not live together, behaviour by one of them towards the other cannot fall within the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. Similarly, family members who don’t live together are excluded.

It has been argued that abuse by an ex-partner or family member who no longer lives with the victim is captured under existing legislation on stalking and harassment. However SEA contends that this legislation is not a good fit for economic abuse. The stalking offence is framed as a course of conduct which causes the victim to fear that violence will be used against her, or causes serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on her day-to-day activities. The wording used to describe stalking does not naturally fit with the kinds of economic harm commonly experienced by women following separation, and neither do the examples of the offence given in the legal guidance relating to it.

Economic abuse both during and after a relationship generally consists of an abuser exercising control over the survivor, through denying access to economic resources such as money, sabotaging economic resources or exploiting them, so as to create economic instability and prevent a survivor from rebuilding their life safely and independently. For instance, a common experience of post-separation economic

abuse which would fall outside of the stalking legislation is the deliberate non- payment of a joint mortgage to the point of repossession. This represents ongoing economic control, sabotage of an economic asset and creating economic instability resulting in homelessness. Similarly the stalking legislation would not appear to cover other kinds of economic harm experienced by women following separation, such as: spending money from a victim’s personal bank account or a joint account; running up bills in the victim’s name; prolonging the sale of joint property; interfering with the victim’s employment; and continuously taking the victim to court.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 must therefore be amended to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to post-separation abuse.

*Name changed

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