Policy blog

Our Response to Sunday Times editorial on the Sally Challen case

The UK Government is four levels deep into Brexit. Almost no other legislation is even being contemplated, never mind progressed. And yet, despite these facts, the Government stubbornly presses on with pre legislative scrutiny for the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, published in draft a few weeks ago. Why? Because Ministers, and Parliamentarians from all sides of the House of Commons, still have room for agreement. Extreme swings to this or that position seen in Brexit haven't so far derailed this work, neither the legislation nor the funding and other surrounding effort. 

In that spirit of commitment and aspiration - that domestic abuse is a subject worth understanding and talking about - victims and survivors notice. They notice that someone is taking their life and their experience seriously.

Sarah Baxter writes that the term 'coercive control' has become fashionable. It's tempting to say that's what's been 'fashionable' for some time is writing pithy polemics that use caustic wit to minimise human misery and the complexity of certain crimes. 

Coercive control is one such complex crime. Its victims say time and again that they don't speak out 'because what would I say?' They know that the types of small, seemingly nasty but not criminal behaviours are actually a cumulative pattern of behaviour intended to entirely destroy another person's sense of self. Their confidence to be in the world. Self harming and suicide ideation amongst victims and survivors is incredibly common. But those on the outside might see no more than a slightly dysfunctional relationship. 

It's not that jolly, is it? It's difficult to think of and easier to make jokes about. But the police, CPS and judiciary are learning not to misjudge this crime. They see the humans behind the headlines and slowly things are starting to change. 

We’re presented with a major opportunity to stop hiding things we're afraid of behind closed doors. Let's not blow it for cheap gags and naive assertions. 

A Valentine's Message: Melani

This message was shared with us by Melani, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.


I remember  being happy to work a late shift on Valentine's Day when no one else wanted to because they wanted to be at home with their husbands.

I thought, because he told me to think.... that I should feel happy that he was still there, in the house, living with me and our sons, because he had so many better options.

Now I know myself and our boys were his best option... only he didn’t deserve us, he hurt me and let his children down.  His violence and abuse did that.

Now I can't wait to spend those special days with my new husband and my now grown up sons love being with their partners on Valentine's Day.

If you prefer to work this Valentine's Day because you are scared at home, tell someone, ask them for help to escape.  You and your children deserve to feel safe at home.

We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day 

A Valentine's Message: Vicky

This message was shared with us by Vicky, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.


Valentine’s Day. 

Smiling couples, pictures on Instagram saying #blessed and the gifts and cards expressing endless love. 

But I see you. 

The false smile, the tears hidden behind your well practised pretense and the invisible scars etched on your brain from yet another put down. 

Love shouldn’t hurt but it does for you and love seems broken. 

I see you, I was just like you and I wish someone had told me this. 

You are beautiful, important and deserve to be free, you are enough and you are not alone. 

Now you see me, I’m the secret support the person you fear doesn’t need to know about. I am the voice in your brain willing you on, willing you to put one foot in front of the other. I will never ask you to fake a smile or pretend to be happy, I will encourage you to be the person you want to be.  

Love is hard but love should never hurt. 

Vicky xx










We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day 

Looking back on three years of coercive control legislation

As we come out the other side of the Christmas festivities and look to the new year, it’s worth pausing. Today marks the three-year anniversary of coercive and controlling behaviour being established as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015.The domestic abuse sector raised a glass to celebrate this landmark day – signalling that the criminal justice system had registered the impact and seriousness of this daily, insidious abuse, where one person seeks to control another, with or without the use of physical violence.  

Three years on, we’re still thankful for that decision. We’re seeing much more understanding and awareness of the term ‘coercive control’. However, we also see how challenging coercive control is to spot and understand without the right training and resources. Legislation on its own has not proved to be the answer.  

The daily abuse of individuals in supposedly loving relationships is the root cause of multiple problems faced by individuals, families and our wider society. Over two million people experience it each year and there is a growing body of evidence to show the strong co-relation between abuse and mental ill-health, insecure housing and financial position, and vulnerability to other crime types. Despite this, only 20% of victims feel able to report their situation to the police – the true scale therefore remains a ‘hidden’ epidemic, meaning multiple missed opportunities to stop all this personal and societal harm in its tracks.  

The impact of not taking the right action - on individuals, immediate and even extended family - is devastating. At the time children start school, at least one child in every classroom will have experienced domestic abuse since they were born. These early experiences of violence and control can lead to enduring mental health consequences such as eating disorders, difficulties sleeping, anxiety issues, and the increased risk of experiencing or using abuse themselves in later life.   

The legislation on coercive control was designed to help transform the response, but data from the ONS shows that the use of this law remains patchy and inconsistent. The police recorded a total of 9,053 offences of coercive control in the year ending March 2018, but only 960 offences resulted in prosecution being taken as far as the courts. 

The police and wider criminal justice system still need a much greater understanding of abusive uses of power and control if we are to hold perpetrators to account. We cannot simply put new legislation in place and hope for the best. It must be followed up with leadership, investment and culture change to make it effective.  

Our domestic abuse change programme for the police, Domestic Abuse Matters, offers long term attitudinal and behavioural change. It helps the police understand what is meant by the term coercive control by giving them ways to walk in the shoes of those experiencing it. It also prompts them to recognise the high levels of manipulation being used by those perpetrating it, including in interactions with law enforcement. After completing our programme, 94% of first responders felt they had greater knowledge of the tactics used. Many officers have felt able to talk for the first time about their own experiences; disclosures which can only improve their own access to support and their force’s understanding of there being no ‘them and us’ about who experiences abuse.  

To date, 30% of the police forces in England, Wales and Scotland have adopted Domestic Abuse Matters. We can't stop there.  

The police face an ongoing stretch on resources. Focusing on the dynamics of domestic abuse and the behaviour of its perpetrators is not about taking them away from core business. Quite the opposite, it is getting back to the heart of policing – tackling crime before further harm occurs, both further abuse and the multiple linked crimes and harms that flow from it. If policing is to look to the future with confidence, it must get behind closed doors to prevent the crime that pervades people’s lives there and then spills out onto the streets and pervades society in so many ways.  

SafeLives, alongside thousands of other organisations and survivors, are eagerly anticipating the new Domestic Abuse Bill from the Westminster Government, delayed but now expected in January, which will aim to keep transforming the response to domestic abuse. As the coercive control legislation has shown, well intentioned words on a page will not on their own be enough. 

As we enter the new year, let’s look at how we can work together to make those words on the page a reality – protecting all those experiencing abuse and preventing future harm. A new year is always filled with possibilities. If we work together, those possibilities can end an epidemic. Wouldn’t that truly be something to celebrate? 

About SafeLives 

We are a UK charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for good. We combine insight from services, survivors and statistics to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives.​ ​

Last year alone, over 70,000 adults and 120,000 children received dedicated support from interventions designed with partners in the sector.​ 

Domestic abuse affects us all; it thrives on being hidden behind closed doors. We must make it everybody’s business.  

For further information and interviews, contact Natalie Mantle, Senior Communications Officer, at natalie.mantle@safelives.org.uk  

About Domestic Abuse Matters 

SafeLives’ domestic abuse programme offers real, sustainable change that makes a difference to police practice, and provides an improved response to victims and whole families experiencing domestic abuse. The programme helps forces understand what is meant by the term ‘coercive control’ and how they can spot the signs using appropriate questions and communication techniques. It also looks at the tactics used by perpetrators to control whole families and manipulate first responders.  

To date, 30% of the police forces in England, Wales and Scotland have signed up to the programme.  

For more information, visit www.safelives.org.uk/training/police or contact Melani Morgan, Programme Lead, at melani.morgan@safelives.org.uk 

For girls to fulfil their potential, we need to understand the whole picture

Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and marked the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. We know that empowered and free, girls can live the lives they want; carving out careers and the economic independence to make their own decisions, loving who they want and how they want. And yet, in the UK, we’re obscuring our ability to help girls achieve this huge potential – often through our own very good intentions.  

1.5 million girls (0 - 15 year olds) alive in the UK today will have their life chances undermined by an experience of domestic abuse as they reach adulthood. They will experience domestic abuse from an intimate partner, an experience that will affect their wellbeing, their safety and their freedom to be who they want. Someone who claims to love them will in fact deeply harm them.  

One of the reasons abuse continues to be of epidemic proportions in our country is that we treat the causes, the abusive experience and the consequences as if they all happened in isolation. Schools and local authorities stagger under the weight of multiple strategies on girls’ safety and wellbeing, making it hard to understand how to coordinate and prioritise. And then – nothing. As girls reach the age of 16 or 17 they disappear from view, too ‘old’ for many support mechanisms but still deemed too young or unsuitable for others. Then we wait. We wait to see who emerges as an adult for whom individual issues – health, mental health, employment, housing – need to be fixed. If we took the time and did the work earlier to see the whole person, as her experiences begin to form around her, we would have a far greater chance of supporting her to live the life she chooses. 

It’s time for comprehensive investment into research which explores how multiple experiences and factors, as they accumulate for a girl in early life, could contribute to - or prevent - an experience of abuse later on. By the same token, it’s long overdue that we examine in detail why some boys grow into the young and older men who use controlling, abusive behaviours in their closest relationships. For both, we need to better understand how early influences and experiences can be overturned or reinforced, so we stop harm from happening in the first place rather than responding long after it starts.  

The identities and stories of 1.5 million girls are rich and varied. Building the right evidence base from research, practical frontline expertise, and the voices of girls and boys themselves, we can hugely improve the way we respond to domestic abuse.   

In addition to this whole person, whole picture approach – which puts the individual at the centre of the response at the earliest stage, we need national, government-led policy on those most commonly using abuse. Boys are more likely to harm others and themselves, and are less likely to talk about it unless they have safe, appropriate spaces to do so. We urge the government, through its upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, to create a response for those boys who are at risk of using abusive behaviours. It shouldn’t surprise any of us that there’s a strong correlation between the boys who do this and other harmful behaviour which can accompany it or follow. Yet boys are subject to just as many – if not more – separate strategies to address what might happen in their lives. Behaviour is much harder to change once it’s become embedded. It’s also impossible to change if we keep viewing boys as if one facet of their life or behaviour was somehow separate to all the others. 

We need an overhaul in public understanding, so all of us can play our part. Domestic abuse doesn‘t respect postcodes, income or educational standards, just like it doesn’t sit in a neat little box in isolation from the rest of our lives. The actor David Amess, talking about playing a character who experienced abuse in a same-sex relationship, said that when he started to read about the dynamics of abuse, he realised it had been all around him his entire life. This is a common experience; when people begin to realise what abuse and its long-term impact look like, suddenly they start to notice the prevalence of it amongst their friends, family and colleagues.   

Resources are tight. Every reason, then, for us to recognise how people’s experiences relate and overlap, particularly when it comes to abuse. If we see the whole girl, we give ourselves and her so much more chance of reducing opportunities for abuse to happen in the first place, and for her to reach all of that vast potential without the pain that can currently come along the way.