Criminalising Coercive Control


Editor's Notes

5 It's no longer 2020 and, with the New Year, there

is renewed focus on criminalising coercive

control in more jurisdictions.

The CCChat Interview

7 Paul McGorrery talks about his research into the

criminal law's response to emerging harms such

as psychological harm and coercive control

Movie Screening & Discussion

16 Information on the screening of Rachel Meyrick's

groundbreaking documentary on the Family

Courts - 'What Doesn't Kill Me.'

The CCChat Interview

21 Cassandra Wiener advises governments and

activists around the world on the doctrinal

implications of domestic abuse law reform.

Raising Awareness Through Art

28 RS uses cartooning as her voice, whilst working

with her partner on the issue within their


Why Coercive Control Should Be A Crime

32 Jess Hill, author of the multi-award winning book

'See What You Made Me Do' shares her


Coercive Control Legislation

39 Where is Coercive Control a Crime ? We take a

look at the enacted legislation in the various


Making The Invisible Visible

Editor's Notes

About The Editor

Min Grob started

Conference on Coercive

Control in June 2015,

following the end of a

relationship that was both

coercive and controlling.

Since then, there have been

several national

conferences as well as

smaller events.

Min’s interest lies in

recognising coercive control

in its initial stages, in

identifying the ‘red flags’ of

a potentially abusive

relationship before a person

becomes too invested in the

relationship, as that is when

it will be much more difficult

to leave, as well as the

challenges faced when

living with and recovering

from trauma.

Min has talked on

identifying covert abuse

and, with the use of

examples from social

media, she identifies a

number of covert tactics that

are commonly used to

manipulate. These tactics

will often be invisible in plain

sight- as the abuser seeks

to remain undetected.

Min is also a public speaker,

and speaks on both her

personal experience of

coercive control, family

courts and the livedexperience

of trauma - as

well as more generally of

abuse that is hidden in plain


Let's Grow The


To contact Min:


New Year, New Focus

Happy New Year to all the readers of CCChat!

Whilst 2021 doesn't appear to be much different to 2020, so

far, it DOES bring with it a renewed energy and resolve. If the

last year has taught me anything, it's having the clarity of

mind to definitively know what I don't want and the

determination to not be a bystander or onlooker when it is so

often the easier option - but to speak up (hopefully) without

judgement and peacefully. Fingers crossed!

This issue looks at criminalising coercive control and why all

jurisdictions should be looking into this, if they are not

currently considering it. The interviews with both Cassandra

Wiener and Paul McGorrery are really fascinating- they bring

with them a huge wealth of knowledge and insight. I hope you

enjoy reading their interviews as much as I enjoyed

transcribing them!

The next issue of CCChat will be looking at cults but also

more widely at coercive influence - something that is very

topical and relevant, as this issue goes out, so keep an eye

out for it.

In the meantime, I hope you all keeping well and please, stay


Min x

Making The Invisible Visible

The CCChat


Paul McGorrery

Making The Invisible Visible

The CCChat Interview

Paul McGorrery

Paul McGorrery is

a lawyer and PhD

candidate in

criminal law and

family violence in


His research

focuses primarily

on the criminal

law's response to

emerging harms

such as

psychological harm

and coercive


He is also co-editor

of the recent book


Coercive Control:

Family Violence

and the Criminal



aul McGorrery has been looking at

coercive control and how it is being

reported, in the British media. His insights

have been fascinating and I was thrilled to

be able to have a conversation with him

about his work. This is what we spoke


M: Hi Paul, thank you so much for letting me interview you

for the magazine. I’ve been really fascinated in the research

you’ve been involved in but, for the readers who don’t

know you, could you talk a little about what you do?

P: I wear multiple hats. I have a full time role as manager

of legal policy at the Sentencing Council in Victoria. But

everything I do around coercive control is separate to that

and is part of my PhD research at Deakin Law School, into

how the criminal law responds to non-physical forms of

harm generally, but especially in the context of family


I think a lot about why I’m in this space because I

acknowledge it’s not my space. I see myself as an ally at

most, but I think there’s a level of empathy because I was

bullied quite a lot in primary school and high school and

there is certainly some correlation between bullying and

coercive control. Twenty years later, I found myself

working in workers’ compensation at the federal level in

Australia, and I found that psychological injuries were

accounting for 7% of all workers’ compensation claims but

33% of costs, so there was something really serious going

on with non-physical harms that people were suffering,

and I became fascinated by the notion.

I then started prosecuting criminal cases down in Victoria,

so I moved from Canberra to Melbourne, and they had all

of these family violence cases – one in particular always

stood out for me - her husband had tied her to the bed and

tortured her for a good hour or so – and it was all because

he thought she was cheating because she’d sent an email to

a male friend. At the end of it, he allowed her, and this was

his language, he ‘allowed her’ to get up and kiss his feet and

beg his forgiveness after he had shaved her head and

thrown all her hair into the bin.

Making The Invisible Visible

I’m ashamed to say that this was at a time

when I wasn’t educated about coercive

control as a course of conduct, so I was

looking at it as a single incident about

what happened on that night and I was

trying to figure out how the criminal law

could respond to what he’d done because

she had developed an eating disorder, a

sleeping disorder and none of the

offences I had available to me - because

her physical injuries were relatively minor

- really matched up to what he’d done to


I wanted to charge him with causing

serious psychological harm, something

that had never been done in Australian


That was the offence I needed access to,

to really capture his behaviour. It would

have forced me and the police to look

beyond what happened that night and

potentially find a quite extensive history

of abuse leading up to it.

M: I didn’t realise that was your catalyst.

P: Yes, it’s how I became interested in this

space. But I’m always careful this isn’t my

space – I’m a white male who will never

understand what it’s like to not feel safe

to walk the streets at night. I am, though,

someone who has been in the position

where I was left, as a justice system actor,

powerless upon seeing coercive control

behaviours even though I didn’t know

what it was at the time.

"At the end of it, he allowed her, and this was his language, he ‘allowed

her’ to get up and kiss his feet and beg his forgiveness after he had

shaved her head and thrown all her hair into the bin."

I had done some research and it turned

out that there were four cases in the UK

that have been reported on, where

someone had been found guilty of causing

psychological harm as a form of bodily

harm. I tried to do that here but it got

rejected, I was told that the criminal law

wasn’t ready to recognise those sorts of

harms. We still managed to convict him

and he got two years in prison for some

other offending, but that whole case

spurred my entire PhD thesis on whether

and how we should criminalise the

infliction of psychological injury.

It was during that journey that I

discovered the groundbreaking offence of

coercive control in England and Wales.

That was the offence I needed in that

case, to give the victim, who was

courageously willing to be crossexamined

by her perpetrator about the

psychological harm she had suffered, to

see justice done.

M: I know that Australia is looking into

criminalising coercive control. How is

that progressing?

P: That’s a good question. Australia is

quite unique because we have eight subjurisdictions,

each territory is responsible

for their own criminal law, for the most

part, so in order for Australia to

criminalise coercive control, eight

different jurisdictions have to bring in an


What’s really interesting is that four

jurisdictions have announced interest in

these offences and are currently, at least

reviewing whether or not to do it. In

South Australia, the Liberal party, which

is the more conservative party, despite its

name, has started reviewing it. In

Queensland they have just had an election

and the Liberal party said they would

have introduced a law if they had won,

but they lost.

Making The Invisible Visible

The more left-leaning party, Labor, have

hedged their bets in Queensland and said

that they would start looking into it. In

Victoria, the Labor party, which is in

power, has announced they’re doing a

review but, most importantly in New

South Wales, there is currently not just

bi-partisan but tri-partisan support –

Labor, Liberals and the Greens are all in

favour of criminalising coercive control -

at least preliminarily, until the

consultation has been done. They’ve

announced a big parliamentary inquiry to

seek submissions from victim-survivors,

the domestic violence sector, academics,

overseas people with experience, to make

submissions before the 29th of January

next year on whether and how this could

play out.

P: One of the concerns that gets raised in

most countries with jurisdictions that are

criminalising coercive control, is whether

it will be misused against women, who

are primarily victims rather than

primarily aggressors, and/or whether it

will criminalise behaviours in

relationships that are trivial and that

aren’t deserving of state intervention.

We wanted to find an exhaustive account

of every case we could find and the factual

details of them, to know whether women

are being charged and found guilty of this

offence and what behaviours perpetrators

are found guilty of – what are they alleged

to have done?

"That was the offence I needed access to, to really capture his behaviour.

It would have forced me and the police to look beyond what happened

that night and potentially find a quite extensive history of abuse

leading up to it."

M: It will be really interesting to see how

that goes.

P: I would actively encourage anyone

reading this, with a viewpoint to share, to

make a submission. I would particularly

encourage any victim-survivors in the UK

and Ireland (especially Scotland where so

much effort has been put into getting

these new laws right), who would feel

comfortable doing so, to share what the

new laws have meant for them. Has it

been vindicating, disappointing, outright

damaging? Yours are the stories that

matter most.

M: So, I know you were researching all of

the coercive control cases in England and

Wales and, from reading the articles and

reading about the cases, what did you


Unfortunately, unlike most Australian

jurisdiction, England and Wales trial or

sentencing courts don’t routinely publish

their sentencing remarks, which is where

you would find a lot of detail about the

case from the judge’s perspective –

summarising the prosecution and defence

submissions. England and Wales also has

43, I think, diffuse police forces which

means that if you wanted access to police

records, you would have to submit

Freedom of Information requests of every

single one of them.

We tried three or four and got knocked

back every single time, and so we looked

at every media report using certain search

criteria in various news outlets, Google

and whatnot that mentioned someone

being charged with and found guilty of

controlling and coercive behaviour. We

found a quarter of the cases that had been

prosecuted in the first 28 months of

operation of the new offence.

Making The Invisible Visible

Confiscating identity documents

-especially for women who weren’t

citizens - was really prevalent, and image

based abuse - taking images or more

commonly, threatening to distribute

intimate images of someone’s partner.

Effectively, what we found, and I’m

saying this quite confidently, no one in

their right mind would read any of the

107 cases we found that had details

associated with them and say that that

was an overreach of the criminal law. In

every single case, the abuse was severe,

prolonged and had significant effect on

the victim and no one would have any

qualms in describing it as entirely

wrongful and unreasonable behaviour.

We found about 140. We didn’t know the

outcome in 20 as it wasn’t reported - it

was pre-finalisation. But of the remaining

118, this was quite astonishing, 107

offenders had been found or pleaded

guilty, which is an incredibly high rate

and, most importantly, this is the thing

and it didn’t surprise me, that over 99%

or 106 of the 107 offenders were male and

the only exception was the Jordan Worth

case which reads like a genuine reversal

of the female perpetrator of coercive

control, not a case of mistaken identity of

a woman who was the primary aggressor.

We also looked at all the behaviours that

perpetrators have engaged and used Evan

Stark’s prism of those five dimensions -

physical and sexual violence, isolation,

intimidation, degradation and regulation

– which includes both monitoring and


We not only coded for those dimensions

themselves but the very specific types of

behaviour like confiscating a mobile

phone, which was incredibly prevalent,

threats to self-harm were also really

prevalent, threats to harm an animal,

threats to harm a family member.

M: What I noticed, when the Serious

Crime Act (which criminalises coercive

control in England and Wales) was still a

Bill, quite a significant number of family

lawyers were opposed to this proposed

law. Many said that coercive control was

already being considered in the family

court - I’m wondering if that is what you


P: Now that you mention it, it has been a

bit of a trend that those more regularly

involved in family law, rather than

criminal law, do seem to have a sort of

opposition especially. This could at least

partly be because a lot of legislation in

Australia places far too much emphasis to

maintaining shared custody, even when

there is a history of family violence and it

puts both the child and the victim at risk

and I think that developed a distrust, that

I can fully empathise with, of the system

being an inappropriate response to this

sort of behaviour.

M: In all the case you looked at, how

many of them were coercive control

without any evidence of physical


P: So, one of the things that we found was

that 82 of the cases involved actual

physical or sexual violence at some stage

in the constellation of coercive control

Making The Invisible Visible

behaviours and another 14 involved

threatened physical or sexual violence, so

96 out of 107 but we didn’t know the facts

in about 4 of them, because there was no

factual detail provided, other than

someone being found guilty and

sentenced. So that leaves two

possibilities: First, that something

happens along the system that filters out

cases that don’t involve physical or sexual

violence - whether it’s not reported by

victims, the police aren’t taking such

cases seriously enough, prosecutors aren’t

charging it, or it’s not making its way to

conviction for whatever reason.

Alternatively, and I think Evan Stark has

suggested this, almost every coercive and

controlling relationship has had an

incident, somewhere along the way,

I’m sort of wondering how the training

can pick that up, by looking at coercive

control from the ground up – as opposed

to looking at it in its more extreme forms

and then working down. Does that make


P: The thing that I have to wonder about

is that, even if you train police, how can

they ever know about it, if no one ever

reports the low level coercive control to

them? Which is why I and many others -

even those opposed to criminalisation- all

share a singularly common goal of

improving community awareness of

coercive control because when you start

having those dinner table conversations,

about what it can look like, that it doesn’t

have to be physical abuse.

"When you start condemning it at the dinner table....It denounces the

conduct and it just makes sure everyone is alert for it and ready to respond,

if and when they can."

actual threatened physical or sexual

violence and that incident, or multitude

of incidents, hangs like a Damocles sword

over the victim so that during the rest of

the non-physical abuse, it reinforces the

perpetrator’s control and he doesn’t need

to threaten or engage in further violence


M: That’s certainly been my experience,

that the fear of violence is equally as great

as being violated. What I’ve noticed with

the police here, and this is where they

have received training, and this is purely

anecdotal, but even with training, not

everyone gets it and far too many look at

coercive control as a tick box exercise and

a series of incidents – so they can only see

the coercive control if there is violence

there and then they work back from the

violence and see coercive control almost

as an ad hoc crime- but they aren’t seeing

the pattern of behaviour and what

distinguishes it from a series of incidents.

When you start condemning it at the

dinner table, so that people like Hannah

Clarkes’ parents don’t have to say that

before she was killed, their child didn’t

know that it was abuse. Increased

awareness can really help. It denounces

the conduct and it just makes sure

everyone is alert for it and ready to

respond, if and when they can.

M: I totally agree with that and it’s

something I’d very like to pick up again,

for another issue of CCChat as I feel very

strongly that we, as a society, are too

willing to overlook abuse that is seen as

low-level without understanding how it

can then escalate.

Going back to something you said earlier,

you talked about the similarities between

bullying and coercive control. That is

something I have also found.

Making The Invisible Visible

Something I’ve noticed is that it can be

difficult to identify abusive behaviour

because so much of our perceptions are

informed by biases, so for example, if we

like somebody, and they engage in

abusive behaviour we tend to minimise it

because we like the person, whereas if we

dislike a person who engages in the same

abusive behaviour, we are more likely to

notice it and tend to maximise that.

Do you see a way of being able to

acknowledge that bias so that we can

actually see abuse for what it is, otherwise

the criteria or benchmark is going to be

constantly shifting and the exact same

abuse but from different people will be

interpreted differently?

But there is a possibility that lovebombing,

as it seems to be described,

could be a red warning sign for leading up

to coercive control, but, on the flip- side,

you might have an enamoured love-sick

person and it may very well be

reciprocated, so it’s hard to see that as a

red flag, but I think that educating people

that just because the relationship started

out well, doesn’t mean that it’s really

going well is really important message

that hasn’t yet hit the community.

Jess Hill is currently pushing quite

strongly for this in Australia, that teenage

girls aged 16-19 are not only one of the

most at risk groups but also the least

likely to recognise coercive control, so we

need to start educating.

"He doesn’t start off as the bad guy, you don’t go into a

relationship thinking “what a prick, I’ll date him”.

How can we evaluate abusive behaviours

more consistently? Otherwise we end up

with a situation where some abuse is

overlooked or even considered acceptable

because we like the person?

P: One of the fascinating things that I’ve

found, and we didn’t include this in the

article, it was just my anecdotal

observation, but when we were reading all

of the cases and you read that the

prosecutor said this, the defence lawyer

said that, inevitably one of the sentences

in every article was that “the relationship

started out well”.

It’s practically uniform with coercive

control, that he doesn’t start off as the

bad guy, you don’t go into a relationship

thinking “what a prick, I’ll date him”.

Not just with TV ads but somehow

accessing teenagers in high school, before

these relationships start.

M: I think it needs to start way sooner, in

primary education because even at that

age, children are already being influenced

by what they see and what they hear.

There needs to be a societal shift in


P: We don’t know what it will take to get

there. I think criminalisation is one of the

only things that will make a difference.

It’s never going to be a panacea but it will

make a difference.

M: I do believe that it’s a starting point. If

you have the crime, people will talk about

it and viewpoints will then start shifting.It

will make a difference.

P: Exactly.

Making The Invisible Visible

"I think criminalisation is one of the only things that will

make a difference. It’s never going to be a panacea but it

will make a difference."

P: I should say, too, that I will always

advocate for any law reform commission

in Australia to not just ask how to

criminalise coercive control but whether

to do it in the first place.

I’m almost certain that this is the right

thing to do but if the overwhelming

majority of Australia, and even despite

the evidence overseas, and the assuaging

of concerns, are still adamantly opposed -

maybe because of the potentially

disproportionate effect it could have on

First Nations people - then I would

happily stand back and say now is not the

right time.

I don’t think that’s the case but we should

always ask whether to do it, before we do

it, otherwise people who are opposed will

always feel like we never heard them out.

M: From what I’ve seen, many of the

reservations to criminalising coercive

control are concerned around how a

perpetrator can manipulate the law and I

can understand that fear but I also feel –

with every part of my being that we

cannot reduce a victim’s opportunity to

report an abuser for fear of the abuser

gaming the system.

Submissions to the

New South Wales’

inquiry on whether and

how to criminalise

coercive control can be

made here:




Making The Invisible Visible

Cassandra Wiener

On the Criminal Law and Coercive Control

Cassandra is a lawyer,

initially training at

Simmons & Simmons,

before leaving the city

to teach law at the

University of Law.

Currently she is

finishing up her ESRC

funded doctoral

research at the

University of Sussex

looking at the criminal

law in the context of

domestic abuse, and

working on a book for

Routledge ‘Coercive

Control and the

Criminal Law’.

Cassandra is

passionate about all

things but her

particular interests are

in the areas of criminal

justice and domestic


She advises

governments and

activists around the

world on the doctrinal

implications of

domestic abuse law


For more information

on Cassandra's

publications, please

go to her website:


assandra Wiener is a researcher in the

School of Law at the University of Sussex

as well as the co-founder and trustee of

the Treebeard Trust which supports

transformative initiatives to empower

women affected by violence. I was thrilled

to be able to interview her for this issue.

M: Cassandra, could you tell me about your research?

C: I look at coercive control and the criminal law. My work

really involves three different spheres. Firstly I work with

survivors and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors

(IDVAs) to understand what coercive control is, thinking

about how it is perpetrated and also about how it harms

those who are affected. Secondly I think about criminal

justice, and work with police and the judiciary to look at

how coercive control is being policed and prosecuted. And

then the final piece of the jigsaw is the criminal law itself –

which actually often gets overlooked in this whole

conversation. But, actually, the criminal law is the

foundation stone for everything else, and my research

shows that if we want to improve things for survivors we

need to start with that.

M: What made you decide to go into this?

C: I got interested originally when I was doing a Masters in

Human Rights at the University of Sussex. My favourite

module was Women and Human Rights. I’m a lawyer by

background and training, (I used to practice in the City for a

while, before I had kids), and it became immediately

apparent to me that there is a huge gap between how the

criminal law is structured, and what we know about

women’s experiences of domestic abuse. I began thinking

for the first time about what a blunt instrument criminal

justice is, but how important it is, and about how this

tension is really highlighted in the case of domestic abuse.

At around that time, there was a campaign kicking off to

make coercive control a criminal offence. The offence

finally came into force in December 2015 as section 76 of

the Serious Crime Act; and I just decided that it really

needed looking at. I put together an proposal, and was

lucky enough to get a grant from the Economic and Social

Research Council, to conduct an early legislative review.

Making The Invisible Visible

M: There is a question I’d like to ask you,

because it’s something I struggle to

understand, why is it that sec 76 was only

going to apply to those in an intimate

relationship or in a family living under the

same roof but it didn’t include postseparation

abuse and why does the

stalking law have to step in when the

relationship has ended because that

doesn’t make sense to me at all. It leaves

all kinds of gaps.

It’s been really exciting, as there has

been a lot of interest in the new law, both

in the UK but also around the world.

While it was/is a truly progressive step I

think the overall message from my

research unfortunately is that we could be

doing this a lot better.

M: That’s certainly how I feel. The law felt

a bit rushed through without enough

thought going into implementation.

C: I think it was rushed through. The

consultation period was only six weeks,

the equivalent consultation in Scotland

ran for around eight years, so that gives

you an idea of the different approaches


M:Wow! That’s mind-blowing.

C: Yes, so Scotland really did it properly.

They ran consultations with survivor

groups, they’ve really worked with

Women’s Aid Scotland and, as a result,

they’ve crafted a piece of law that

potentially works more effectively than

ours, but it’s early days. The Domestic

Abuse (Scotland) Act (aka DASA) only

came into force on April 1st 2019.

C: No, it doesn’t make sense. In essence,

there are two parts to my answer to that

question. First of all, I can tell you what

was happening at the time to tell you why

the law was drafted the way it is and then

secondly, I can tell you a bit about what

we’re trying to do to get it put right.

Initially, in the House of Commons, when

it was debated, at the end of the six week

consultation, it was right at the end of the

coalition government and they were

desperate to get something through.

There was only one debate in the House

of Commons and the Attorney General at

the time, who was Robert Buckland,

didn’t really understand coercive control

at all and, to be honest, I don’t think

Theresa May understood it herself.

The consultation was limited and

although this sounds strange now, no

effort was made to unpick what was

meant by ‘coercive control’ at all. As a

result there is no definition of coercive

control in section 76, and police and

prosecutors struggle as a result. One

particular issue is that it is constructed as

emotional or psychological abuse,

whereas we all know coercive control

involves physical behaviours.

To an extent, that’s still a misconception

that’s run with by the popular press. You

know, you’ll often read about a case and

you’ll see ‘ the emotional abuse was

prosecuted’, or whatever. Connected to

this is the mistake that had bigger

repercussions actually, which is that

Buckland constructed coercive control as

stalking within a relationship.

Making The Invisible Visible

He came at the whole thing from the

perspective of a ‘gap’ in the law.

Politicians love to work with ‘lacuna’ that

need ‘fixing’… and in this instance there

were a couple of cases in the preceding

five years (R v Widdows [2011] EWCA

Crim 1500 and R v Curtis [2010] 3 All ER

849), where a Court of Appeal Judge

(Lord Justice Pill) decided that the

stalking regulations don’t apply if a couple

are still in a relationship.

In fact, the stalking regulations were

being used at the time to prosecute some

of the behaviours that make up coercive

control, and Pill LJ’s ruling gave the

police a problem.

In fact, coercive control and stalking are

not the same thing. And yes, Buckland

was right to say women were better

protected in 2014 when they had escaped

their abuser, because being able to use

the stalking laws to prosecute coercive

control is a lot better than nothing. So

there is/was a gap, it’s a rather more

fundamental gap that the one he

constructed. Anyway, to cut a long story

short, Buckland constructed section 76

around the gap he identified and, as you

say, the fall out from that means that

when a woman is at her most vulnerable,

when she has just left her abuser and the

abuse ratchets up – as we know it does

at the end of a relationship, that’s when

section 76 doesn’t apply.

"What makes sense is to do what Scotland did – try to understand the

behaviour you’re criminalising before you draft the law – that makes sense."

It meant that where a couple were still

together they couldn’t use the stalking

laws, even to prosecute those parts of

coercive control that do look like stalking.

They just had to fall back on the old

violence against the person offences –

you know, GBH, ABH, common assault

etc. That is why Buckland decided to

construct the behaviour around the gap

that he found, rather than the other way


What makes sense is to do what Scotland

did – try to understand the behaviour

you’re criminalising before you draft the

law – that makes sense. What Buckland

did was he started with a gap, so he

looked at the law and he was like ‘Oh my

God, the police can’t do anything if

they’re still together. They’ve got the

stalking law for if they’re apart, but if

they’re together, there’s this gap.

The police can still use the stalking

regulations, but many of the coercive

controlling tactics that an abuser uses

post separation have nothing whatsoever

to do with stalking. This is therefore

completely crazy on every level and,

fingers crossed, something that’s going to

be put right in the new Domestic Abuse


M: I hope so!

C: We really really hope so. I am working

with Surviving Economic Abuse to try to

get an amendment in the Domestic

Abuse Bill to put it right.The Bill has its

second reading in the House of Lords

next week and we have got the support of

many peers who are working hard to get

this right, this time around. So it’s a

question of fingers crossed, at the


Making The Invisible Visible

M: I hope it’s successful because what’s

currently happening- use the coercive

control law for when you’re in a

relationship but then use the stalking law

when you’re out just doesn’t make


C: To be fair, the stalking law does cover

aspects of coercive control – as I said

abusers can and do stalk their victims

post separation, but not all post

separation abuse is stalking – economic

abuse, abuse of legal process, what

about child contact orders? We

understand coercive control better now,

than we did even three years ago.

because then the police will know that if

they’ve got coercive control they run with

s 76 and if they haven’t, they run with the

Protection from Harassment Act.

M: Do you worry that, once the law has

been amended to include postseparation

abuse, that there might be a

risk that abusers are going to claim

parental alienation is coercive control and

weaponise it?

C: Definitely. It’s a very real risk and I

haven’t realised how bad the situation

had got in the family courts. I don’t know

what planet the family courts are existing

on at the moment, but they seem to have

gone back to the 1960’s in terms of how

they approach domestic abuse.

"If the family courts had proper coercive control training, they would find it

easier to identify where the balance of power in the relationship lies, which

would in turn prevent abusers from claiming ‘parental alienation’."

M:Something else I don’t understand, and

I may be wrong here but my

understanding is that police forces don’t

get training for coercive control and

stalking at the same time. So, from what

I’ve seen, not all police officers

understand the connection between the

two laws- and that’s certainly what I’m

hearing from people who contact me.

C: I think the coercive control training

does cover stalking, so stalking is a

coercive controlling tactic and as such I

think it does crop up in the one day

programme used currently to train police.

The stalking training may not cover

coercive control because it was drafted

before the coercive control law but it does

not mean it’s not useful and, as for being

confused about which law to use, I think

that’s largely because of the end of

relationship hiccup that we’ve talked

about and I think that once that has been

put right, it will be more straightforward

Parental alienation is supposedly where

one parent (usually the mother) somehow

turns her children against the other

parent. As far as I can tell, it is a nebulous

doctrine imported from the United States

that has, as far as I can make out, limited

social science research back-up. In fact,

in my experience, domestic abuse is

often the reason a scared child doesn’t

want contact with the abusive parent. But

at the moment, I am hearing about cases

where abused women have their children

taken away from them and given to

perpetrators with ‘no contact’ orders

against the abused mother, on the basis

that she has perpetrated ‘parental

alienation’. Which is terrible for

everybody, but especially for the children,

whose voices are ignored completely. My

view is that if a child tells you he is scared

of his Dad, it might be wise to at least

investigate the possibility that… his Dad

is scary.

Making The Invisible Visible

Especially if his Dad’s abusive behaviour

has come to the attention of social

workers and police. So yes, that is a big

concern. BUT I would also say that if the

family courts had proper coercive control

training, they would find it easier to

identify where the balance of power in the

relationship lies, which would in turn

prevent abusers from claiming ‘parental

alienation’. Family courts need to be able

to get to the truth – and proper training in

coercive control will enable that.

M: It does concern me that family court

judges are mentioning parental alienation

and it’s not clear they really understand

the dynamics of domestic abuse and

what goes on.

C: I know. It’s suddenly cropped up all

over the place and it never used to be a

thing in this country – literally in the last 2

years. Dr Adrienne Barnett has done

some great work on it and says it really

needs looking at. I think Covid-19 has

made it worse, I think it has exacerbated

the situation - it means that courts are

effectively shut down, hearings are taking

place by Zoom and, for survivors, it’s

really tough. Safelives have just been

awarded a grant to begin the process of

training magistrates and possibly family

solicitors to provide assistance to the

Family Courts in understanding domestic

abuse, which is great news.

M: I think that’s really crucial. In my

situation I was a litigant in person for

nearly 20 hearings and at the time, I

remember ringing every solicitor I could

find, who was offering a free initial

consultation and I literally talked to nearly

100 lawyers. What really struck me was

that you don’t get the same advice and

that really shook me because you’d

expect to go to a solicitor and be given

the same advice and it really wasn’t the

case. Not only was it really confusing,

deciding which advice to follow, but it also

meant that I had very little confidence in

the advice I was getting.

Making The Invisible Visible

C: It’s really different and it’s not good. M:

What I’ve seen, and it’s not just limited to

lawyers, I’ve seen it with social workers

and I’m sure it also applies with Cafcass,

although I have not had much

involvement with them but there’s this

belief that because they have seen a lot

of domestic abuse or it comes across

their workload often, that they think they

understand it but often they clearly don’t.

C: They don’t understand the power

dynamic and they don’t understand

coercive control. So, often, ‘domestic

violence’ is still a bruise outside a pub.

M: Do you think the gaps in the England

and Wales legislation have been dealt

with in the Scottish legislation or do you

think there are still gaps there?

C: I think it’s a bit too early to be

absolutely sure but I think from a doctrinal

perspective, yes. The way that they’ve

drafted the Scottish law addresses all of

my concerns with sec 76, however it’s a

bit early to see whether, in practice, that

has the impact that I hope it will have but

early indications are good.

M: In Australia, there are some survivors

who are opposed to coercive control

being criminalised.

"I think there is definitely interest around the world in criminalising

coercive control and, in a sense, England and Wales

have really led the way on that, so that is exciting."

M: Or it’s anyone who is checking your

phone without understanding the context.

It might be wrong but it’s not necessarily

coercive control. I understand you’re

doing some work in Australia. Can you

talk about it?

C: Yes, I have been involved. At the

moment New South Wales are doing a

consultation on introducing new coercive

control laws and I’m excited to have been

approached to prepare a submission for

that consultation which I am doing jointly

with Professor Evan Stark.

We’re doing a response together for the

deadline, which is the end of January. I

think there is definitely interest around the

world in criminalising coercive control

and, in a sense, England and Wales have

really led the way on that, so that is


C: That’s interesting, can you tell me a

little more about that?

M: Yes, from what I understand, the view

is that a law won’t work and that the legal

systems have to change before new laws

are introduced as the law can be

weaponised against victims by their


C: We haven’t seen that here, except in

the family courts with the issue of ‘

parental alienation’. To be honest, I don’t

necessarily think there’s a link between

the coercive control legislation and the

allegations of parental alienation in the

family courts. I think those two things are

existing side by side. I’m not sure that

there’s any evidence that there’s a causal

relationship in fact, if anything, as I said I

think it’s the converse.

Making The Invisible Visible

I think it’s a lack of understanding of

coercive control in the family courts that is

driving the ‘parental alienation’ furore. So,

in general, in terms of the impact of

legislation, the women I speak to say they

find it very helpful, that is gives them a

normative language to express what has

been done to them in a way that is helpful

for recovery. It’s useful for women to be

able to understand what has happened to

them, in terms of a criminal offence, and it

is quite validating.

Mainly, the impact of criminalising

coercive control is enormously positive,

because the criminal law does have a

powerful normative sociological function

that tells people what is acceptable and

what is not.

C: Yes, and I think that’s the thing: so that

even though the law is imperfect, it’s a lot

better than nothing, and even though

criminal justice, as a response, is a very

blunt instrument, it’s better than no

instrument, in my book.

M: Absolutely . I know you’ve got to get

on, are there any final words you’d like to

say around coercive control?

C: I think the thing that is really

preoccupying me at the moment is trying

to get something in the Domestic Abuse

Bill, which is currently going through

Parliament, to make sure that the

coercive control law applies to post

separation abuse. I think it’s so


"The impact of criminalising coercive control is enormously positive,

because the criminal law does have a powerful normative sociological

function that tells people what is acceptable and what is not."

To be able to hold your head up and say:

‘yes, what happened to me was wrong’, I

think it is liberating and women tell me

they find that empowering.

M: I agree. As someone who has had

lived – experience but who hasn’t

benefited from the law, I would still say,

every single time, criminalise because

you then have a standard, you have

something that society can change for.

C: You say you haven’t benefited, but do

you think in a sense you are still able to

articulate what has been done to you, in a

way that you wouldn’t have been able to


M: You’re right. I hadn't thought about it in

those terms and I certainly know more

going forward relationship-wise.

It’s heart-breaking that I have to tell

survivors I work with that they’re only

protected by the new law up and until the

point at which they are brave enough to

leave, it just sits really uncomfortably with


M: It doesn’t make sense how the same

behaviour can be criminal in one aspect

but not in another.

C: In particular, for a lot of women, the

economic abuse and the difficulties with

child contact and the abuse of legal

process are actually so structurally

disastrous that it is impossible for them to

get on with their lives and that isn’t

covered by the existing harassment and

stalking legislation at all.

M: And just another reason for why it is

so difficult to leave the relationship.

Thank you so much Cassandra, it's been

really fascinating.

Making The Invisible Visible

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