Intimate Terrorism and Coercive Control

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2015 National Women's Conference
15 October 2014
Carried as Amended

Conference recognises that in March 2013 the UK Government widened its definition of domestic violence and abuse to include coercive control. Under the new definition controlling behaviour is described as: “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”

Coercive behaviour is described in the revised definition as: “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.” Conference welcomes this change.

However, conference is aware that these changes were to a non-statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse and, that at the time this definition was changed, there was no corresponding change to the law.

Conference therefore welcomes the recent campaign to create a new criminal offence of coercive control.

Coercive Control is a term that was developed by the academic Evan Stark to describe a form of partner abuse that survivors report as being akin to a form of domestic or intimate terrorism. Unlike domestic violence, which has been commonly understood to be an incident or series of incidents of physical violence perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner, coercive control can leave no obvious, physical evidence of assault on the victim/survivor. Instead, coercive control explains the range of tactics used by perpetrators to intimidate and control women. In Stark’s own phrase, the concept explains ‘how men entrap women in everyday life’.

“It is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim’s liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self. It is not just women’s bodily integrity which is violated but also their human rights.”

UNISON women have long recognised that domestic abuse encompasses more than just physical violence, however we remain concerned that the police and other criminal justice agencies continue to fail women who report these crimes to them. Indeed, a 2014 report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) into the police response to domestic abuse “Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse” found that while most forces and police and crime commissioners had said that domestic abuse was a priority for their areas, this wasn’t being translated into an operational reality. When the report was released in March 2014 HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, said:

“Domestic abuse is not only about violence; it is about fear, control and secrecy. It is essential that the police make substantial reforms to their handling of domestic abuse, including in their understanding of the coercive and psychological nature of the crime as well as its physical manifestations. They must create the conditions so that victims have the confidence to call for help, in the knowledge that they will be believed and kept safe.”

Conference welcomes these comments and the renewed focus on holding those who terrorise women through coercive and controlling behaviour to account.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to:

1) Continue to raise awareness of coercive control as a form of domestic abuse

2) Work with UNISON’s communications and other relevant departments to highlight coercive control as a form of domestic abuse in UNISON magazines, its website and other publicity.

3) Work with the NEC and include coercive control in any guidance/briefings/training issued to branches on how to support women who allege violence and/or domestic abuse.