Emotional abuse should be criminalised, says Theresa May

Police officers respond to an incident of domestic abuse

Government to launch consultation on strengthening the law to protect victims of psychological abuse

LAST UPDATED AT 11:38 ON Wed 20 Aug 2014

The government has announced that it will begin a consultation on making psychological abuse a criminal offence, in a move that has been welcomed by campaigners.

Theresa May said the government needs to make it clear that emotional abuse can be "a living hell" for victims and tougher laws are needed. "I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal," she told the Guardian.

Existing legislation on non-violent abuse exists but only under stalking and harassment laws. It has never been explicitly criminalised when occurring within relationships.

The action has been welcomed by women's charities and campaigners. "Two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and in our experience of working with survivors, coercive controlling behaviour is at the heart of the most dangerous abuse," said Poly Neate, from the domestic abuse charity Women's Aid.

According to research conducted by these charities, 98 per cent of domestic abuse victims want to see this change in the law. Criminalising this form of abuse would make it easier for victims to seek help as well as help the criminal justice system "link repeated incidents of violence by the same perpetrator", Neate writes in the Daily Telegraph.

The consultation will follow the introduction of two new measures this year to combat domestic abuse. The Domestic Violence Disclosure order, also known as Clare's law, allows police to disclose information on request concerning a partner's record of domestic violence or other aggressive acts. And the introduction of protection orders allowed courts to ban domestic abusers from the home for 28 days.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the latest action, saying the issue of psychological abuse had too often been overlooked. "The government's agreement to this consultation is a welcome tribute to those who have campaigned hard for change," she said.

But she also criticised May for not going far enough in tackling the problem or supporting victims. "Under this government, refuges across the country are cutting services and many are threatened with closure," she said. "Prosecutions and convictions as a proportion of recorded domestic crime are falling. · 

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