Bullying husbands face jail under new proposals by Theresa May
Home Secretary unveils plan to criminalise "domestic abuse" which involves no violence, in a bid to crack down on "brutal reality" of intimidation behind closed doors
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, published proposals for a new offence of “domestic abuse” designed to criminalise men who bully, deny money to their partners or cause psychological harm.
HUSBANDS who keep their wives downtrodden could face prison under new plans set out by the Government today.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, published proposals for a new offence of “domestic abuse” designed to criminalise men who bully, cause psychological harm or deny money to their partners.
The law would make the worst cases of non-violent “controlling behaviour” a jailable offence.
Exact terms of the offence are yet to be defined, but it could involve humiliating, frightening or intimidating a partner, keeping them away from friends or family or restricting their access to money.
A 15-page consultation document issued by the Home Officethat there would have to be a “pattern” of abuse to trigger a prosecution.
It comes after the Government unveiled a “Cinderella” law earlier this year which will see parents who starve their children of love and affection being prosecuted for “emotional cruelty”.
Both proposed offences mark a significant incursion by the State into what have previously been regarded as private affairs.
Mrs May said she was clear that domestic abuse was “not just about violence”. “Within every community there are people living in fear of those closest to them,” she said.
“The terrifying reality is that for the most part these appalling crimes happen behind closed doors. We must bring domestic abuse out into the open and send a clear message that it is wrong to put your partner or your family in fear.”
Although the new domestic abuse offence is mainly designed to protect wives and girlfriends from male partners who intimidate them, it will apply equally to men being targeted by women. The Home Office said 16 per cent of men admit to being victims of domestic abuse during their lifetimes compared with 30 per cent of women, according to research.
Women’s Aid, one of the groups working with the Home Office on the proposals, highlighted the case of a mother-of-two whose abusive marriage illustrated the kind of relationship that could be covered by the law.
She suffered years of psychological abuse from her husband who, she said, would “put me down”, hide her possessions and “scream” at her if she came home late.
“I wasn’t allowed any money for myself,” she said. “He would spend £200 a week at a strip club; I had to give a comprehensive budget of everything I was spending.”
In a separate case highlighted by Rachel Horman, a solicitor who specialises in domestic abuse cases, a woman was woken in the night by her husband, who had been drinking.
He ordered her to go to the garage to buy cigarettes for him, and to bring a receipt to show how much of his money she had spent.
When she returned without the receipt, he shouted obscenities at her and ordered her to get on her knees to beg his forgiveness, which she did immediately to avoid being hit.
The consultation paper acknowledged that domestic abuse was already partly covered by stalking and harassment laws, but it said a new offence might be necessary because some experts had argued that “the law is ambiguous and perpetrators are … not being brought to justice”.
A new offence would strengthen protection for people in relationships with each other, and could also cover abuse between family members and ex-partners. The consultation, which is open for eight weeks, defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim”.
A Home Office spokesman said the crime would be prosecuted “along the same lines” as anti-stalking and harassment offences. Under those laws, there must have been at least two occasions when the victim was caused distress.
She added that the worst cases of domestic abuse, where there was
intimidation “over a long period of time”, would carry a jail term, although no maximum sentences had yet been drawn up.
Less serious examples are likely to be dealt with by community orders or fines.
The number of domestic abuse cases referred by police for prosecution reached a record high of 103,500 last year.
Conviction rates for this type of crime have increased from just under 60 per cent in 2005-06 to nearly 75 per cent in 2013-14, according to the Home Office. Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “This is a vital step forward for victims of domestic violence.
“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.”
Prof David Wilson, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, supported the move, but warned that the new offence could pose initial legal problems.
“The dividing line between abuse and criminality is often one that is difficult to measure,” he said.
Peter Lodder QC, a criminal barrister, added: “The law can be a blunt instrument and if you are talking about how people conduct their private lives the criminal law is not always the best way to control that.
“Extreme cases may be obvious but the difficulty may come with where one draws the line." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11043785/Bullying-husbands-face-jail-under-new-proposals-by-Theresa-May.html