Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd has this week presented a bill in the Commons that would recognise domestic violence as a distinct offence in England and Wales.
Mr Llwyd’s bill, which has attracted support from, is sponsored by trade union Napo and by the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group.
Currently, domestic abuse is not considered an offence in itself – the focus being of specific incidences of abuse for which evidence exists.
The push for domestic violence to be punished more severely is due to the atmosphere of threat and danger created in homes where there is an abuser. Victims may feel trapped and particularly struggle to come forward, when even a successful conviction would mean an uncomfortable change in their living situation.
It is in this constant state of fear that individual acts of violence or aggression – which are traditionally considered legal offences – are less relevant when seeking a conviction against an abuser.
Instead, police and the courts should consider non-crimes such as emotional manipulation and close control of a partner’s finances and social life, to also be forms of domestic abuse.
The new law, if passed, would allow for much broader investigations into patterns of behaviour, over a number of years, to be taken into account.
A person convicted of domestic abuse could face a custodial sentence of 14 years, in addition to prison time from more specific charges.
Mr. Llwyd said, ‘At present, our criminal system is too focused on the physical evidence of violent crimes committed against a victim. Coercive control and emotional blackmail, on the other hand, do not leave scars or bruises – but they are every bit as debilitating.
‘This bill provides that a person could be found guilty of an offence if they display behaviour which is covered by the government’s definition of domestic violence.’
This is not the first recent development targeted at toughening the penalties for domestic abusers. In March last year, the government announced a broader definition of domestic violence that has already started to show positive results. Perpetrators of violence in the home are more likely to face prosecution and be handed down harsher sentences.
As well as bringing more abusers to justice, the law seeks to end violence and other forms of abuse sooner by making conviction more certain, and thereby incentivising victims to come forward.
Research shows that on average, a victim does not come forward until after at least 30 incidences of abuse. Only one in six reports leads to a charge.