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Domestic abuse: Coronation Street and the road to reform

The most recent storyline in Coronation Street has had viewers following the disturbing story of Yasmeen Nazir and how she has been involved in an abusive relationship with Geoff Metcalfe.

This story has gradually unfolded over the last two years and demonstrates the effects of a controlling and coercive relationship on someone who was once a strong individual. Fans of Coronation Street have witnessed Geoff humiliating and destroying Yasmeen’s self-confidence, as well as controlling her actions. He has tormented her by killing her pet chicken and feeding it to her, and has threatened suicide as a way of trapping her in the relationship. The writers have been careful in ensuring that the relationship between Yasmeen and Geoff reflects reality and is accurate, with the storylines based on a number of true accounts received from Women’s Aid and Independent Choices, Greater Manchester.

This may be a storyline in a popular soap but it is the reality for a large number of people across the UK. In the past people have defined domestic abuse as being a relationship characterised by acts of violence. However, in recent years it is clear that a large of number of people live with emotional and psychological abuse, as well as coercive and controlling behaviour. Women’s Aid, who are heavily involved in helping and assisting those trapped in abusive and toxic relationships, say that coercive and controlling behaviour can include the following:

  • Being isolated from friends
  • Being deprived of basic needs, such as food
  • Being controlled in every aspect of your life, such as saying who you can see and where you can go
  • Being humiliated and degraded
  • Being threatened and/or intimidated.

This general pattern of behaviour has the aim of making the victim isolated and therefore reliant on their abuser. This has become especially pertinent during the period of lockdown caused by the coronavirus. Victims have now in effect become prisoners in their own homes and perpetrators feel that they have more freedom to act.

The National Domestic Abuse helpline has reported that calls to their centres increased by 49% in the first three weeks of lockdown. The Counting Dead Women Project has reported that as at 16 April 2020 there had been 16 suspected domestic abuse killings during lockdown.

The rise in domestic abuse at this particular time has helped to focus the Government on domestic abuse and the anticipated Domestic Abuse Bill has recently had its second reading. The draft legislation has enjoyed cross party support and is welcomed by those involved in the fight against domestic abuse. Victoria Atkins MP has stated that the Bill will “transform the response to domestic abuse, helping to prevent offending, protect victims and ensure they have the support they need”.

The Government have confirmed that the Domestic Abuse Bill will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse. The definition will state that domestic abuse is not just physical, but can also be emotional, financial, manipulative and controlling. Victims will receive further protections such as Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which will impose long term bans on perpetrators making contact with the victim. The Bill will place the guidance supporting the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, otherwise known as “Clare’s Law” on a statutory footing.

The Family Court will also experience changes due to the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Bill will prevent perpetrators and alleged perpetrators (in some circumstances) of domestic abuse from cross-examining their victims in person. The Court will be able to appoint a publicly-funded advocate to cross-examine where this is necessary. The prohibition of cross-examination will occur when the perpetrator has a conviction, a caution for, or has been charged with certain offences. Where these circumstances do not apply, the Court will consider if there is any other evidence of domestic abuse, and it will have the power to prevent cross-examination if this will diminish a witness’s evidence or cause significant distress.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is due to be considered by the Public Bill Committee on 25 June 2020, and it will hopefully provide the change required in respect of domestic abuse and the millions of people it currently effects in the UK.

If you have any questions stemming from this article, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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