Old Bailey Solicitors

Is Emotional Abuse Considered Domestic Violence?

Is emotional abuse domestic violence?

Domestic violence and abuse come in many shapes and sizes, including physical, sexual, and financial abuse. Various statutes have illegalised forms of domestic violence over time, however, they usually encapsulated offences committed in any setting; not just domestic. However, in 2015, new legislation came into effect that made emotional and psychological abuse in a domestic setting a criminal offence in the United Kingdom.

Controlling and coercive behaviour

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 defines the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.

The definition provides that coercive behaviour is an act/pattern of acts including assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other forms of abuse used to harm, punish, and frighten the complainant. Controlling behaviour is an array of acts considered to make an individual feel subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from support, abusing resources and capacities for personal gain, taking their independence, and regulating daily behaviour.

The new offence of engaging in coercive or controlling behaviour protects victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse.

What does the prosecution have to prove?

To establish the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour, the prosecution must prove all four of the following elements:

  1. The accused repeatedly or continuously engaged in behaviour towards another person that is controlling and coercive.
  2. At the time of the behaviour, the accused and the victim were personally connected.
  3. The accused’s behaviour had a serious effect on the victim.
  4. The accused knew or ought to have known that the behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim.

The accused is considered ‘personally connected’ to the victim if they are in an intimate personal relationship, or live together and are members of the same family, or live together and have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

Additionally, there are two ways in which it can be proved that the accused’s behaviour had a ‘serious effect’ on the victim:

  1. The accused’s behaviour causes the victim to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them.
  2. The accused’s behaviour causes the victim serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.

Finally, the legislation considers ‘substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities’ to include, stopping or changing the way someone socialises, physical or mental health deterioration, change in routine at home, attendance record at school and changes in work patterns.

How is the accused’s punishment determined?

A controlling and coercive behaviour conviction attracts a maximum sentence of 4 years custody (imprisonment) and a minimum sentence of a low-level community order. The court takes into consideration the level of harm caused to the victim as well as the culpability of the accused.

Culpability refers to the blameworthiness of the accused. Culpability is assessed with reference to the offender’s role, level of intention or premeditation. The court balance these factors to determine a fair sentence. A list of characteristics that indicate higher culpability includes conduct intended to cause fear and distress, persistent action over a prolonged period of time, use of multiple methods of controlling and coercive behaviour and conduct intended to humiliate or degrade the victim.

Harm refers to injury, loss, or damage. The level of harm is determined by the presence of physical injuries or the psychological impact on the victim. The court determines where on the sentencing guidelines the accused falls, depending on the individual facts of the case, and the level of harm and fear caused to the victim.

What are the sentencing guidelines for controlling and coercive behaviour?

The sentencing guidelines are categorised into two categories:

  1. Category 1 ranges from 4 years custody to a high level community order and is usually reserved for the most serious cases. These cases usually involve persistent use of controlling and coercive behaviour, which has caused a victim to fear serious violence on several occasions and has resulted in significant psychological harm to the victim.
  2. Category 2 ranges from 1 year custody to a low-level community order. This category incorporates instances where fear and violence has been caused on at least 2 occasions and has caused serious alarm or distress to the victim.

What to do if you have been accused of controlling and coercive behaviour?

The law surrounding serious offences of domestic violence is complicated and can involve a multitude of different legal issues. If you have been charged or are under investigation, it is essential that you take immediate legal advice. Old Bailey Solicitors can advise you at every stage of your case, from the first stage of the criminal investigation at the police station, through to the Magistrates’ court and the crown court. Please contact us for discreet, sensitive and expert advice. The team are on hand to help, if you’d like a discreet chat, do get in touch.


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Kelsey Reid


9 responses to “Is Emotional Abuse Considered Domestic Violence?”

  1. Christy says:

    My fiancé has been bullying me about making me leave, about calling cops to have me removed, over money to the point I shoplifted and got arrested and have never had a theft of any kind at the age of 46. My name is not on the house, so he says I’m nobody and they will arrest me bc he is somebody and owns this house, he threatened me with violence he raped the last ex allegedly and has been intimate with me without my consent on one occasion. I can’t function from day to day bc of him making me feel like at any moment he can throw me out and not giving me any kind of security in my future while telling me ivdknt have to work.

  2. I’m been persecuted by some one that lives above me fretting behaviour picking my lock steeling my belongings what can I do the housing will not move me im a 60s man I should not have to put up with this can any one advise me ive had many locks on my door but he still gets in he is also spreading Malishup gossip about me can any one advise me im at my wits end.

    • Kelsey Reid says:

      I’m truly sorry to hear about the distressing situation you’re facing with your neighbour’s abusive behaviour. It’s unacceptable to be subjected to such treatment, and I understand how difficult it must be for you to endure this situation, especially as a 60s man.
      Here are some initial steps you could take:
      1. Contact the Authorities: If you believe your neighbour is engaging in illegal activities, such as theft or breaking and entering, it’s crucial to report this to the police. They can investigate the matter and take appropriate action to ensure your safety.
      2. Document Incidents: Keep a detailed record of all incidents, including dates, times, and descriptions of what occurred. This documentation can serve as valuable evidence when discussing the matter with the police or housing authorities.
      3. Inform Your Landlord/Housing Authority: Notify your landlord or the housing authority about the issues you’re facing with your neighbour. Provide them with the documented evidence to support your claims. They may be able to take action or provide assistance to resolve the situation.
      4. Seek Legal Advice: Consulting a solicitor who specialises in housing or property law can provide you with personalised advice on your rights and the options available to you. They can also guide you through the process of dealing with a difficult neighbour.

  3. Lewis parchment says:

    Please may I have some advise regarding emotional, physical & mental abuse from my daughters mother who has completely taking my life away.

    I’m in desperate need

    • Kelsey Reid says:

      We are truly sorry to hear that you’re going through such a difficult and challenging situation with emotional, physical, and mental abuse from your daughter’s mother. It takes immense courage to reach out and share your experience, and I want you to know that you are not alone in this journey.
      I can offer some general advice that may be helpful. Please keep in mind that seeking professional guidance from a family law attorney or counsellor is crucial for a situation as complex as this. Here are some initial steps you might consider:

      1. Prioritise Your Safety: If you believe your safety is at risk, it’s essential to take immediate action. Reach out to local authorities or a domestic violence helpline to discuss your situation and explore ways to ensure your well-being.
      2. Document Incidents: If it’s safe to do so, keep a record of instances of abuse. This documentation can be valuable if you need to pursue legal action in the future. Consult a
      3. Family Law Attorney: If you’re facing challenges related to custody or visitation with your child, consulting a family law attorney can provide you with personalised advice and guidance on your legal rights and options.

      If you would like some further information regarding reporting domestic violence or a Family Law referral, please contact our office directly.

  4. rez says:

    My girlfriend (EX what she calls herself) is abusing, manipulating, not showing me kids, discarding or breaking my appliances without telling, causing me emotional distress and psychological stress, physical towards me in two occasion. Called on me police and reported me numerous times to domestic abusive help lines on constant bases. Social services visited and spoke me I have explained them that this is baseless and I have never caused any distress or been abusive to her. I have not shouted, I never used force or even been aggressive to her. I have never been arrested but I am suffering on daily bases. I have 2 little kids both babies love me a lot but she is in a way of our father and children relationship. Kicked me from home many times and constant in search of argument to separate. Recent her abusive behaviour: She canceled holiday which I have paid in full (tickets, hotels) all has been booked with her agreeing and constant communication. I have paid expenses, did not get any refund, had to fly on my own so I can see my mum and sister’s family who we where meeting in trip, when I arrived back to UK I have discovered that she thrown my dishwasher £1.2k worth. Thrown all my belongings to dump shed to rot. I do not know what to do. She kept my kids from calling me over 20 days blocked me on the phone so I cannot call.

    • Kelsey Reid says:

      I’m truly sorry to hear that you’re going through such a difficult and challenging situation.

      I can offer some general advice that may be helpful. However, it’s crucial to consult with a legal professional to get advice tailored to your specific circumstances:

      Document Incidents: If it’s safe to do so, keep a record of instances of abuse. This documentation can be valuable if you need to pursue legal action in the future.
      Contact the Authorities: If you believe you are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to contact the police. Provide them with the evidence you’ve gathered and report any instances of physical abuse or damage to property.
      Domestic Abuse Hotline: Contact domestic abuse helplines to seek support and advice. They can provide resources and assistance tailored to your situation.
      Family Law Attorney: If you’re facing challenges related to child custody, consulting a family law attorney can provide you with personalized advice and guidance on your legal rights and options.
      If you would like some further information regarding reporting domestic violence or a Family Law referral, please contact our office directly.

  5. Steve says:

    Hi I was in a 20 Yr marriage and recently it’s been pointed out that I was and still am a victim of domestic abuse.
    My wife (soon to be ex) alienated me from friends and family, she had multiple affairs and when caught would blame me and make me feel at fault for them.
    When I finally got the courage to leave her she then started black mailing me saying if I don’t pay her more money she won’t let me see my kids. I was paying more then the government said I should. But now I don’t and she is not letting me see my youngest son

  6. Frank says:

    I have been accused of coercive and controlling behaviour after I have filed divorce from my partner. I had been placed on bail and I don’t know what will happen as the investigation has now reached the CPS. Does this mean the police are confident that whatever evidence she provided is enough to convict me? I am scared and very stressed out.

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