Coercive Control as the Context for Intimate Partner Violence: The Challenge for the Legal System

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Criminalising Coercive Control Family Violence and the Criminal Law, 2020, pp. 219-242
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The last 30 years have seen considerable change in the legal landscape to better address the harm of intimate partner violence (IPV), including the introduction of stalking and intimidation offences, as well as civil protection orders, yet many gaps and issues remain. The creation of an offence that seeks to capture the harm of coercive control is presented as one way in which to fill some of the gaps between the experience of IPV and the way the criminal law has traditionally conceived of this harm. In this chapter, I raise questions about whether such an offence will achieve its aims if attention is not also paid to the practice and implementation of current (and new) laws. In particular, I discuss the dominance of the incident framework not only in terms of criminal law responses, but also in terms of those responses designed to better address the pattern of IPV, namely, civil protection orders. A key concern of this chapter is the conceptual gap that emerges between the intentions of law reform and the practice or implementation of that law In so doing, I draw on recent cautions voiced by Julia Tolmie (2018a) and Sandra Walklate and colleagues (2018). I argue that an understanding of coercive control is necessary for all legal engagements that seek to address the harm of IPV, and that if attention was centred on whether there should be a discrete offence it may distract from the need to simultaneously do more work to ensure that a deeper understanding of coercive control informs all areas of legal practice.
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