Controlling and coercive behaviour has been a criminal offence since s76 of Serious Crime Act 2015 came into force on 29 December 2015. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 extended the scope of s76, removing the cohabitation requirement, meaning it should be easier to prosecute offences relating to post-separation behaviour. To date, prosecutions remain relatively unusual and the Ryan Giggs trial has attracted a lot of attention.
For family practitioners, anything that shines a light on domestic abuse is a good thing if it increases awareness and understanding. It has long been understood that physical assaults are illegal, but in this instance we have examples of alleged behaviour that controls, intimidates, humiliates and diminishes the victim. Ryan Giggs own counsel has stated that he is “far from perfect”, accepting some unattractive behaviour whilst denying that he is a criminal.
Many ask why victims find it hard to leave abusive relationships, the reality is that the abuse destroys their self-esteem and the very fact of abuse makes it harder for victims to leave. Added to that, victim blaming and gaslighting such as “it’s all in your head” and variations on that theme make it genuinely challenging to break free. Finally, perpetrators can be plausible and changeable, making promises to change. They don’t look like monsters and they don’t always behave like them.
Whatever the outcome of this trial, understanding of domestic abuse has crept forward and that has to be a good thing.