Controlling or Coercive Behaviour and Human Rights: Widening the Ambit of Harm

Marilyn McMahon4, Paul McGorrery4
4Deakin University

Recent reforms to domestic violence laws in England, Wales and Scotland have criminalised non-physical forms of abuse (such as psychological and financial abuse). These laws have been justified, at least in part, by reference to the human rights of victims. They reflect an increasing tendency to view domestic violence within the framework of human rights abuse. This paper explores the implications of this perspective, with particular attention being given to the effect of non-physical abuse on victims’ autonomy, and its consequently unique capacity to undermine a variety of human rights. In doing so, this paper evaluates how the criminal law generally engages with human rights and, more specifically, how the offences of controlling or coercive behaviour (England and Wales) and domestic abuse (Scotland) can protect victims of domestic violence from having their rights abused by expanding the ambit of harms recognised by the criminal law.


Dr Marilyn MacMahon is an Associate Professor at Deakin University School of Law. Her research interests are in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal responsibility and evidence. She is currently involved in a research project exploring how women who are victims of domestic violence are constructed in legal proceedings.

The victim-offender dynamic in domestic abuse and coercive control:  An analysis of police data

Les Humphreys1
1Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom

Understanding the victim-offender dynamic in domestic abuse (DA) has important implications for policing and intervention.  Questions in this field abound.  Broadly this presentation will outline findings from an investigation into the frequency and repetition of offending and victimisation of DA.  Analysis was carried out on data obtained from Merseyside constabulary’s information systems – Merseyside is an area in the North West of England with a population of about 1.5 million people.  The sample analysed comprised information on all incidents that were crimed by Merseyside police between January 2016 and June 2017 (n=18,978).  In doing so a distinction is made between four groups 1) victims; 2) victim-offenders (individuals who, in terms of their contact with the police, are primarily victims, but who also ’offend’; 3) offenders; 4)  offender-victims (individuals who, in terms of their contact with the police, are primarily offenders, but who also ’victimised’.  Comparisons of the differences in the nature and prevalence of these groups will be made between a) individuals involved in cases charged with the new offence of coercive control and b) those charged with other forms of domestic abuse.  Findings will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of individuals involved in DA that comes to the attention of the police particularly when compared to similar work carried out by Muftić et. al. (2015).  Specifically, these findings make three important contributions – they help understand how the police interpret the law of coercive control; they help understand how best to respond to coercive control specifically and domestic abuse more generally; and they make a vital contribution to measuring police demand associated with DA.


Dr Les Humphreys is a Lecturer in Criminology at Lancaster University specialising in quantitative methods. His research focusses on criminal justice research, criminal sentencing and domestic abuse.

Coercive Control: A clinical or a legal concept? Problems and possibilities

Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon3, Professor Sandra Walklate2

2University of Liverpool, 3Monash University

This presentation examines the efficacy of coercive control as a conceptual device for improving access to law and justice outcomes for women as victim/survivors of intimate partner violence. Elsewhere we have considered the problems and possibilities of translating a concept generated from clinical practice into legal practice alongside an exploration of the potential unintended consequences of creating an offence within from such a legacy (see Walklate, Fitz-Gibbon and McCulloch 2018). In that article we concluded that in order to appreciate the gendered nature of intimate partner violence as the increasingly different ways in which this is manifested more law was not the answer. Here we wish to explore further the conceptual/legal dilemmas posed by the introduction of coercive control as an offence in England and Wales. This demands a further critical excavation of the conceptual legacy of coercion from a legal perspective (as opposed to its clinical value). This analysis casts further light on the operational dilemmas posed by this legislation by directing attention towards the question of who the subjects of law, posed some time ago by Naffine (1990, 2003). This analysis adds further weight to the view that more law is not the answer.


Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University, researcher within the Monash Gender and Family Violence Research Program and an  Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool. Her research examines family violence, legal responses to intimate partner violence and the law of homicide in Australia and comparable jurisdictions.


The Coercive Control Offence and Implications for the Policing of Domestic Abuse

Dr Charlotte Barlow1, Dr Kelly Johnson1, Professor Sandra Walklate2
1Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom, 2University of Liverpool

Coercive and controlling behaviours were criminalised in England and Wales as part of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. There has been consequent growing academic interest and critique of coercive control as a legislative concept (Walklate, Fitzgibbon & McCulloch, 2018; Walby & Towers, 2018). This paper aims to extend this discussion by exploring police responses to coercive control, informed by empirical data from the author’s N8 Catalyst funded project. The paper will consider how the idea of coercive control is utilised and understood in practice by police officers. Police responses to coercive control will be compared to violence against the person with injury cases, in particular ABH, to consider the similarities and differences. Most of the coercive control cases in the data-set analysed featured physical violence. The implications of this, both in terms masking actual levels of violence and the problems and possibilities of coercive control as a legal concept will be discussed.


Dr Charlotte Barlow is a Lecturer in Criminology at Lancaster University. She has conducted research exploring police responses to domestic abuse, women co-offenders experiences of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls more broadly. She is the author of  “Coercion and women co-offenders: A gendered pathway into crime” (2016).


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