Opinion: Is it time for convicted controlling and coercive partners to go on a register like sex offenders?

The insidious nature of controlling and coercive behaviour can mean that many who have survived it are forced to live with its impact for years.
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While violence does often feature, the psychological effects of being in a relationship with somoene who seeks to belittle you, to control you and your behaviour, to isolate you from your loved ones and to cause you to question your perception of reality can be far more pervasive.

This type of relationship is categorised as controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family setting, and became a recognised legal offence in 2015. Prior to this, only violence in a domestic setting was recognised as an offence.

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Thankfully, the law does recognise that spouses of abusive partners, and those concerned about someone in such a relationship, should have the right to ask the police about whether an individual has a history of violence or abuse.

The victims of abusive partners can be affected by the treatment they endured for yearsThe victims of abusive partners can be affected by the treatment they endured for years
The victims of abusive partners can be affected by the treatment they endured for years

This is part of what is known as Clare’s Law, and came into force in 2014, and is named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton.

Her family subsequently learned that prior to Clare’s murder, Appleton had a history of violence against women.

While I’m extremely glad that Clare’s Law exists, I do wonder whether the onus should be on the partners of abusive partners – or on their loved ones – to seek this information out; and if the law goes far enough.

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As a court reporter, I often see cases involving defendants charged with controlling and coercive behaviour coming through Sheffield Crown Court.

Although the circumstances vary, the gradual way in which abusers strip their target of their self-esteem and their agency is repeated again and again.

It can take complainants a very long time to recognise that their partner’s behaviour is not representative of what a loving partnership should be like, and is instead, indicative of a controlling relationship.

By the time they come to this realisation, it might be too late for them to enact Clare’s Law.

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This can be because their abuser has worked to ruin their relationships with friends and family, leaving complainants feeling as though they have no-one to turn to.

It is understandable why people in these situations may feel unable, or too embarrassed, to ask for help.

Complainants may have had their relationships with others undermined so much that if a loved one was to tell them of their partner’s history, they may not believe them; and they may also have been led to believe that their partner’s ex is not to be trusted and was the source of any problems they had.

The manipulative tactics used by controlling and coercive partners can also mean that victims and survivors feel as though the abuse they have endured is their fault, and so may not believe they have a right, or that there is a need, to check up on their partner.

I’m also not confident that enough people are aware of Clare’s Law for it to be a failsafe.

I wonder whether a better option would be for those convicted of domestic abuse to go on a register similar to that for sex offenders.

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Just as sex offenders are legally required to inform police of a new address or change of circumstances, I believe it would be beneficial for abusers to be required to inform police when they enter into a new relationship.

This way, police would be required to contact the new partner to inform them of their history early on.

Judges could set a length of time for an individual to be on a domestic abuse register – which is what happens with the sex offenders’ register. This would mean that if any individual begins to change their behaviour after participating in initatives such as the court-ordered ‘building better relationships’ programme, or are deemed to no longer pose a danger to those they are in a relationship with, they can be taken off it and left free to move on with their lives.

While everyone is entitled to find love and to move on with their life, I wonder whether it might be beneficial for new partners of convicted abusers to receive that information without having to ask for it.