UK to expand protection from non-fatal strangulation, coercive control, revenge porn
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UK to expand protection from non-fatal strangulation, coercive control, revenge porn

The UK will introduce new amendments to its Domestic Abuse Bill this week in an effort to expand protection from non-fatal strangulation, post-separation coercive control and revenge pornography, according to a Monday statement from the Home Office.

The Home Office announced the proposed amendments to the bill on its website, with three main changes. The first proposed change is that non-fatal strangulation, which is a perpetrator “strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them,” would be made a specific criminal offense carrying a penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Such practices can be prosecuted under other general offenses, such as actual bodily harm prohibited by section 47 of the Offenses Against the Person Act 1861. However, the proposed amendment comes in response to concerns that general offenses are insufficient given the difficulty proving them when non-fatal strangulation “can often leave no visible injury.”

The second proposed change is that legislation concerning controlling and coercive behavior be amended to no longer require the abuser and the victim to live together by updating the definition of “personally connected” in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This change is in response to a government review entitled “Review of the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour Offense,” published Monday, which highlighted the need for better protection against controlling and coercive behavior. Beyond the government review, the change would align with an increasing body of academic literature recognizing that controlling and coercive behaviors do not always end contemporaneously with the separation of an abusive relationship or household.

The third proposed change is to widen the scope of revenge pornography legislation “to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress” with an accompanying penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. This change would build upon section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. The country’s government has described revenge pornography as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person, without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.”

Additional tabled amendments to the bill include providing special measures in civil courts such as protective screens and allowing evidence to be given through video links; expanding the types of potential evidence that can be used to prove the existence of abuse to avoid cross-examining victims; making the use of barring orders in family courts clearer as these can be used in order to perpetuate domestic abuse; and requiring public authorities to review domestic homicides and report to the domestic abuse commissioner, an independent statutory office holder to be established by the passing of the bill.

Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, chair of the charity Refuge, said in a statement:

This is a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images and we are thrilled that the government has recognized the need for urgent change. Our research found that 1 in 7 young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill provides the perfect legislative vehicle for this change, and the government has acted quickly and decisively. This is a victory for women and girls and testimony to the power of working together for change.

The bill is on track to receive royal assent, thereby becoming law in the British spring, given that it reaches the report stage on March 8.