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Silent and deadly: The Invisible Man and The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Posted on 23rd July, 2021

I recently watched the 2020 Elizabeth Moss version of ‘The Invisible Man’ on Amazon Prime. Having initially tuned in for a typical thriller/horror type movie, I was struck instead by how well it captured the features of an abusive and coercively controlling relationship.

In particular, the main character at one point describes how “he controlled how I looked and what I wore and what I ate, and then it was controlling when I left the house and what I said and eventually what I thought, and if he didn’t like what he assumed I was thinking…” (Watch the full scene here.)

Admittedly, the film is an extreme example as the titular character invents a high-tech suit to terrorise his ex-partner, but effectively highlights several key abuse indicators less commonly seen on the big screen. Perhaps most importantly, Moss’ portrayal shows that abusive behaviour doesn’t necessarily have to leave scars or bruises to have a significant and lasting impact.

In my line of work, I often speak to people in similar situations who don’t always realise abuse doesn’t have to be physical, and who have seen behaviour escalate over time, making it harder to identify. This can include:

  1. Verbal abuse (shouting, swearing, generally putting the victim down)
  2. Financial control (setting an ‘allowance’, limiting access to joint funds, questioning purchases to excess)
  3. Coercive and controlling behaviour (dictating how the victim dresses, eats, who they see, checking their phone, controlling their social media);
  4. Gaslighting (causing someone to doubt their own sanity and question the reliability of their own thoughts or memories – for example, I’ve heard of someone who did this by using wi-fi controlled lights and speakers to terrorise his ex-partner).

Thankfully the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 intends to change the law and address these types of abuse by (among other things):

  1. Creating a statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’ to emphasise that it is not just physical violence, but also covers emotional and financial control and controlling and coercive behaviour;
  2. Extending the existing offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” to include ‘postseparation abuse’ as it is now widely accepted such behaviour can continue long after a relationship ends, particularly where children are involved;
  3. Extending the offence of sharing private sexual material without consent to include threatening to do so in order to cause victims distress;
  4. Creating a new offence of ‘non-fatal strangulation or suffocation’ and confirming in law that “no one can consent to the infliction of serious harm and, by extension, no one can consent to their own death” to address what has recently become known as the ‘rough sex gone wrong’ defence;
  5. Prohibiting GPs from charging victims of domestic abuse for a letter in support of their circumstances, with some previously charging up to £50 which was prohibitive for many victims of financial control; and
  6. Increased powers and funding for local authorities to rehouse victims of domestic abuse quickly and securely.

Sadly, there is no ‘quick fix’ in domestic abuse cases, but the above will at least make justice a lot easier to access for those in need, and I for one look forward to seeing the new Act implemented ASAP.

If you are suffering domestic abuse and need help and advice on how to get out of the situation you are in, your legal rights and how to protect yourself, then contact our matrimonial team on 01642 356500/0191 2322574, and we can talk about ways to help.

Beth Courtney-Walker, Solicitor

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