Eight years ago I was going through the process of divorcing my then husband. I divorced him on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. I had spent many years subjected to his emotional abuse. I was lucky that on the number of occasions that I had to call the police to the house or I went to the station to report a particularly nasty incident. The police were very understanding and didn’t just dismiss my complaints against my husband. Even after our divorce, when he was no longer living at the marital home (by court order) he was still subjecting me to harassment.
I am glad to say that he no longer behaves that way towards me. I don’t have much contact with him, for which I am glad, but when we do speak on the phone it is usually very civil. He is in contact with our sons which is as it should be. They are young adults themselves now, they don’t need me to make arrangements for them.
In recent days there have been reports in the news that The Home Secretary is about to announce new powers against non violent abuse. In theory I can only say that this is a good thing. However I have mixed feelings about all this.
I guess I should be jumping for joy that now (or at least soon) it won’t just be the people who use their fists to control their partner but also those who employ mental abuse, who can be convicted for their actions. Don’t get me wrong I am really pleased that mental abuse is being recognised as damaging to those subjected to it. You no longer have to wait for the abuse to turn physical, you don’t need to have bruises as evidence of suffering.
I know that those in authority want victims of this kind of abuse to come forward. Nobody should suffer the way so many do. I have been hearing and reading that this could lead to abusers receiving up to 14 years in prison. This is what worries me. I wonder to myself, will this encourage victims of abuse to come forward? I am not so sure that it will.
My own feelings about this are that when I was going through the misery caused by my then husband, I wanted him to stop, I wanted to escape from the whole situation. What I didn’t want was for the father of my sons to be put away in prison. I wanted a better life for myself and our children. I wanted peace, safety and my sanity back. That didn’t mean that I wanted my husband behind bars, I just wanted him to leave me alone.
Today I had time to think about all this and I asked myself the question. If at the time of our divorce, the police had had the powers that reports state will be vested on them in the next few months, would I have wanted my husband to be convicted of Coercive Control? I am not sure I can answer that. I was in a very desperate state and needed things to change. If that had been the only way to escape, to give my children a more peaceful life. Maybe. Maybe not. I was already depriving him of our home and our children. Would these new laws have encouraged me to report the abuse, I don’t think so.
We already have laws regarding physical abuse but that doesn’t mean that every victim of physical abuse will report it. Why would this be any different? What we want is protection from our partners, we want to stop looking over our shoulder, waiting for the next punch, insult, controlling device. We don’t always want our abuser locked away. Our children deprived of their other parent.
I do want the victims/survivors of emotional abuse to be given the same protection by the law as those who suffer physical abuse. I just don’t think that the promise of a jail sentence is an incentive to persuade sufferers to report their abuse.