New Legislation Would Finally Make Emotional Abuse Illegal in the UK

Illustration for article titled New Legislation Would Finally Make Emotional Abuse Illegal in the UK

A pretty remarkable piece of legislation may soon be introduced as a bill in British Parliament that would make domestic abuse involving "emotional blackmail" (but no physical violence) a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. No such law currently exists in the UK.

According to the Telegraph, the legislation has already attracted cross-party support, and could be introduced as a private members bill within a few weeks. Though definitions of emotional blackmail or emotional abuse can vary (and be fairly difficult to prosecute), the potential bill would, broadly, make it possible for a man or woman who carries out "a campaign of coercion or intimidation on their partner" to be found guilty of a criminal offense.

From the report:

The draft text of the legislation says at least two incidents of violence, threats or action that causes someone to fear for their safety would amount to a "course of conduct" which would allow police to bring criminal charges.

Critically, its definition of abuse includes "controlling or coercive behaviour" which would "encompass but is not limited to physical, financial, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse".

"Controlling behaviour" would also lead to criminal charges, including when a partner makes another person "subordinate", "exploits their resources" or "deprives them of the means needed for independence".

The offence would apply to abuse committed against any spouse, partner or former partner, regardless of gender.


Emotional and psychological abuse are listed on U.S. Department of Justice website as forms of domestic violence, and are against the law.

Image via Getty

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Yes, the language of the bill is vague, but there's tons of interpersonal violence research expanding on what "controlling behavior" looks like, how it differs from "being a jerk". It doesn't actually have to be all that vague.

Also, emotional violence is basically a gateway violence. It doesn't always lead to physical and sexual violence, but it's incredibly rare to see physical and sexual violence without emotional violence. And rates of violence don't go down by targeting the most severe cases, they go down by nipping microaggressions in the bud.