The new offence of exercising coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship was created by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This sought to address the problem of being able to prove that there had been a series or pattern of events equating to harassment against the victim. Case law, such as the cases of Curtis  and Widdows  provided a temporary patch but were not justifiable as a permanent solution.
For one to have committed an offence under the Act, they have to have had a relationship with the victim- be it familial or romantic, during which they have repeatedly or continually acted in a way that is harassing, controlling, or coercive and has a serious effect on the victim which the perpetrator ought to have known. The ‘effect’ on the victim must have caused them to be fearful that violence could have been used against them at least two times, and/or has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day-to-day activities.
To be convicted of this crime, the perpetrator may have used behaviours that humiliate, dehumanise, or control the victim. This includes but is not limited to: controlling who the victim sees or contacts, controlling the victim’s finances, using spyware, controlling what the victim wears or any other routine aspect of their day and threatening or talking derogatively to the victim in order to make them feel shame or worthlessness.
Presently in Sussex eleven people have been charged awaiting trial under the Act, with a further fifty one cases being investigated. Friday 19th May saw the first conviction for ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’ in the county. 24-year old Robert Conlon of St Leonards has been sentenced to four and a half years in prison following a guilty plea. Four years of the sentence was with regard to the coercive control Mr Conlon subjected his ex partner to, with further penalties for actual bodily harm, and a concurrent sentence of six months for attempting to pervert the course of justice by making contact with the victim in a failed attempt to get her to withdraw her evidence. Mr Conlon is also subject to an indefinite restraining order, meaning that upon his release from prison he will not be allowed to contact the victim or enter Sussex for the foreseeable future.
Detective Sargeant Steve Shimmons commented that Conlon had embarked on a series of behaviours that controlled every aspect of the victim’s life, such as telling her who she could and could not see and what she was allowed to wear. He also threatened violence against the victim on several occasions and would turn up at her workplace to keep an eye on her whereabouts.
Detective Chief Inspector Ali Eaton said on Sussex Police’s website; “This case shows how such behaviour has a devastating and long-lasting impact on the lives of victims, who often don’t initially realise that it is a crime.” This reflects the truly horrific nature of crimes such as this, where a victim can be so blinded by love and emotion that they may not realise until it is too late that what has been happening to them is abusive and wrong.