In an attempt to end the ambiguity surrounding domestic abuse, and improve police powers of intervention, government ministers are discussing plans to make it a criminal offence.
Home Secretary Theresa May is leading the talks, which will look into addressing the string of existing laws in England and Wales that cover acts of violence and abuse.
Currently these laws only apply to coercive and controlling behaviour – as well as stalking and harassment – but fail to explicitly cover abuse and violence in relationships.
Furthermore, in their wording the laws do not specifically include any of the terms of the official definition of domestic abuse in England and Wales.
This makes it difficult for police to judge whether or not they are breaching their powers if they intervene in cases of suspected domestic abuse.
In the UK, two women a week are killed by domestic violence, and a recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed thousands are at risk of serious harm due to widespread failings by police to deal with offenders.
If the decision is made for domestic abuse to become a criminal offence, this law would not only cover acts of violence but also incidents of emotional abuse.
It is widely recognised that emotional and psychological abuse can be just as harmful as violent attacks, and the charity, Women’s Aid say the majority of domestic violence cases involve this kind of controlling behaviour.
In a statement, Theresa May said: “The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal.
“We will look at the results of this consultation carefully in order to continue providing the best possible protection and support for victims of domestic abuse.”
There are however concerns that May’s proposed changes will not be enough to address the very low number of domestic abuse crimes that actually reach the stages of conviction and prosecution.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “We’ve called for the law on domestic violence to be strengthened for some time and have pledged new legislation in the first Queen’s speech of a Labour government.
“Theresa May just isn’t doing enough to reverse the backwards slide in action against domestic violence or support for victims on her watch.”