A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Scotland to become one of the first countries to criminalize psychological abuse & coercive, controlling behavior

At a debate of a new Domestic Abuse Bill in the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson condemned the ‘pernicious, coercive and controlling behaviour’ of perpetrators.

This BBC News article, Holyrood [home of the Scottish Parliament] debates domestic abuse law, explains how unless psychological abuse and the use of coercive control is accompanied by physical violence or overt threats it can be very difficult to prosecute under current law.  This new legislation hopes to provide protection for victims of both physical and the more covert psychological abuse and coercive control.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

The new bill will create a specific offence of “abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner”.

And it will also include proposals to ensure psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be effectively prosecuted.

The proposals have been given the backing in principle by opposition politicians.

Mr Matheson told MSPs of some of the “horrendous types of behaviour victims can be forced to endure – but which cannot currently be prosecuted by the courts.

He said perpetrators “may not necessarily use physical violence against their partner or even overt threats”, but they could “behave in a highly-controlling, abusive way over a long period of time”.

The Justice Secretary continued: “Examples of what abusers may do to humiliate their partners are horrendous.

“For example, abusers may force them to eat food off the floor, control access to the toilet, repeatedly put them down and tell them they are worthless.

“Abusers also try to control every aspect of their partner’s life, by, for example, preventing them from attending work or college, stopping them making contact with family or friends, giving them no or limited access to money, checking or controlling their use of their phone and social media.”

He said where this behaviour is not accompanied by physical violence or overt threats it could currently be “very difficult to prosecute”.

Mr Matheson said: “A perpetrator may have subjected their partner to years of abuse but may only have been convicted of a single instance of assault or threatening and abusive behaviour.”

He stressed the new law would not inadvertently criminalise “ordinary arguments and friction that may occur in many relationships”.

Ministers are also “considering very carefully” how the proposals could be changed to reflect the impact of such abuse on children who are “in effect secondary victims of partner abuse”.


The following article will be of interest to police, criminologists, women’s advocates and academics in the domestic abuse field.

Seeing What is ‘Invisible in Plain Sight’: Policing Coercive Control by Cassandra Weiner, Doctoral Researcher, School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex. (October 2017)

Abstract:   Coercive control has emerged as a key focus for researchers and activists working in the field of intimate partner abuse. In England and Wales, the issue has taken on a new urgency. On 29 December 2015, s. 76, Serious Crime Act made ‘coercive or controlling behaviour’ a criminal offence. Implementation of the new offence has been slow. The analysis of data generated by empirical work with police and survivors suggests that police need to understand a working model of coercive control in order to adopt what could be a transformative approach to policing intimate partner abuse.



  1. Abby

    It will be interesting to see how this works out in Scotland. What I see, because of my experience, is half the church coming to court to support the abuser while the victim sits all alone. One accusation after another being hurled at the victim that he or she cannot defend because it never happened. I see the victim ending up in jail. Oh, the injustice of it all.

    Whether you call them abusers, accusers, narcissists, or psychopaths, one thing they all have in common is that they are LIARS. They lie with impunity.

    The question still remains, how do we get to the “truth?”

  2. Commenter

    I see Abby’s point of the women ending up in jail with their abusers being savvy manipulators of the latest law. It already happens in the United States where there are mandatory arrest laws with the woman having defended herself, or worse yet, the man marking himself up (scratching, punching himself) before the police arrive and he banged her head where she is stumbling about with yet another head injury, dazed, terrorized, stunned, abused, wanting to die and the police see his self-inflicted scratches or whatever else and she goes to jail. She has no money to post bail, no friends thanks to his isolation and grinding her down, and is desperate to get out and stay out so she can see her kids. She’ll be intimidated by the system, not know her rights, say whatever she needs to (whatever she senses they want her to say) as she is accustomed to doing and suddenly she has a criminal record that she plea bargained (because a trial was made to seem impossible for her to do) for because she doesn’t understand the implications to such and her abuser is pressuring her for such and thanks to the criminal record she is now further locked out of jobs, housing, etc.

    BUT I ALSO see the law as being great validation for what is so insidious and long-term damaging to victims — the psychological, the brainwashing and total control, the humiliation tactics…..

    I can remember being like a chicken with its head cut off — running about, frantic, from one abuse, degradation, horror, attack, etc. to another — and suddenly the control of the bathroom became his latest method. We only had one bathroom and we lived in town and he controlled access to it 24/7…… a person must urinate and defecate at some point and if denied access 24/7 a person must improvise. Let’s just say that when I think back about that and how I didn’t even think much of it at the time because it was horrorville anyhow, I just was like, here’s another speedbump, — why do i have to urinate so much — (and everybody pees but I started to hate myself for having to pee because it was another problem I had no energy to solve and another thing demanding my creativity…..and I just wanted to die and prayed for death and hated having ever been born/alive/created)

    Okay, too much rambling, but I was appreciative to see the judicial person talking about the total control, the humiliation tactics, the forced eating of food off the floor, denial of the use of a restroom, and living in fear 24/7/365 with total control exerted to the point of every action, movement, thought, word spoken. etc. being controlled and dictated by the abuser….. they seem to get it. Physical abuse gets so much attention but if a person is treated horrendously and controlled and degraded for years on end in near total isolation, that has incredibly destructive impact. Long-term, soul-destroying, life marring, murderous impact.

    • Lea

      “and suddenly the control of the bathroom became his latest method. ”

      This is horrifying. It reminds me of what is done in a torture situation, this kind of control. I actually like that the Scottish law appears to be calling out this sort of behavior. It is somewhat akin to refusing to let someone leave being equated to kidnapping in the law.

  3. Responding to both Abby and Commenter,

    I know that in at least some parts of the USA where the police are mandated to arrest for any physical violence in ‘domestics’ that women are sometimes being the ones who get arrested. And I know that some abusers are deliberately engineering this to come about. (See this comment I wrote on another post, and the book Hanging By My Fingernails, which we have on our Recommended Books list under our Resources tab).

    • But I also know that the Scottish police and the Scottish justice system are quite a lot better than the USA in responding to domestic abuse. And in Scotland, they are aware that in order to investigate and prosecute the crime of coercive control, they need to take a very different approach than the one they have used before for domestic abuse. Instead of just investigating incidents of assault, they need to be having a much more extended investigative conversation with the victim and be listening carefully to the victim’s narrative in order to discern the patterns of behaviour and all the various coercive tactics that the abuser has used to control the victim. It is indeed a learning curve for the police, but at least now in Scotland they are starting to train their police force to use this kind of lens when investigating domestic abuse.

      Here is an academic paper which discusses this reframing that police need to do: Seeing What is ‘Invisible in Plain Sight’: Policing Coercive Control, by Cassandra Wiener

      And here is an absolutely WONDERFUL series of tweets which was tweeted by Police from Lochaber and the Isle of Skye (in Scotland). I was gobsmacked when I read this tweet.







      • No Name

        How lovely is that?!!!! I don’t use twitter or anything but how lovely. That message could apply to so very, very many. What a smart series of postings.

  4. Frank

    Abby writes about the church supporting the abuser – allow me to share our experience. The Church of Scotland has a vg Safeguarding Handbook – here is an excerpt:

    4.1: How should the local Church respond to domestic abuse?

    Congregations are made up of people from across the social spectrum. Research shows that there is no social profile for either victims or perpetrators of domestic abuse. It is therefore statistically probable that domestic abuse is happening in every congregation, parish and community in Scotland. Recognising the signs of domestic abuse is therefore crucial if churches wish to provide appropriate support.

    The reality is – when an elder’s years of ongoing abuse towards his ex wife and family are pointed out to his church, the minister says it never happened – “the matter is closed”. After several approaches to the minister, a few emails to the Presbytery Clerk and finally a Formal Complaint to the Presbytery – the outcome is “…we will not be taking the complaint any further.”

    C of Scotland, Edinburgh, and C of Scotland, local, don’t appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet!

    • Thanks Frank. 🙂 Obviously you’ve had some experience of how a Presbytery in the Church of Scotland is mistreating victims of abuse and letting the perpetrators get away with their bad behaviour. We believe you! This kind of thing happens pretty often, in various denominations and local churches.

      Since this is your first comment on the blog, allow me to welcome you. I edited your comment a little bit for clarity’s sake. If you think I have made any errors in my editing, please email myself (barbara@notunderbondage.com) or my assistant TWBTC (twbtc.acfj@gmail.com).

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