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Finally courts recognise that domestic violence doesn’t have to be physical

It’s no news that domestic violence often involves much more than cuts and bruises. Sometimes there’s no physical violence at all — but that doesn’t make the behaviour any less abusive, destructive and frightening.

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Legislation to make “coercive and controlling behaviour” a criminal offence was introduced in the U.K. in December 2015 — and not before time. It’s crucial that people in this type of relationship know they have justice on their side and the recent case of Gemma Doherty and her abusive partner Mohammed Anwaar is encouraging.

Sheffield man Anwaar, 27, is one of the first people to be convicted under the new legislation. He was jailed for almost two and a half years after pleading guilty to coercive and controlling behaviour as well as nine counts of assault and criminal damage. His controlling behaviour, which continued for around two years, included telling 30-year-old Doherty what she could eat and wear, deciding when she could see her friends and family and making sure he was with her at all times.

Apparently Anwaar loved Brazilian model Gracyanne Barbosa and wanted Doherty to have a shape like Kim Kardashian. So he forced the mum of two to eat nothing but tuna and beetroot, run for hours on the treadmill and do endless squats and sit-ups. If she failed he would hit her. He also told her that he had paid men to watch her at her work to make sure she didn’t flirt with male colleagues.

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For far too long the term “domestic violence” has been used to describe incidents of physical abuse, not ongoing controlling and threatening behaviour. But according to the Home Office coercive control is “the most common context in which [women] are abused, it is also the most dangerous.”

Now that the Criminal Justice System is acknowledging psychological abuse police will be able to respond to the reality of domestic violence for the majority of victims, and support those who are brave enough to speak out.

On average two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. It’s time this statistic changed. Hopefully the imprisonment of men like Anwaar is a step in the right direction.

If you have been affected by domestic abuse contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

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