The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) prosecution guidance on controlling and coercive behaviour and stalking or harassment has been updated and advises prosecutors about the different tactics a suspect can use – including “love-bombing”.
This is where an abuser will intermittently carry out loving acts, such as sending flowers, between other behaviour to confuse the victim and gain more control.
The CPS said that once an investigation is underway, a suspect may then make counter-allegations of abuse, argue their actions were in self-defence, actively mislead the investigation with their behaviour and even apply for non-molestations orders or ask courts to vary restraining orders to exert more control over the victim.
The idea behind the new guidance is that by looking at the evidence surrounding a suspect’s actions, prosecutors can help inform and support investigators in building a robust case. This evidence will also enable an accurate assessment of the risk, so that the necessary support can be put in place for a victim.
“We do not underestimate the impact of stalking or controlling or coercive behaviour on victims who can be forced to change their daily routines, left in fear of their life and totally consumed by this offending,” said Chief Crown Prosecutor Kate Brown, national lead for domestic abuse at the CPS:
“Our prosecutors consider all the evidence, including how a suspect’s actions have impacted the victim, to build a picture of their manipulative behaviour and present a robust case in court.
These controlling offences can quickly escalate and that is why we’re absolutely committed to prosecuting wherever our legal test is met and will always seek out relevant orders to protect victims.”
Prosecutors are asked to consider how an offender’s actions have impacted a victim’s behaviour when making a charging decision as people may respond to abuse in several ways. When assessing the impact of offending, the guidance sets out how prosecutors should look for evidence showing changes a victim has made to their lifestyle.
The updated guidance emphasises the importance of considering stalking, harassment and controlling or coercive behaviour alongside other available charges, in that order, when dealing with conduct which overlaps these offences. This is because stalking or harassment offences have greater sentencing powers and for stalking there’s also the ability to apply for additional protective orders by way of Stalking Protection Orders.
For example, monitoring a person’s movement or social media may constitute both stalking and controlling or coercive behaviour, while controlling who they meet and when they leave the house may constitute both harassment and controlling or coercive behaviour.
“Although this guidance applies to criminal cases it will have significant positive consequences for all areas of law where domestic abuse is relevant: most notably family law,” said Rhiannon Lloyd, barrister at 4PB:
“Control is at the heart of all modes of domestic abuse with perpetrators deploying different methods to achieve the same aims, common to these relationships are patterns of behaviour and love bombing is often one of them.
The recognition of love-bombing as red flag in guidance for the courts should enable judges to spot problematic relationships where control and coercion may take more subtle but equally devastating forms at an earlier stage enabling more efficient justice focused on protecting victims.”
Marilyn Bell, partner and head of the family team at SA Law, said intense displays of affection are “often a critical part of the abuse cycle” wherein abusers love-bomb their partner to “reel them in” in the early stages of a relationship, creating confusion when they suddenly withdraw their affections.
Alex Davies, partner and head of the family team at Cripps, offered a similar sentiment, stating that “control is the common denominator in every single abusive relationship”, adding “the abuser will often lay the groundwork for their control at the very outset of the relationship”:
“So many survivors of domestic abuse have similar experiences of being swept up in an intense whirlwind of affection to build their trust and confidence before then experiencing the darker side of their partner’s personality. It’s always important for lawyers to understand a full history of the relationship and appreciate both what has happened as well as how the perpetrator’s behaviour affects the victim.”
The change was also welcomed by Lizzy Dobres, Policy and Practice Manager at Women’s Aid, who said love-bombing is a “dangerous tactic often used by abusers in the early stages of the relationship to set the scene for coercive control”:
“It is important for all agencies to understand the behaviours that underpin different forms of abuse, stalking, and harassment and how to recognise them…
… Although love bombing might seem innocent, or even romantic, it is a controlling tactic of abuse which can be frightening for a victim or a warning sign that abuse is escalating.”