Sentencing guidelines are to be amended to reflect the terminology shift from domestic ’violence’ to domestic ‘abuse’ under wide-ranging proposals unveiled today.
The Sentencing Council has revisited existing guidance covering domestic violence to reflect changes in terminology, expert thinking and societal attitudes over the past decade.
The council said ‘domestic abuse’ is now the term used, rather than ‘domestic violence’, to reflect the fact that offences may involve physical violence but can also involve psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.
Although there is no specific offence of domestic abuse, it can feature in many offences, the council said.
Previous guidelines stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those committed in a non-domestic context. However, offences that take place in a domestic context will be treated as more serious under the new guideline.
’This is because domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, it is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues, and may result in death. It can also lead to lasting trauma for victims and their children,’ the council said.
It added: ’The guidelines recognise that these offences can affect women and men of all backgrounds and remind sentencers to take care to avoid stereotypical assumptions regarding domestic abuse.’
Justice secretary Liz Truss said it was right that courts recognised that domestic abuse shatters lives and destroys families, and that punishments properly fit such abhorrent crimes.
She added: ’Tackling domestic abuse is a priority for the prime minister, so I am working with the home secretary to leave no stone unturned in delivering a system that protects victims and increases convictions.’
Today’s proposals also mark the first time guidelines have been produced for stalking, disclosing private sexual images (commonly known as ‘revenge porn’), and controlling and coercive behaviour.
The guidelines identify some of the factors that make the offences particularly serious, such as sending images to a victim’s family, setting up fake social media profiles to post images, and inviting comment and contact.
Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice McGowan said: ’These offences can be particularly sensitive and distressing, leading to very significant harm to victims.
’The new guidelines we are proposing will help ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences and take into account the increases in sentence levels for stalking and harrassment introduced by parliament.’
The consultation closes on 30 June.