Leading law firm Clarke Willmott has praised a new storyline on TV’s Emmerdale for exploring the issue of controlling and coercive behaviour in a difficult domestic abuse storyline.

The ITV soap is set to tackle the nature of coercive control in a plotline involving Belle Dingle and her new husband Tom King.

Since exchanging their vows, Tom has begun to engage in gaslighting, undermining, and humiliating Belle in a series of distressing incidents.

“In 2015, the Serious Crime Act established a groundbreaking offence addressing controlling or coercive behaviour within intimate relationships,” said Clarke Willmott’s Rayner Grice.

“This marked a significant milestone for victims of domestic abuse, acknowledging, for the first time, that controlling behaviour can be equally, if not more, detrimental than physical violence.

“Since the law was introduced the Court and the Police have increasingly begun to take this behaviour very seriously and appreciates the impact this behaviour can have, not only on the sufferers but children that they may share.”

Rayner, who heads Clarke Willmott’s family team in Birmingham and is also head of the firm’s Birmingham office, says such behaviour often manifests itself subtly, unfolding over an extended period.

“As is often the case, Emmerdale’s Belle, may be unaware of what is happening to her as the behaviour is beginning so subtly that it is not obvious and it is now showing as becoming a normal part of her relationship with Tom.” she added.

When it comes to warning signs, Rayner says perpetrators may try to exploit vulnerabilities to maintain control or try to prevent the victim from seeking help.

“Examples we see as family lawyers can include a victim’s fear of losing children should they make a report, with the perpetrator having tried to convince them that this is the case.

“Financial abuse is another feature of controlling or coercive behaviour which can form a pattern of abuse alongside physical abuse or in many instances is an independent form of abuse.

“Control and access to finances can also be a feature, for instance, an older woman who has not worked through the relationship, with no access to the family finance and no pension in her own right.

“Also, the individual who may have given up their career to care for the children may find themselves in a position where they are even more financially reliant on abusive partners.”

Such behaviour can constitute a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum 5 years imprisonment but early legal advice is crucial, particularly where arrangements for children are concerned as any decisions on arrangements taken
early on can heavily influence how a court will determine final arrangements.

Coercive control is defined as a “persistent series of acts, involving assault, threats, humiliation, intimidation, or other
forms of abuse, employed to harm, punish, or instil fear in the victim.

This is such a subtle and distressing form of abuse that it is important that legal advisers have the skills to be able to identify the signs to help guide the sufferer through the process and to also be able to signpost to support agencies to assist.

Emmerdale has been working with outside partners including domestic abuse charities New Beginnings Peer Support and Refuge to develop the storyline.

Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton, and Taunton.