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Prosecutors focus on ‘love-bombing’ and other manipulative behaviours when charging controlling offences

|News, Domestic abuse

Updated guidance on controlling behaviour published by the Crown Prosecution Service today emphasises the need for prosecutors to closely scrutinise the actions of a suspect, who can often take steps to disrupt or mislead criminal proceedings. 

The 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’ which is where they will intermittently carry out loving acts (eg. sending flowers) between other behaviour to confuse the victim and gain more control.  

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.

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.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Kate Brown, national lead for domestic abuse at the CPS, said:

“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. 

“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. 

“Bringing offenders of violence against women and girls to justice is our priority and we are working hard to drive improvements for victims of these crimes.” 

London's Victims' Commissioner, Claire Waxman, said: 

“I welcome this action from the CPS and I have worked closely with them throughout this process to update important prosecution guidance so that we can better identify and help victims who are experiencing stalking or controlling and coercive behaviour.

“This was always going to be difficult guidance to clarify, as we do see similar behaviours of suspects with these offences.

“That’s why it’s critical that this guidance is supported with specialist training for both Police and Prosecutors to help them better identify the behaviour of suspects, the risk to victims, and ensure the right charges are being applied in these complex cases.”

Suky Bhaker, CEO, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: 

"Stalking is a high-risk crime, underpinned by a fixation and obsession which is relentless in its nature and often encompasses all aspects of victims’ lives posing a serious risk to their wellbeing and safety. 

"It is therefore critical that stalking behaviours are correctly identified by criminal justice professionals in order to appropriately manage perpetrators and mitigate risks to victims.

"We look forward to working with the CPS to ensure victims of stalking are protected and can achieve the justice they deserve."

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.  

The changes in the updated prosecution guidance build on our wider efforts to make lasting changes for victims of these offences. This year, the CPS started work with the police on developing a joint justice plan to improve the collective handling of domestic abuse cases which is due to be published at the end of the year.  

Notes to editors

  • Read the updated Controlling or Coercive Behaviour prosecution guidance.
  • Read the updated Stalking or Harassment prosecution guidance.
  • Read our prosecution guidance for domestic abuse.
  • Read our domestic abuse policy statement which sets out how the CPS addresses domestic abuse and our commitment to doing so.
  • Our charging rate for domestic abuse cases is around 75%, meaning of the cases brought to us by police for a decision we charge 75% with an offence. 
  • For domestic abuse cases it takes around 25 days from the first contact by the police to either a CPS decision to charge or request for further information. 
  • We have invested in joint working with the police under a National Action Plan that has seen adult rape referrals from police have increased 69% and the number of adult rape cases charged has increased by 86% since January 2021. Drawing from this learning we are working in collaboration with the police on a Joint Justice Plan of actions between police and CPS to improve our collective handling of domestic abuse cases began earlier this year with a final plan expected to be published at the end of the year.  

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