Ruth Aitken will discuss the dynamics and consequences of physical and non-physical domestic abuse, including coercive control, within a gendered context of violence against women and girls. This will include consideration of ‘psychological injury’ and the damaging consequences of experiencing cumulative domestic abuse, including suicide. She will highlight the particular risks that can arise when psychiatry and the law meet – when abused women’s lives, and the harm they suffer, can be reduced to a single incident, a score on a check list or a psychiatric label. She will discuss some of the limitations within the new offence of coercive control and offer an alternative approach which references some promising practice internationally, as well as a gendered focus to managing violence against women and girls within the criminal justice system and beyond.

Vanessa Bettinson-A legal Perspective on evidencing and proving coercive and controlling behaviour in the criminal law courts.
Now that controlling an intimate partner or family member is a criminal offence under s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 the inevitable question remains – how can it be proved? It can and to some degree has been done with the convictions of at least four men in the North of England since April. This number includes Mohammed Anwaar who received a sentence of 28 months imprisonment at Sheffield Crown Court for a combination of domestic-violence related offences, one of which being the s. 76 offence. These cases reported in the media all involve guilty pleas and demonstrate the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to successfully secure convictions for behaviour that has previously escaped the criminal law. On the other hand, these cases were uncontested and as a result prosecution lawyers have not had the challenge of proving each aspect of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. Vanessa Bettinson will reflect upon key issues of evidencing and proving cases of coercive or controlling behaviour under s. 76 from the perspective of a criminal lawyer. The use of hearsay evidence, complexities involving relationships and the ability of the criminal law courts to recognise (or not) varying degrees of psychological harm will be analysed. It will be argued that the multi-agency approaches that have developed to address domestic violence and abuse prior to the introduction of s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 are essential if this offence is to culminate in convictions. Indeed, greater awareness and understanding of what coercive and controlling behaviour is by those outside traditional domestic violence and/or sexual violence services are also necessary for the tasks of providing evidence and proving cases under this offence.

Professor Anne-Marie McAlinden. “Grooming” within Sexual Violence and Abuse
This key note will explore the role of ‘grooming’ in gendered and sexualised violence, particularly that concerning children in a range of sexual offending contexts, including the grooming of children within intra-familial, on-line and institutional contexts; as well as the grooming of protective adults and the environment, and professionals themselves. The presentation will draw on theoretical debates as well as original primary research in the form of over 50 interviews with professionals who work in the fields of sex offender assessment, treatment and management and victim support conducted across four jurisdictions: England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In seeking to better understand the complexities of grooming and its role in sexual violence and abuse it will highlight in particular such nuances as the differences between how grooming features within first-time and subsequent offending; the similarities between offending within intra-familial and institutional contexts; the role of grooming in preferential, situational and opportunistic modes of offending; how grooming may impact within therapeutic and management contexts; the impact on victims and work with victims; as well as tentative findings from the author’s current empirical research in relation to how grooming may feature among peers and in the context of young people who display harmful sexual behaviour. It will conclude by drawing out the key challenges for professionals and society in responding to grooming. It will also present a range of tangible proposals for addressing grooming on a proactive basis as a means of supplementing current reactive risk-based approaches which are highly dependent on victim disclosure.