U.K.: “Bid to make ‘emotional blackmail’ a crime”

by Walter Olson on January 6, 2014

From Britain: “Domestic abuse involving “emotional blackmail” – but no violence – could become a criminal offense carrying a heavy jail term under tough new measures published for the first time.” [David Barrett, Telegraph]:

“Critically, its [the draft's] definition of abuse includes “controlling or coercive behavior” which would “encompass but is not limited to physical, financial, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse”.

“Controlling behavior” would also lead to criminal charges, including when a partner makes another person “subordinate”, “exploits their resources” or “deprives them of the means needed for independence”.

The offense would apply to abuse committed against any spouse, partner or former partner, regardless of gender.

As Pamela Stubbart notes at the Daily Caller, when based on purely psychological and emotional interactions and states of dependence, concepts like “control” and “coercion” are at best highly subjective affairs, inviting unpredictable legal application as well as he-said-she-said legal battles in the wake of breakups or other relationship failures. The measure would also threaten criminal liability for some speech (e.g., emotionally hurtful insults not involving threats of violence) that would often be included in definitions of free speech. Meanwhile, a ban on exploiting partners’ resources or denying partners financial independence threatens to throw a shadow of criminal liability over many marital and romantic arrangements long deemed unproblematic, whether or not egalitarian.

Barrett in the Telegraph notes that while the cross-party group of Members of Parliament who are introducing the bill do not speak for the Cameron administration, they have a record of some success at getting their ideas on domestic violence enacted into legislation. Offenses will carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.

Related: periodic proposals in state legislatures and elsewhere to ban “workplace bullying” (more) raise some of the same issues, as do enactments (like “Grace’s Law” in Maryland) endeavoring to ban “cyber-bullying.”

{ 6 comments }

1 ras 01.06.14 at 1:58 am

So if one partner tells the other, “I’m leaving you because you’re too controlling,” are they both guilty?

2 ps 01.06.14 at 7:14 am

Next on the list – dirty looks.

3 Boblipton 01.06.14 at 8:15 am

“Controlling or coercive behavior”? Isn’t that what government does?

Bob

4 Walter Olson 01.06.14 at 11:25 am

I’ve swiped Bob’s thought for my slightly expanded Cato cross-post version: http://www.cato.org/blog/criminalizing-emotional-blackmail

5 Barry Sheridan 01.06.14 at 2:17 pm

The objective of these MP’s is to further the power of the State by ensuring intimate inter-human relationships become too risky for either party to contemplate. The cost in lives already destroyed by these machinations is already beyond calculation, it will not stop until the State itself collapses from its internal contradictions.

6 Malcolm Smith 01.07.14 at 4:52 am

Since the marriages of the people involved are obviously on the rocks, the common sense approach is to deal with them the manner which worked in the past: fault divorce. No fault divorce has been a monumental disaster which has always acted to the advantage of the spouse with the least scruples, and the law keeps coming up with Band-Aid solutions such as this, without going to the core of the problem.

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