Domestic abuse survivors starved of cash being failed by police and courts

“I can’t get a car lease, I can’t get a mortgage, nothing. I mean, the physical damage he did earlier this year, you know, I had to spend thousands on dental treatment as a result of the damage he’s caused me. But he’s not responsible for any of it.” Victim-survivor

Victim-survivors of economic abuse are being failed by the criminal justice system according to a new report by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) – with a new case being reported to the police every 20 minutes.

Despite this high prevalence and economic abuse now being recognised in law, the charity’s report, “Seen Yet Sidelined”, funded by Barclays UK, found that the criminal justice system is not using its powers to fully hold perpetrators of economic abuse to account, or support victim-survivors to achieve justice.

By analysing media reports of 810 successfully prosecuted controlling or coercive behaviour cases, the charity found that at least 26,640 domestic abuse cases featuring economic abuse were reported to the police in 2021/22 – equivalent to one report every 20 minutes.

Interviews with victim-survivors as part of the report show that the police and courts are failing them by prioritising physical assault, dismissing evidence of economic abuse and relying on witness testimony to evidence coercive control.

Furthermore, the report found that bringing multiple charges to court, rather than evidencing all the abuse within a single charge of coercive control, resulted in plea-bargaining, more lenient sentences being handed down and victim-survivors feeling like criminal and economic justice has not been served:

  • The average prison sentence for controlling or coercive behaviour offences known to feature economic abuse is less than two years – less than half the maximum possible sentence.
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour was prosecuted as a standalone offence in less than a third of cases with physical assault making up just over half (52%) of additional charges.
  • Despite the loss and damage described within the known economic abuse cases, just 2% resulted in the perpetrator being ordered to pay compensation to the victim-survivor.

“The physical abuse was more important to the police. We found bags and bags of paperwork, and they said we’ll deal with that another time, so it was very much on the sidelines. They wanted to focus on the rape charges, the harassment, stalking, so they weren’t using it to build the case. But the financial control had been there from day one” Victim-survivor 

Ivana experienced domestic abuse, including economic abuse, from her then partner. After building up the confidence to report the abuse to the police, he was arrested and convicted of multiple charges, including controlling and coercive behaviour in 2017. Speaking about her experience, Ivana said: “I knew his behaviour to me was not normal, but I didn’t realise it was all abuse. I was always short of money and was living from one month to another, hardly able to save anything. I had no idea whether he was working or not, because I was always in work. He was controlling – I had to pay for everything to do with our house and our child.

“When I tried to progress in my job, get a promotion or work extra hours, he’d swear and curse at me. He refused to care for our daughter when I had important projects on at work, sabotaging my chances of earning more money. I eventually realised that he was claiming benefits in my name and that’s why he didn’t want me to work any more hours. He was arrested and eventually convicted.

“The police didn’t really ask me anything about the economic abuse. They questioned who was paying for everything, but I was never asked anything about the economic abuse by the court and the judge during the prosecution. It’s only now that I realise what he was doing to me – and how harmful it was. The police and the courts should have recognised that too. He was convicted, but I received no compensation for what he did even though he stole everything from me – documents, clothes, everything. My daughter and I have had to start again from scratch – how is that justice?”

Speaking about the findings from the report, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, said: “Economic abuse is no longer hidden in plain sight. Our new report reveals that everyday domestic abuse victim-survivors are sharing their experience of it with police officers and in courts up and down the country – with victim-survivors reporting to the police every 20 minutes.

“Yet while this devastating form of abuse is now seen in law, it continues to be sidelined in police and court responses. The victim-survivors we interviewed said police officers discarded their evidence of economic abuse and the sentences handed down in court didn’t reflect the long-lasting harm the abuse caused – some survivors were left homeless, under a mountain of debt and with a poor credit rating. It’s no wonder survivors are left feeling that this is not true justice.

“It’s clear the current criminal justice response to economic abuse is failing victim-survivors. Tens of thousands of victim-survivors who report to the police never get their day in court, while the small number who do feel like justice has not been served and they are left paying the price. That’s why we urge the government to act through the Victims and Prisoners Bill to make sure perpetrators feel the full force of the law and victim-survivors are supported to achieve both criminal and economic justice so they can safely rebuild their lives.”

Through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the government should:

  • Make police training on controlling or coercive behaviour, including economic abuse, mandatory to help police proactively identify and gather evidence of it.
  • Ensure victim-survivors experiencing economic abuse can access specialist advocacy to re-establish their economic safety.
  • Give victim-survivors the right to have the court consider making a compensation order and increase the use of the confiscation of assets derived from criminal conduct during sentencing so victim-survivors do not have to pay the price for abusers’ crimes.
  • Work with credit rating agencies to identify a way to re-establish victim-survivors’ credit rating to help them rebuild their lives.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a victim-survivor or SEA spokesperson, please contact the Surviving Economic Abuse press office on: [email protected] / 07786 073249.