Sussex police investigated more than 1,000 claims of coercive control in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.
They were published weeks after the sixth anniversary of a landmark change in the law which made coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence in England and Wales.
But only a “small minority of survivors” who experience such abuse will see justice done, according to the charity Women’s Aid.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed that Sussex Police logged 1,031 allegations of coercive or controlling behaviour in 2020-21.
This was down from 1,247 the year before – but another set of statistics suggested that most cases would never reach court.
Of the 839 cases closed by Sussex Police in 2020-21, the figures said that 93 per cent were abandoned because of difficulties gathering evidence.
And just 19 ended with a suspect being charged or summonsed to court although, in some cases, prosecutors and investigators closed a coercive control investigation but pursued other offences linked to the case.
Women’s Aid said that coercive control, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, was a problem “at the heart of almost all domestic abuse”.
Abusers can be jailed for subjecting a partner or family member to controlling behaviour such as isolating them, exploiting them financially, depriving them of basic needs, humiliating, frightening or threatening them.
In the first year of the pandemic, 34,000 allegations were reported to police forces in England and Wales.
The number of recorded crimes in this category rose by more than a third compared with about 25,000 cases in 2019-20, though data for that year excludes Greater Manchester Police.
The proportion of cases where charges were brought varied significantly from 1 per cent in North Wales to 14 per cent in South Wales. The average was 4 per cent.
Women’s Aid head of policy, campaigns and public affairs Isabelle Younane called for consistency between forces.
She said that it was vital that all police officers and prosecutors understood the nature and “damaging, lifelong impact” of coercive control.
She added: “Survivors need, and deserve, a consistent response to their experiences of abuse.”
“It is a matter of urgency for the government to invest in multi-agency and partnership working across services.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said that the response to the complex problem had improved in recent years but acknowledged the need for better understanding across the justice system.
It said that officers sought to protect victims and build cases where reported incidents met the requirements to be considered a crime but not the threshold for arrest or prosecution.
The Home Office said that the government was acting to tackle this “particularly insidious” form of domestic abuse and would publish its domestic abuse strategy this year.
It said that police forces were expected to take allegations seriously, adding: “The increase in reporting of these crimes shows the improvements the police have made, with victims more willing to come forward.”
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