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From laughing at our cooking skills to criticising our summer-long Love Island addiction, there are moments when even the most tolerant person finds their patience tested by their partner.

While for most, such irritating habits are nothing more than that, for others, they could actually be much more damaging; in fact, following a change in the law in 2015, they could be classed as signs of psychological abuse.

If you are in, or have been in, an abusive relationship, help is available via the CICA UK website, where you can make a claim for compensation via the official CICA government scheme. And this doesn’t just apply if your partner is or has been violent. It also applies if you’ve experienced psychological abuse.

Sarah Platt from law firm, Kirwans, says: “Thanks to the introduction of the Serious Crime Act 2015, an offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships’ now exists. Unfortunately, the figures reveal that it is not being used to its full extent.

“Many abused people know that the way they’re being treated is wrong, but think that if they haven’t been injured, then they haven’t been abused. But the new law extended the definition of domestic abuse so that it now covers psychological as well as physical abuse.

“Telling partners that they are worthless, isolating a person from their family and friends, or preventing a person from having access to transport could all form part of a campaign of psychological abuse that’s just as damaging as physical abuse.

“People who are being abused may not feel able to report the perpetrators to the police, but there are other legal actions which a good solicitor can advise you on to prevent the abuse from happening.”

Here, Sarah examines the types of partner behaviour which, if carried out as part of a sustained pattern of abuse, become acts which the law says are definitely not OK.

Sharing sexually explicit photos of you on (or off) line:

In an era where even the most intimate acts can be snapped on smartphones, it’s all too easy for disgruntled exes to share photos of their former partners naked or even engaging in sexual acts online in an act of ‘revenge porn’. But, thanks to the ‘disclosing private sexual images without consent’ law that was passed in April 2015, doing so can now lead to community orders, restraining orders, and even imprisonment for those found guilty.

Banning you from seeing your friends or family:

If a partner ‘repeatedly or continuously’ isolates a person from their friends or family, they are committing an act of domestic violence, which, again could result in restraining orders, hefty fines, and up to five years in jail. Victims now have up to two years to report the crime, so even if the perpetrator is now an ‘ex’, you can still take action.

Exerting control over what you wear:

We’ve all asked our partner’s advice on an outfit from time-to-time, but if your partner is repeatedly dictating what you wear, choosing your clothes or criticising your wardrobe choices, they could be committing a criminal act which, if you are married, would also give you grounds for divorce.

Installing tracking devices on your smartphone:

If this is done without your knowledge, or is part of a regular pattern of controlling behaviour, then it’s an offence. If you’re unhappy with your partner’s ability to keep you under constant surveillance, then remove the devices or apps from your phone and explain why.

Preventing you from spending your own money:

In an average year, Citizens Advice will deal with around 900 cases of financial abuse, whereby one partner controls or exploits the other’s finances. Also, in recent years, domestic violence charity Refuge said it had seen cases where victims were forced to provide receipts for all spending, or given such small allowances that they couldn’t afford to buy food for themselves and their children. Such repeated behaviour is an offence, so don’t allow it.

Frightening you:

Dominican-American writer Zahira Kelly started the widely used hashtag #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou in order to enable people to “suss out damaging situations”. Your partner may not have lifted a finger to you, but if they regularly put you in situations in which you feel intimidated or threatened, then they’re displaying what is defined under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 as controlling or coercive behaviour. Maybe he doesn’t hit you – but if he – or she – routinely frightens you then they’re committing an offence.

Humiliating you on Facebook:

Does your partner regularly regale your Facebook friends or Twitter followers with ‘funny tales’ about how you threw up during a night out or publicly joke about your failed attempts at weight loss? This is not about poking gentle fun, but more about using personal knowledge to deliberately embarrass you – and can be considered psychological abuse.

Repeatedly putting you down:

This method of abuse can be so subtle that you may not even realise it’s happening until you actually take time to listen to some of the conversations taking place between you and your partner. These put-downs may form part of what sound like loving speeches, such as: ‘Why do you put yourself through trying to climb the career ladder? You know that’s just not you’, or could be more pointed, such as highlighting your faults in public. Either way, it eats away at your self-esteem, putting more power into the abuser’s hands.

Monitoring your time:

Does your partner demand to know where you’ve been and why it took so long on a regular basis? Monitoring your time is one of the types of behavior outlined in a government document setting out guidelines to what constitutes domestic abuse.

Threatening to reveal or publish private information:

Whether it’s a family secret, or a work matter that should never have left the office, it’s inevitable that your partner will know of the skeletons in your closet. If they start implying that they will share that knowledge, or use it to blackmail you in any way, then they’re committing an offence.

Confiscating your car keys or passport:

Hiding your car keys, taking them off you as a punishment for regularly ‘losing’ them, or making your passport inaccessible for any reason are common tactics used by abusers to control their victims. Each of these actions limit freedom of movement and your independence as a result and can be used as evidence of controlling behaviour.

Stopping you from working:

They say they want to make your life easier, but you’re absolutely desperate to work. If your partner is doing everything in their power to prevent you from getting a job, it could be an attempt to control you – and that’s illegal.

Hurting you:

While the most obvious one, it’s also important to remember. The law offers protection against physical abuse from any other person. So whether you want to take out an injunction, start court proceedings against them, or both, there are actions you can take to put a physical distance between yourself and the perpetrator.

We’re very proud to bring you this post in association with CICA UK, who claim on behalf of victims of abuse from the official CICA government scheme. The legal quotes on what constitutes domestic abuse are from Kirwans.

Related feature: Why it’s about time we started calling celebrities’ ‘volatile’ relationships what they really are.

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