Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid:
Justene Reece’s story is exceptionally tragic, yet sadly an all too familiar end to tales of domestic abuse. Two women a week in England and Wales are killed by their partner or ex-partner. Yet the result in court today has not been seen before, it is a historic first. Prosecutors at Stafford Crown Court sentenced Nicholas Allen, Justene’s ex-partner, for unlawful killing after an inquiry into her suicide. Allen pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to charges of manslaughter, coercive behaviour and stalking, accepting that his abuse led to Justene’s death.
Controlling behaviour is often not recognised as a form of abuse when isolated: from restricting a partner’s movements or money through to controlling how they dress or who they have contact with. But these behaviours are about control and erode a woman’s confidence and independence. All too often abuse that does not leave bruises is not taken seriously enough by the authorities or understood by the community. Yet the lives of women and children are at risk if we don’t wake up to the reality that coercive control is the heart of domestic abuse. Despite this, the Office of National Statistics’ latest crime survey revealed that less than 1% of domestic abuse-related offences were recorded as a coercive control offence, suggesting that police and the criminal justice system need to go further in terms of identifying coercive and controlling behaviour, and recognising the severity and impact of such offences.
Abuse does not end when the relationship does. Perpetrators will often stop at nothing to make sure that their victim can never escape their control. Justene tried to escape from Allen’s abuse in November 2016, fleeing to a Women’s Aid refuge to find peace and safety. When she returned to Stafford, she was stalked and bombarded with abusive threats over a six month period, with Allen attempting to contact her around 3,500 times. Leaving an abusive partner can be a dangerous time. The Femicide Census (run by Women’s Aid in partnership with Karen Ingala Smith) shows that 76% of women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse between January 2009 and December 2015 were killed within the first year following their separation. By breaking down the myths around abuse, identifying it and intervening earlier, we can stop women like Justene becoming a statistic.
The charge and verdict are a great step forward in seeing the authorities tackle domestic abuse. It comes too late to save Justene’s life, but Women’s Aid will continue to work to raise awareness of coercive control and support women like Justene so that they can safely escape abusive relationships.