UK Criminalizes Social Media Abuse

Brits who subject their spouses, partners or family members to psychological and emotional abuse via social media may find themselves facing a five-year prison sentence, even when their actions do not involve physical violence, thanks to a new law which came into effect this week. The law also covers other types of communication including email and mobile devices.

In a statement issued today explaining the law, the Crown Prosecution Service said individuals can be charged with social media abuse when there is evidence of a pattern of “controlling or coercive behaviour” towards a spouse, partner or family member on their part, including threats, humiliation, spying, or intimidation intended to harm, punish, or frighten the subject or limit their independence.

The CPS gave a number of examples of what might constitute social media abuse, including stopping a victim from socializing, limiting access to family, friends and finances, dictating how a person dresses, monitoring a person via online communication tools, for example by using tracking apps on mobile phones, and threatening to reveal or publish private information. 



For a case to be actionable, the subject of the abuse must be willing to testify that he or she feared the behavior might lead to physical violence on two separate occasions, or that their day-to-day life was seriously disrupted.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders stated: “Controlling or coercive behavior can limit victims' basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence. This behavior can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behavior might seem playful, innocuous or loving.”

Saunders went on: “Victims can be frightened of the repercussions of not abiding by someone else's rules. Often they fear that violence will be used against them, or suffer from extreme psychological and emotional abuse. Being subjected to repeated humiliation, intimidation or subordination can be as harmful as physical abuse, with many victims stating that trauma from psychological abuse had a more lasting impact than physical abuse. These new powers mean this behavior, which is particularly relevant to cases of domestic abuse, can now be prosecuted in its own right.”

Last year a poll conducted by the British government found 85% of respondents believed legal protections for victims of controlling and coercive behaviors were inadequate.

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