30 June 2022

The RCSLT has submitted a response to the Home Office’s consultation on the draft controlling or coercive behaviour statutory guidance.

The RCSLT welcomes the multiple specific mentions of speech, language and communication throughout the draft controlling or coercive behaviour statutory guidance. In particular, we welcome the recognition of such needs as a particular vulnerability to controlling or coercive behaviour, and domestic abuse more broadly.

Recognising communication needs

We are very pleased to see that:

  • In the list of perpetrator tactics, the guidance includes “exploiting the communication support needs of the victims or manipulating the victim’s knowledge of what support is available and making professionals believe that the victims does not have capacity to report accurately or that reports are not credible due to communication difficulty.”
  • In the list of factors which may make it more difficult for a victim to access support, the guidance includes that “the victim may face specific challenges in communicating the abuse which may hinder them from accessing or seeking assistance.”

This guidance and the domestic abuse statutory guidance framework will mirror one another, so we are especially pleased to see some of the clarifications recommended in our response to the consultation on the domestic abuse statutory guidance framework taken on board in this draft guidance.

Notably, this draft guidance recognises that:

  • People with speech, language and communication needs may be targeted by perpetrators or face abuse for longer periods because they have difficulty explaining what has happened, asking for help, and accessing support; and
  • Speech, language and communication needs are risk factors for domestic abuse, and that these may be hidden, unidentified, or undiagnosed.

Strengthening the guidance

However, we think that the draft guidance could be strengthened in a number of ways:

  • The guidance often references access to communication in conjunction with language barriers and interpretation. We have recommended separating these, in order to ensure that access to communication includes supporting speech, language and communication needs rather than only as a lack of spoken English fluency.
  • References to mental capacity in the guidance focus primarily on discrediting the victim so that professionals do not believe that they have the capacity to make decisions. We have recommended also including the inverse of this – situations where a victim does not have the capacity to make decisions, but the perpetrator convinces professionals that they do so that the victim corroborates the perpetrator’s story.
  • The guidance includes a robust section on evidence gathering processes and sensitivities surrounding them. We have recommended that in such processes, all involved parties take speech, language and communication needs of both victims and perpetrators into account when evaluating evidence.
  • In its discussion of economic abuse, the guidance specifically discusses food-related abuse. We have recommended that this also include a reference to prescribed diets which may be used to treat eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties.
  • Finally, we have recommended naming speech and language therapists as relevant professionals in support services.

We look forward to seeing the publication of the final controlling or coercive behaviour statutory guidance. For more information, read the RCSLT’s full consultation response (PDF).

We are very grateful to the members who contributed to this consultation response. If you would like to stay updated on and get involved in this work, please contact padraigin.oflynn@rcslt.org.

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