Prior to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) debates, research suggests that some judges/professionals in the family justice system were acquiring an awareness of domestic abuse as encompassing wider behaviours (not solely physical violence). The dominant incident-based perception of domestic abuse fails to capture the gendered nature and ongoing, cumulative process/effects of coercive control. This approach, epitomised by fact-finding hearings, together with the burden of proof and dominant images of ‘safe family men’ and ‘lying manipulative mothers’, compounds the difficulties women experience in proving allegations of abuse. While some trial judges have a broader awareness of coercive control, the fact-finding process, with its focus on proving 'the truth' of individual allegations of violence, and the continuing drive to promote contact ‘at all costs’, obscures the ‘bigger picture’, with serious consequences for the assessment of risk.
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