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'But I’ve never been hit': NDP proposal would criminalize coercive control in a relationship

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A proposal by the federal New Democrats could take intimate partner violence to a whole new level within the justice system.

Advocates say a bill that would criminalize coercive abuse would give police the power to lay charges whether any physical abuse takes place in a relationship or not.

“Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.” That’s what Jennifer Kagan said in London in October of 2022 to a crowd gathered at the London Abused Women’s Centre.

Hers was one of the featured stories in the Shine the Light on Woman Abuse campaign that year

In February of 2020, her four-year-old daughter Keira was killed by the child’s biological father in a murder-suicide. In the relationship, Kagan was subjected to both physical violence and coercive control.

London Fanshawe MP Lindsay Matheson, seen over Zoom on Feb. 20, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

“Keira and I were both possessions, and I was a possession that managed to escape his control, which enraged him,” she said in 2022.

The NDP has introduced a bill that would criminalize coercive and controlling abuse. It would add coercive behaviour in a relationship to the criminal code, including threats, humiliation, isolating a person from support, and depriving them of independence.

London Fanshawe MP Lindsay Mathyssen explained that currently, it isn’t until a person in a relationship is physically abused that a charge is laid.

“But there are so many things that lead up to that,” she said. “There’s controlling behaviour, taking control of someone’s financial circumstances, their bank accounts, using children, using other relationships, family relationships, location, you name it. So this will allow police officers to see all of those steps as just as equally a part of the problem to identify the abusive relationship,” said Mathyssen.

The so-called Bill to Keep Women Safe has passed second reading in the House of Commons and is now at the committee stage.

Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, seen on Feb. 20, 2024. (Bryan Bicknell/CTV News London)

And while private members bills are often difficult to get passed, advocates say it is important to keep the conversation going.

Jennifer Dunn, the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said women often don’t realize they are victims.

“Women will call us to want to access service here and say, ‘But I’ve never been hit.’ And that’s not all that it’s about,” she explained. “You don’t have to be physically abused to be abused. Being able to charge somebody with coercive control would be a huge step forward for this.”

As for Kagan, while she wasn’t able to speak to CTV News London in person on this day, her written message is that she wants judges to be better educated in recognizing coercive control before the Bill To Keep Women Safe is passed.

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