Victim-survivors of economic abuse are being failed by criminal justice system

5th September 2023

Victim-survivors of economic abuse are being failed by the criminal justice system according to a new report by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) – with a new case being reported to the police every 20 minutes.

Despite this high prevalence and economic abuse now being recognised in law, the charity’s report, ‘Seen Yet Sidelined’ funded by Barclays UK, found that the criminal justice system is not using its powers to fully hold perpetrators of economic abuse to account, or support victim-survivors to achieve justice.

By analysing media reports of 810 successfully prosecuted controlling or coercive behaviour cases, the charity found that at least 26,640 domestic abuse cases featuring economic abuse were reported to the police in 2021/22 – equivalent to one report every 20 minutes.

Interviews with victim-survivors as part of the report show that the police and courts are failing them by prioritising physical assault, dismissing evidence of economic abuse and relying on witness testimony to evidence coercive control.

The report found that bringing multiple charges to court, rather than evidencing all the abuse within a single charge of coercive control, resulted in plea-bargaining, more lenient sentences being handed down and victim-survivors feeling like criminal and economic justice has not been served:

The average prison sentence for controlling or coercive behaviour offences known to feature economic abuse is less than two years – less than half the maximum possible sentence. Controlling or coercive behaviour was prosecuted as a standalone offence in less than a third of cases with physical assault making up just over half (52%) of additional charges.

Despite the loss and damage described within the known economic abuse cases, just 2% resulted in the perpetrator being ordered to pay compensation to the victim-survivor.

Speaking about the findings from the report, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO and founder of Surviving Economic Abuse, said “Economic abuse is no longer hidden in plain sight. Our new report reveals that everyday domestic abuse victim-survivors are sharing their experience of it with police officers and in courts up and down the country – with victim-survivors reporting to the police every 20 minutes.”

“Yet while this devastating form of abuse is now seen in law, it continues to be sidelined in police and court responses. The victim-survivors we interviewed said police officers discarded their evidence of economic abuse and the sentences handed down in court didn’t reflect the long-lasting harm the abuse caused – some survivors were left homeless, under a mountain of debt and with a poor credit rating. It’s no wonder survivors are left feeling that this is not true justice.”

“It’s clear the current criminal justice response to economic abuse is failing victim-survivors. Tens of thousands of victim-survivors who report to the police never get their day in court, while the small number who do feel like justice has not been served and they are left paying the price. That’s why we urge the government to act through the Victims and Prisoners Bill to make sure perpetrators feel the full force of the law and victim-survivors are supported to achieve both criminal and economic justice so they can safely rebuild their lives.”