The United Kingdom has passed a law that recognizes ‘domestic violence over social media’, and makes it a punishable offense. According to the new law, threatening or even monitoring someone via social media counts as domestic violence. So how do they distinguish between the average act of ‘following’ someone on Facebook or Twitter, and monitoring? Good question.
Monitoring is in the eye of the beholder.
According to the new law, Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship, “Controlling or coercive behaviour does not only happen in the home, the victim can be monitored by phone or social media from a distance and can be made to fear violence on at least two occasions or adapt their everyday behaviour as a result of serious alarm or distress.”
The ‘at least two occasions’ refers to that it must have occurred on at least two occasions for it to be actionable.
Says Alison Saunders, Director of the UK’s office of Public Prosecutions, “Controlling or coercive behaviour can limit victims’ basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence,” adding that “These new powers mean this behaviour, which is particularly relevant to cases of domestic abuse, can now be prosecuted in its own right.”
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The problem, of course, is that what’s controlling or coercive is often very subjective. Saunders herself says that “This behaviour 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 behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving.”
Let us repeat that: “even if on the face of it this behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving.”
This means that someone can readily claim just about anything the accused says on social media as being ‘controlling’ or ‘coervice’.
Had a spat with your husband? Suddenly his message to you on Facebook of “I’m looking forward to seeing you tonight” or “What time will you be back” can be cast as trying to control your movements. And god help the amorous spouse who says “Just you wait until you get home, I’m going to give it to you” who, looking forward to a romantic tryst with their spouse, suddenly finds that instead they have a date with the local constabulary.
Explains Karen Bradley, MP, in the Crown’s statement on “Coercive or controlling behaviour now a crime”, “The government’s new coercive or controlling behaviour offence will mean victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.”
But, again, it also means that just about anything you say on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media can, and now may well be, used against you.
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