How many times have you sat and listened to a friend talk about a partner who is flirting with other people, acting inappropriately on nights out, cheating, or messaging other people behind their back. When your friend calls them out they get the response “you’re overthinking, it’s nothing, don’t be crazy.” Gaslighting has become all too prevalent and is defined as psychologically manipulating someone into doubting their own sanity. It’s abuse. But is gaslighting a crime?
If you heard "gaslighting" as a term for the first time this year, you probably weren't alone. Perhaps slightly depressingly, it has been listed as a runner up in the Oxford English Dictionaries word of the year, just being pipped to the post by "toxic," as the Washington Post reports. But if you are being made to seriously question yourself, isolated from family, and friends, and repeatedly manipulated and humiliated by a partner or family member is there anything you can do legally?
Conversations of domestic abuse often centre around physical abuse, or the threat of physical abuse being used to control a partner. However, patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour towards a partner or family member has been a crime punishable by up to five years in prison since 2015 in the UK. It is incredibly difficult to recognise patterns of psychological abuse, especially when you are the victim, but this is a massive step forward in supporting those effected. The Minister responsible at the time was Karen Bradley and she said, “we are sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and that emotional and controlling abuse will not be tolerated.”
Between March 2017 and March 2018 there were 1,198,094 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales according to the Office of National Statistics. Due to the nature of gaslighting,it can be incredibly difficult for those who are experiencing abuse to come forward and tell their loved ones, let alone the authorities. Speaking to the Guardian, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said, “perpetrators are using coercive control to trap victims in abusive relationships. More and more people are coming to Citizens Advice because they are experiencing abuse by a partner or loved one, including restrictions on accessing their own money, forcing them to take on debts, and spying on them online.”
Being made to question your own beliefs, freedom, and sanity by someone who is supposed to care for you is damaging and isolating. Hopefully the more that gaslighting is spoken about, the more comfortable people feel to tell someone about what they are going through. It became a topic of hot discussion unexpectedly this summer after Love Island 2018 received a number of complaints about the way Adam Collard treated Rosie Williams. The scene was painful to watch as Collard told Williams she was being crazy for calling him out for cracking on with other girls. It elicited such a response that the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Katie Ghose released this statement.
“There are clear warning signs in Adam’s behaviour. In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse. Last night, Rosie called out Adam’s unacceptable behaviour on the show. We ask viewers to join her in recognising unhealthy behaviour in relationships and speaking out against all forms of domestic abuse – emotional as well as physical.”
Collard later apologised for his behaviour, as Digital Spy reports, saying "I am sorry if I upset or offended anyone," adding that "I think everybody saw me try to make amends and I did apologise to her in the villa."
Gaslighting is domestic abuse, and is recognised as a criminal offence in the UK. Just because abuse stops short of physical violence doesn’t make it any less damaging or serious and surely abuse shouldn’t have to escalate to that point before it is taken seriously in the eyes of the law. The fact that ongoing coercion or controlling behaviour is a crime sends a clear message that gaslighting is no joke, it is a serious form of abuse and there is support in place to help victims.