A new domestic abuse offence of controlling behaviour is going unreported, say police.
The crime of coercive control came into force exactly a year ago but nationally there have been fewer than a dozen successful prosecutions.
Cleveland Police, which had the first successful prosecution of the offence in the North East, say the crime will be taken seriously and officers have been briefed as to what to look for.
Coercive control relates to the power exerted by someone over the victim, usually a partner, such as stopping them or family member from socialising, limiting access to their family, friends or finances, or monitoring a victim’s online and social media activity.
Detective Inspector Dave Snaith, from Cleveland Police’s Domestic Abuse Unit, said: “Essentially perpetrators have all the power in a relationship and cause victims to live in fear and worry of their behaviour.
“Perpetrators may not be physically violent but the emotional abuse is equally damaging.”
In June, Richard James Wilshaw, 36, of Melonsby Court, Billingham, was jailed for three and a half years, after pleading guilty to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour, as well as perverting the course of justice and two counts of actual bodily harm against his partner in December 2015.
Det Insp Snaith added: “The nature of the offence makes it difficult for victims to come forward and they can be frightened of the consequences if they do.
“Our officers are briefed to be alert to evidence of controlling behaviour. Sometimes even victims may not realise the full extent of the manipulation.
“This new offence provides victims of domestic abuse with more protection.
“It can help those who are being tortured in their daily lives and break cycles of abuse that have lasted for years.”
In Cleveland between December 2015 and June 2016 there were 682 domestic abuse crimes recorded which resulted in a charge. Fewer than 10 charges of coercive control have been made to date.