The Sally Challen appeal will give hope to abused women

The case has brought public attention to an under-recognised feature of domestic violence relationships: coercive control.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Sally Challen, who on Thursday won the appeal against her conviction for the murder of her husband Richard, will face a retrial. News of the victory was soon trending on Twitter; most major media outlets covered the story. 

As a co-founder of the feminist law reform group Justice for Women, I consider this case to be one of the most important in its 28-year history. Why? Because it has brought public attention to an under-recognised feature of domestic violence relationships.

Coercive control involves psychological torture; a total undermining of victims’ confidence and sense of self; isolation from friends, and family, and a gradual wearing down of every bit of the personality and character. Thursday’s ruling is significant progress following on from the change in the law in 2015 that first introduced coercive control as a legal concept.

What has changed since the ground-breaking appeals of other women who killed in response to domestic abuse, such as Emma Humphreys and Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the 1990s? Today we are seeing more young women convicted of murder as a response to domestic violence: unsurprising, bearing in mind the evidence that increasing numbers of young women are vulnerable to domestic abuse. 

In 2015, at the age of 22, Farieissia Martin was convicted of the murder of her violent partner. This week, Martin was refused permission to appeal her conviction by a single judge, coincidentally, the same judge that refused Sally Challen permission to appeal in the first instance. Her legal team will now submit grounds to a panel of three judges, and Justice for Women will be organising a public campaign on behalf of Farieissia, and hope that the publicity about the insidious and often secret nature of domestic abuse will help her. 

23-year-old Emma Jayne Magson is currently serving life for killing her abusive boyfriend who had attacked her during their night out. Emma Jayne has been given permission to appeal her conviction, and the hearing will be within the next few months. 

The Sally Challen appeal is a hugely important step in the public discussion of public control, and it will doubtless impact other woman being victimised in this way. There are very few women who kill as a response to domestic violence (on average 12 annually) compared to the numbers of women who are killed by violent men (one every three days will die at the hands of a partner or former partner in England and Wales). But this ruling is significant progress following on from the change in the law in 2015 that introduced the legal concept of coercive control. 

This case will help the countless victims that suffer as Sally did. Perhaps the police and courts will deal with the perpetrators of this terrible crime at an early stage, so that lives can be saved.

Since the media began reporting on Sally’s case, several other women have contacted Justice for Women, saying that they, too, are the victims of coercive control. Let’s hope the tide has finally began to turn, and women trapped in these abusive relationships get the help they need to leave, and their perpetrators dealt with appropriately. After more than five decades of feminist campaigning on domestic abuse, it is high time women are heard.