A man has been convicted of inflicting psychological abuse on his partner, after he used her thumb to unlock her phone while she was sleeping. Alexander Heavens, 24, tormented his girlfriend of six years, Stacey Booth, also 24, by going through her phone at night and waking her up to interrogate her about what he found. Booth eventually became sleep-deprived and lost weight; her work and personal relationships became affected. Thankfully – and all too rarely – this sort of coercive, controlling behaviour has been recognised and, after admitting to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, Heavens was handed a restraining order and will be sentenced in six months’ time.
But beyond the headlines, it seems there is so much more to this story. Buried within the paragraphs of the reports are mentions of violence – bending Booth’s fingers back so hard she thought they would break, being pushed to the kitchen floor and stamped on, being punched in the face, having a knife held against her stomach – but despite all this, no charges of domestic abuse or similar were brought against Heavens. It’s unclear as to why this is the case, but it clearly shows the link between coercive control and domestic violence, and how they interact and feed one another. In 2014, one study found that 95% of domestic-violence survivors had also experienced coercive-control tactics at the hand of their abuser.
The persistence of the idea that no one will believe survivors without hard, concrete evidence is one that we must work to dispel, and that can only happen with the help of consistent and appropriate sentencing
The case also points to the growing prevalence of tech abuse – a relatively recent development in the campaign against domestic violence. Earlier this year, we reported on the story of Ferial Nijem, a woman whose abusive ex-husband used the smart tech in their home to gaslight and keep tabs on her. In an effort to tackle the phenomenon, Women’s Aid and Google launched a Technological Abuse Project in 2017, hoping to rehabilitate survivors and encourage them to engage with technology in a safe, empowering way.
On the flip side of the use of technology in domestic-violence cases, Booth believes one of the only reasons her case got to court is because she began to secretly record Heavens’ actions overnight, telling the Daily Mail, “I used to record him towards the end because I felt like no one would believe me. That’s what helped me get him into the courtroom.” The persistence of the idea that no one will believe survivors without hard, concrete evidence is one that we must work to dispel, and that can only happen with the help of consistent and appropriate sentencing.
Domestic violence – in all its forms – affects one in four women in England and Wales, and kills on average two women a week. Thankfully, Booth reported the abuse to police and was listened to. And as for Heavens, his sentencing has been deferred for six months – hopefully, the judge will take into account the full extent of his abuse and serve him the punishment he deserves.