May 4, 2024

manipulateA Close Look at the Manipulative Psychological Phenomenon

Psychological abuse, particularly in the form of gaslighting, has gained considerable attention over the last few years. In the United Kingdom, gaslighting has been officially recognised as a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015. This act criminalises behaviour that is controlling or coercive within an intimate or family relationship.

Understanding Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a term derived from the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’, where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she’s losing her sanity. It refers to a form of psychological manipulation where one person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. The perpetrator may use denial, contradiction, misinformation, and misdirection to distort the victim’s reality, ultimately gaining power and control.

Gaslighting as a Criminal Offence in the UK

The Serious Crime Act of 2015 extended the definition of domestic violence to include ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’. This legislation marks a significant shift, ensuring psychological and emotional abuse is recognised alongside physical violence.

Under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act, a person is guilty of an offence if they engage in a pattern of behaviour or actions that are controlling or coercive towards another person they are personally connected to. The behaviour must have a serious effect on the victim, making them fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or they have been caused serious alarm or distress which substantially affects their day-to-day activities.

The Impact of the Law

This legal change has been essential in recognising and addressing the grave implications of gaslighting. It offers an avenue for victims to seek justice and potentially break free from the toxic cycle of psychological manipulation. Offenders can face up to 5 years imprisonment, a fine, or both, sending a strong message about the severity of this form of abuse.

Challenges in Prosecution

Despite the progress, prosecuting gaslighting offences can be complex. Evidence of coercive behaviour is often intangible and relies on the testimony of the victim, making it difficult to establish a robust case. Consequently, victims must endure an emotional and strenuous legal process, which can sometimes dissuade them from pursuing charges.

Steps Towards Combating Gaslighting

Efforts are underway to enhance the ability to prosecute these crimes successfully. For instance, training law enforcement and legal professionals on the intricacies of gaslighting can improve their ability to identify, understand, and deal with such cases. Public education campaigns are also critical to raising awareness about gaslighting and encouraging victims to come forward.

counsellingVictims’ Support and Protection

It’s vital to ensure support systems are in place for victims. This includes counselling services, helplines, and shelters. The UK government, along with various non-profit organisations, provides resources to assist victims of gaslighting and other forms of domestic abuse.


Gaslighting, as a criminal offence in the UK, reflects an important recognition of psychological abuse’s destructive power. Though challenges remain, particularly around prosecution, strides have been made towards providing justice for victims. By continuing to educate the public, train professionals, and support victims, society can work towards eliminating this insidious form of abuse.

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