Hundreds of coercive control offences were recorded by Merseyside Police last year, new figures reveal.
The charity Women’s Aid warns that domestic abuse remains at “epidemic levels” across England and Wales, and has called for more training for criminal justice professionals.
Coercive control – introduced as a new offence in 2015 – is behaviour used by an abuser to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, and can include assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation.
Merseyside Police recorded 555 coercive control offences in 2018-19.Across the North West, 2,833 were recorded.
This is the first year that figures have been released broken down by police force area.
But across England and Wales, the number almost doubled from 9,053 in 2017-18 to 17,616 last year.
The ONS said such increases are “common” for new offences, and that the rise could be down to increased recognition of coercive control by police officers.
Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said it is encouraging that coercive control legislation is being used more often.
“However, domestic abuse remains at epidemic levels, with an estimated 1.6 million women experiencing domestic abuse last year alone,” she added.
“Despite this, police are making fewer referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service and there has been a decrease in the proportion of female victims reporting domestic abuse to the police.”
CPS data shows that 1,177 coercive control offences reached a first magistrates’ court hearing across England and Wales in 2018-19, up from 960 the previous year.
Ms Claire said: "We are calling for all criminal justice professionals to be trained in the nature and impact of coercive control, to ensure that these cases are treated just as seriously as other domestic abuse-related offences.”
The new crime was highlighted by the high-profile case of Sally Challen, who killed her husband with a hammer at their home in 2010.
She was originally found guilty of murder, but her conviction was quashed by the court of appeal earlier this year, with the judge saying the killing came after "years of controlling, isolating and humiliating conduct" by her partner.
Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, said the police have worked hard to improve their response to domestic abuse and that the figures showed “increased reporting and better recording".
She added: “Part of the increase is also down to better identification and reporting of domestic abuse, particularly coercive and controlling behaviour.
“We are continuing to improve our response to this to bring more offenders to justice.
“The fall in the proportion of domestic abuse crimes being referred for a charging decision is concerning, and we are working with the CPS to understand the complex reasons for this.”
A CPS spokeswoman said the agency had worked with police to develop new "troubleshooting" guidance to improve the first response to, and charging of, coercive control offences, and support for complainants.
She added: "We stand ready to bring charges wherever there is evidence of this insidious offence being committed.”