Finally, this extreme form of abuse is now being recognised in the courts
Farieissia (Fri) Martin was a 22-year-old mother of two toddlers when she was given a life sentence for murder. Martin stabbed her violent partner Kyle Farrell as he was attacking her in their Liverpool home. Today, the Court of Appeal will hear compelling new evidence that will hopefully lead to the quashing of the murder conviction on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Martin was a victim of coercive control by Farrell. Coercive control in the context of a defence to murder was first considered by the Court of Appeal, 2019, in the Sally Challen case. The court heard how this abuse seriously impacted Challen’s mental health which then diminished her responsibility for the offence.
According to Professor Evan Stark, an expert in coercive control, in such relationships the abusers deploy a broad range of tactics over an extended period to subjugate or dominate a partner, rather than to really hurt them physically.
“Compliance is achieved by making victims afraid and denying basic rights, resources and liberties,” says Stark, “without which they are not able to effectively refuse, resist or escape demands that mitigate against their interests.”
Farrell’s jealousy and controlling behaviour increased as the relationship progressed. He would accuse Martin of infidelity , imposed a ‘them and us’ mentality and isolated Martin from all of her friends and family. He was physically violent including when she was pregnant. Farrell would repeatedly tell Martin she was ‘fat and ugly’ and would damage her possessions. Farrell would rape Martin and convince her it was her fault.
The appeal relies on fresh psychiatric and psychological evidence which shows that at the time of the offence Martin was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the abuse. The condition would have affected her response to the threat of violence she faced at the moment she stabbed Farrell.
Following her conviction Martin’s family contacted Justice for Women (which I co-founded in 1991). It was clear that she was not a murderer and had been badly served by both her legal team and the court.
“I have been in prison for over six years now, most of the women I have met inside have been victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse,” Martin told her solicitor last week.
According to Martin, the court failed to understand the violence and control she had experienced. “When I walked into the court room, I knew I would be found guilty. It was an all-white jury, sitting in a city with a long history of racism. I knew I would be judged as coming from Toxteth.”
Hopefully, Martin will soon be a free woman, but why was she ever convicted of murder? Why has it taken so long for coercive control to be acknowledged in the courts? Were it not for feminist campaigners, this form of extreme abuse would still not be a criminal offence. Justice for Women regularly receives letters from women in prison convicted of the murder of a violent partner, all of whom will have experienced coercive control as well as violence. There are countless women serving life sentences because until recently the law failed to acknowledge the true scale and horror of domestic abuse.