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Gaslighting is a term that many of us have come across regarding manipulation and vulnerability, but what is gaslighting abuse, and is gaslighting a crime?


What Does ‘Gaslighting’ Mean? And, Who Invented the Term?

The term ‘gaslighting’ comes from a 1930s play, ‘Gas Light’. During the play, a man uses gas lights to gradually manipulate his wife into believing that she’s going mad so that he can steal from her.

In recent years, the term gaslighting has been coined for a form of psychological abuse or intimidation, where one individual tells another repetitive false information to make them doubt their own perceptions.


Is Gaslighting Illegal?

Although the name applied to it is relatively new, the concept of gaslighting has been recognised for years as a form of domestic abuse.

However, an official law was created in line with this behaviour in 2015. Since then, section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 has stated that controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or familial relationship is a criminal offence. Officially, yes, gaslighting is now illegal.

On January 20th, 2022, the term ‘gaslighting’ was acknowledged for the first time in the High Court. 

The Court Case

The case involved a woman who had been both mentally and physically abused by her partner and father of her child. The partner was a mental health care worker and, over the period of their relationship, he had convinced her family and other mental health professionals that she had bi-polar disorder.

The mother was presented by Dr. Charlotte Proudman, who used the term ‘gaslighting’ to explain the acts of the partner/father, which Mr. Justice Cobb stated was, in his opinion, ‘apposite’.

The fact that the term ‘gaslighting’ has been recognised by the High Court is a huge step for family law, not only for validating it as an action, but for adding legal weight to its consequences.


When is Gaslighting Bad Enough for Legal Action?

While the term gaslighting is used liberally to mean any kind or coercion or manipulation, for legal action to take place, it must have a serious effect.

Serious effect is defined by the victim fearing, at least twice, that they are under threat of violence. Alternatively, serious effect can be the victim feeling distress to a point that has a substantial affect on their day-to-day life.

The behaviour must also be continuous to claim a legal case for gaslighting.


How to Recognise Gaslighting

If you believe that you or someone you know might be being gaslighted, you may identify with some of the following characteristics:

  • Feeling a constant need to apologise
  • Frequent anxiety or distress
  • Feeling a disconnect from your sense of self
  • Believing everything is your fault
  • Wondering if you’re overly sensitive

Additionally, you may recognise some of the following characteristics in the individual that you believe to be manipulating you or someone you know:

  • Insisting you did or said things you don’t remember doing or saying
  • Denying your recollection of events
  • Expressing doubts about your feelings and behaviours
  • Blaming you when things go wrong, even if it wasn’t your fault
  • Refusing to hear a version of events other than their own

Neither of the above lists are exhaustive but do include some of the main identifiers of gaslighting. Gaslighting is a recognised criminal offence, so you should seek professional advice if you believe you or someone you know is a victim.


How Can Howells Help?

If you think that you could be a victim of gaslighting, our family law services can help you. Get in touch with our experts today to find out more about the legality of your situation.

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