HUNDREDS of coercive control offences were recorded by Dorset Police last year, new figures reveal.

Introduced as a new offence in 2015, coercive control is behaviour used by an abuser to harm, punish, or frighten their victim, and can include assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation.

Dorset Police recorded 210 coercive control offences in 2018-19. Across the South West, 1,200 were recorded.

This is the first year that figures have been released broken down by police force area and they show that across England and Wales, the number of reported offences have almost doubled, from 9,053 in 2017-18 to 17,616 last year.

The charity Women’s Aid warns that domestic abuse remains at “epidemic levels” across England and Wales, and that police are making fewer referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. It has called for more training for criminal justice professionals.

Acting co-chief executive of Women's Aid, Adina Claire, said it was 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 said.

“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.

"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,” she added.

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.

The Office for National Statistics said increases in offence reporting were “common” for new offences, and that the rise could be down to increased recognition of coercive control by police officers.

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".

“Part of the increase is also down to better identification and reporting of domestic abuse, particularly coercive and controlling behaviour," she said.

Only last month, Bournemouth man Darren Roberts, 34, of Nutley Way, admitted continually engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour towards a woman by assaulting her, taking her telephone, controlling her contact with friends and preventing her from leaving his address.