David Challen: ‘Jersey must bring law out of the Dark Ages’

David Challen (37065280)

AN influential domestic-abuse campaigner has called on Jersey to bring its legislation designed to tackle violence against women and girls out of the “Dark Ages”.

David Challen, who successfully campaigned to free his mother, Sally Challen, from prison in 2019 in a landmark appeal recognising the lifetime of coercive control she suffered, visited Jersey recently for a White Ribbon Event organised by FREEDA (formerly Jersey Women’s Refuge).

Mrs Challen was jailed for life in 2011 for murdering her husband, Richard. She was freed in 2019 when the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and she pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to just over nine years, which she had already served.

Speaking to the JEP ahead of the event, Mr Challen was candid about the state of the Island’s domestic-abuse legislation, enacted in June, which he described as “piecemeal” and “from the Dark Ages”.

He said that the lack of guidance accompanying terms like “coercive control” was “ignoring the pattern of escalation” in domestic abuse and warned that stories and cases like his mother’s would happen here.

Mr Challen said: “For as long as we don’t double down and ensure there is a statutory guidance to coercive control and a thorough network of resources, support and understanding on the front line, it will happen again and again, but no one will know and it will take some family like mine to muster up the courage to bring justice, which was a long, hard-fought, rare road to achieve.”

The Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce report, released earlier this month, made 77 recommendations to government and other agencies, including several changes to the domestic-abuse law.

Responding to the document, Mr Challen urged the Island to “seize this moment” to bring Jersey “up to code”.

He said: “It’s an amazing report that seems like it’s seizing a moment from the domestic-abuse law coming in, and it’s great that we have new legislation and new laws there, but they need to be developed, because it seems piecemeal and not a comprehensive understanding of what domestic abuse is.

“We’re not going to tackle domestic abuse until we fully understand it and help survivors fully understand it, so they can report and escape and live their lives free.”

The taskforce – made up of 20 local professionals working in the subject area – found that “gaps in Jersey’s legislation are undermining the ability of the criminal justice system to protect victim-survivors or effectively manage perpetrators”.

Mr Challen urged politicians and the judiciary to accept the recommendations and the review, saying: “It is important to build upon what is there.

“The law and the judiciary must understand coercive control and how it operates, how it can be utilised and how it can be criminalised.

“This is very important to the messages passed all the way down from judges to police, specialist services, right back to victims and survivors who need to understand that so they have the power to reach out and know the implications of what reporting will do and can do and set them free.

“That report has the ability to bring the Island up to code in tackling domestic abuse. It highlights all the areas and all the survivors that have been missed because of these gaps in legislation.

“The facts are there, from all the victims and survivors, about society being male-centred and male-led. We need to recognise the impact that women’s voices and their own lived experiences can have.

“It’s giving the script to government to act on the unseen survivors of domestic abuse and the needs that are warranted for them to have.”

In the States Assembly tomorrow, Deputy Sam Mézec is due to ask the Home Affairs Minister whether she accepts all the recommendations from the taskforce’s report and, if she does, when she intends to publish a timetable for them to be implemented.

He wrote on social media: “We must ensure that the momentum is not lost after this incredibly important piece of work.”

Upon the release of the report, Deputy Miles said she would “carefully consider” the recommendations and “undertake to source funding for them”.

Economic abuse

In response to findings, the taskforce recommended that guidance should be issued which made it clear that economic abuse was covered under “coercive control” and therefore an offence of domestic abuse.

Mr Challen said: “You need statutory guidance on all aspects and all forms of domestic abuse, to avoid leaving anything to confusion. There is a new language around coercive control which needs to be imprinted in the minds of young men and boys, and young girls and women. There can’t be any ambiguity around that.

“In England and Wales there’s a fundamental statutory understanding of what coercive control is. Economic abuse is part of that.

“The debt that is taken on can stay with survivors well after the abuse and they have to live with the consequences of that and how that should be understood by family practice and the impact it has on their lives even after reporting, and what can we do to better support survivors.”


The taskforce has also recommended that stalking should be named as an offence in Jersey legislation, as it has been in the UK since 2012.

There were 192 reports of stalking made in Jersey between 2016 and 2021, resulting in only two convictions.

Mr Challen described this absence as something from “the Dark Ages”.

He said: “I remember sitting in a court during my mother’s murder trial and not having the language for abuse and we’re sat in 2023 and there’s no language in Jersey, or legislation even to protect from stalking. It’s atrocious. Appalling.

“But it’s also a problem that you can actively do something about. The amount of people who are reporting stalking in the VAWG report, and there’s not even legislation to protect them.”

Emergency barring orders

The taskforce recommended that emergency barring orders should be introduced into the Domestic Abuse Law. Without these, the police do not have the power to remove a suspected perpetrator from the residence of the victim while they investigate. Such orders have been used in the UK since 2014.

Mr Challen said: “We need emergency powers like that to safeguard victims, to fully investigate claims of abuse and not just leave someone at home for it to escalate, for a life to be lost or for serious physical violence to happen.

“This can still be seized upon by Jersey’s politicians to safeguard victims. Victims deserve a right to be protected.”

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