Domestic violence
Emotional abuse is set to become a criminal offence under new government plans Getty

Emotional abuse is to become a criminal offence in the UK for the first time under new government plans.

Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to announce new powers that will put psychological abuse on a par with physical violence, and criminalise controlling behaviour.

A person convicted of "coercive control" could face 14 years in prison. The law is expected to come into force before the 2015 general election.

Ministers hope the legislation will encourage people to report abuse much earlier. Currently, victims do not contact police until they have suffered, on average, 30 incidents of domestic abuse.

Labour welcomed the proposals, but Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper urged the government to do more to enforce current laws on domestic violence.

"We have called for Theresa May to strengthen the law on domestic violence for some time, so I hope these suggested measures make a difference," she said.

"However, the government is still doing too little to enforce the present law, where the proportion of domestic violence cases reaching prosecution or conviction is falling, even though reported cases are going up.

"Under Theresa May, domestic violence courts and refuges are closing and specialist domestic violence police officers are being cut.

"Unfortunately, despite the measures being briefed today, under Theresa May the clock is being turned back on violence against women."

According to research by the Home Office and charity Women's Aid, police receive a domestic abuse call every 30 seconds.

Campaigner Harry Fletcher, director of charity Digital-Trust, told Sky News: "The main reason women don't report incidents to police is a lack of confidence in the judicial system and a real fear that the behaviour of the perpetrator might escalate as a result of doing that.

"The police tend to just deal with the incident that happened that day, rather than looking at the totality of the behaviour often going back many years."