DOMESTIC abusers who control victims via social media or spy on them online could face up to five years in prison under a new law which is now in force.
The legislation will target those who subject spouses, partners and family members to psychological and emotional torment but stop short of violence.
It paves the way for charges in cases where there is evidence of repeated "controlling or coercive behaviour".
The Women’s Aid charity said it was a "landmark moment" in tackling abuse.
The new law, brought into force in England and Wales, follows a Home Office consultation in which 85% of participants said the existing law did not provide sufficient protection.
It comes as Citizens Advice published figures showing a 24% rise in those seeking advice for domestic abuse.
The Crown Prosecution Service said the type of abuse covered by the new offence could include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation.
It could also involve stopping someone from socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps and dictating what they wear.
Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said: "Controlling or coercive behaviour can limit victims’ basic human rights, such as their freedom of movement and their independence.
"This behaviour can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it this behaviour might seem playful, innocuous or loving.
"Victims can be frightened of the repercussions of not abiding by someone else’s rules. Often they fear that violence will be used against them, or suffer from extreme psychological and emotional abuse.
"These new powers mean this behaviour, which is particularly relevant to cases of domestic abuse, can now be prosecuted in its own right."