Understanding and Identifying Coercive and Controlling Behaviour

Tara Quinn
Tara Quinn

Published: January 5th, 2024

7 min read

Domestic abuse and domestic violence can happen to anyone. Domestic abuse can include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional abuse, threats, financial control, coercive and controlling behaviour.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is becoming more recognised than it has ever been before but there is still a long way to go. A lot of victims of coercive and controlling behaviour also experience other types of domestic abuse and therefore, sadly, down-play or fail to recognise that coercive control is extremely serious and the devastating impact it has had on them.

Whilst the statistics show that women are more likely to be the victim of domestic abuse and coercive control than men, that doesn't mean that men are not the victims of coercive and controlling behaviour. People within the LGBTQ + community also suffer from domestic abuse and the effects of coercive and controlling behaviour and it is important that no matter who you are, you are able to recognise what coercive and controlling behaviour is and who to call if you need help.

There were 41,626 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022. This is compared with 33,954 in the year ending March 2021 and 24,856 in the year ending March 2020. The rise in coercive control offences over recent years may be attributed to improvements made by the police in recognising incidents of coercive control and using the new law accordingly.

We recently had training on coercive and controlling behaviour delivered by Mother Mountain Productions. Within the training delivered, we were able to experience different scenarios of coercive and controlling behaviour via VR headsets through the eyes of the victim or as someone in the room watching the scenario. Each video was based on true reports of coercive and controlling behaviour and it was extremely moving and a difficult watch. We cannot recommend this training enough to really highlight what types of behaviours fall under this category and how this restricts a victim's life through fear.

What is coercive and controlling behaviour?

The criminal definition is detailed under section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015. In summary this is where the perpetrator has repeatedly or continuously engaged in behaviour that is controlling or coercive and at the time of that behaviour, the perpetrator and victim are personally connected, the behaviour has a serious effect on the victim and the perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim.

Controlling behaviour are acts which are designed to make a person subordinate or dependent by isolation, exploitation, resistance and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour are continuing acts or a pattern of behaviour such as assaults or threats, humiliation, intimidation, or other abuse, which is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.

Is this happening to you or someone you know?

The types of behaviours associated with allegations of coercive control are:

  • Physical violence or threats of physical violence

  • Sexual assault, coercion or abuse, or threats

  • Emotional or psychological abuse

  • Abuse relating to faith or religion.

  • Verbal abuse

  • Economic or financial abuse, e.g. coerced debt, controlling spending, bank accounts, benefits etc.

  • Monitoring/controlling victims' daily activities and behaviour e.g. account for their time, dictating what they wear, who they can talk to, what they can eat, where they sleep, where they work or restricting development/training

  • Monitoring/controlling access to social media and devices.

  • Acts of coercion to force or persuade victim to do something they are unwilling to do.

  • Threats to expose sensitive information or make false allegations to family, friends, employer or community including sensitive photos.

  • Preventing victim from learning to speak a language or make friends outside of their family home or cultural background.

  • Intimidation and threats of disclosure of health or status if this may cause stigma within the community.

  • Using victims' health or mental health status to induce fear or restrict freedom

  • Using victims' immigration status

  • Threats to place victim in an institution e.g care home or mental health facility

  • Making or enforcing rules that the victim is expected to follow.

  • Undermining the victim, humiliating, or embarrassing them

  • Isolating from friends, family, colleagues and professionals who may be able to support them.

  • Hindering access to communicate

  • Preventing victim from taking medication or access medical health professionals

  • Reproductive coercion, restricting birth control or refusing to use birth control, forcing a victim to get an abortion, to undergo IVF etc.

  • Using alcohol or drugs to control the victim.

  • Using the children to control the victim e.g threatening to harm the children or remove the children.

  • Using pets to control the victim e.g threatening to harm the pet or remove the pet.

  • Using victims work place to control them e.g denying access, dictating where they work, turning up to work, threaten to give information to employer

  • Preventing normal leisure activities

Not included on the government guidance but we think also happens regularly enough to take notice is where the perpetrator will threaten to commit suicide/harm themselves if the victim leaves them, speaks to others etc.

What type of evidence would help me prove this?

The types of evidence which we find are useful in evidencing coercive and controlling behaviour are:

  • Independent witness evidence from friends, family, employers, professionals

  • Phone records, messages, screenshots

  • Social media posts

  • Photos of injuries and/or photos of damage to property

  • Videos/recordings

  • Police disclosure evidence/ medical professional evidence/ other professional evidence

  • Bank statements and financial evidence

  • Evidence of suicide threats made by the perpetrator.

  • Diary kept by the victim.

  • Evidence of CCTV or tracking devices used by the perpetrator.

There is specialist support for victims of domestic abuse who are pursuing allegations of abuse and stalking such as an Independent Domestic Abuse Advisor (IDVA) or an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA).

If you, or someone you know, are the victim of domestic abuse then please do seek help and guidance. Please see below a list of a few numbers should you need any additional help or information:

For women; the freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247

For men; Men's advice line on 0808 8010 327 or ManKind on 0182 3334 244

For LGBTQ +; GALOP on 0800 999 5428

Anyone can call Karma Nivarna on 0800 5999 247 for forced marriage or honour-based crime.

If you feel comfortable to do so, please speak to a medical professional such as a GP or a police officer.

We recommend that you seek legal advice to discuss your own individual circumstances.

Forbes have a fantastic team of family law specialists with extensive experience of advising and representing clients who have been the victims of domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour. Please do get in touch using the details below.

For further information please contact Tara Quinn

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