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This content originally appeared in our newsletter between August and September 2014 and reflected our views at the time. 

What is coercive control?

Coercive control describes a range or pattern of behaviours that enable a perpetrator to maintain or regain control of a partner, ex-partner or family member.

In March 2013, the cross-government definition of domestic abuse was extended to include ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.'

Last month (21st August), the Home Secretary opened a consultation to establish whether a specific offence capturing patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships should be introduced.

What are the characteristics of coercive control?

The types of coercive control being used will differ from victim to victim. Perpetrators will often use a combination of tactics and/or take advantage of any perceived weaknesses or insecurities in order to maximise the victim's distress. Some examples might include:

  • Controlling or observing the victim's daily activities, including: making them account for their time; restricting access to money; restricting their movements (including being locked in the property).
  • Isolating the victim from family and friends; intercepting messages or phone calls.
  • Constant criticism of victim's role as a partner, spouse or parent.
  • Threats of suicide/homicide/familicide.
  • Preventing the victim from taking medication or accessing care (especially relevant for victims with disabilities).
  • Using children to control their partner, eg threats to take the children away.
  • Extreme dominance; a sense of ‘entitlement' to partner or the partner's services, obedience etc - no matter what.
  • Extreme jealousy (“If I can't have you, no one can”), giving the victim cause to believe they will act on this.
  • Threats to damage the property and cause injury to pets.
  • Threats to expose sensitive information (eg sexual activity) or make false allegations to family members, religious or local community including via photos or the internet.
  • Involvement of wider family members or the community; crimes in the name of ‘honour'.
  • Manipulation of information given to professionals.

How prevalent is coercive control among victims of domestic abuse?

Data from SafeLives' Insights service found that patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour were present in around 80% of cases. Among victims who experienced no physical abuse, only 17% made a report to the police.

What should I do if I suspect coercive control is taking place?

In the first instance:

  • Make a referral to a specialist domestic abuse or Idva service at the earliest opportunity. Visit your local authority website for information on domestic abuse services in your area.
  • Consider making a referral to children's services to ensure any children are protected. Record any strategies that the perpetrator is using, for example: if the perpetrator does not let the victim leave the house, what is the impact on the child?
  • If you are working with a young person under the age of 18, refer to specialist young people's service where available locally, or to children's services where there are safeguarding concerns.

If you work with the victim on an ongoing basis, you should also:

  • Never assume an incident is a ‘one off' - look for patterns of abusive behaviour.
  • Be aware of the victim's levels of fear and the impact this is having on them and their children, including their family, social and work life. They may have difficulty articulating the abuse and what they are afraid of.
  • Refer to the Severity of Abuse Grid to help assess whether the harassment, stalking or emotional abuse is getting worse, or happening more often.
  • Suggest that the victim keeps a diary of events, where safe to do so, to enable them to gather evidence of the abuse. Use a Power and Control Wheel to help them articulate this.
  • Be mindful of inadvertently colluding with the perpetrator, and further isolating the victim. For example, the perpetrator may pose as a victim or manipulate professionals around them. If you have any concerns, speak to your local specialist domestic abuse or Idva service.