What is coercive control?

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Many people presume that domestic abuse is physical. Whilst that can be true, it can also be psychological, emotional or behavioural.

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse whereby a person tries to exert control or power over a person. It creates invisible chains and aims to make a person dependent by isolating them from others and depriving them of their independence.

In this blog, our domestic abuse solicitors look at coercive control in detail, including the types of coercive tactics abusers use and what you should do if you think you or a loved one is experiencing this type of abuse.

What are coercive tactics?

Coercive control can be difficult to spot. Because it is not a physical act of abuse, it may not be obvious to friends, family or colleagues that a person is experiencing it. Those who are subject to coercive control do not always realise they are being abused/controlled, often mistaking it for someone being caring or ‘wanting what is best for them’.

Common examples of coercive behaviour include (but are not limited to):

  • Intimidating or threatening you
  • Threatening to harm or kill children or pets
  • Controlling your finances, including taking wages, benefits or allowances
  • Controlling everyday aspects of your life such as who you can see, what you can do and even what you can wear
  • Forcing you to engage in criminal activity
  • Repeatedly putting you down, degrading or humiliating you, or making you feel worthless
  • Family ‘dishonour’
  • Monitoring you (for example, using online software, vehicle trackers or video doorbells)
  • Limiting access to and isolating you from family and friends
  • Depriving you of or controlling access to medical treatment, transport, education or employment
  • Damaging your property and/or personal belongings
  • Threatening to disclose personal information about you

In some serious cases of coercive control, the person may deprive you of basic needs such as food or personal hygiene.

Is coercive control a criminal offence?

Yes. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. It has a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

Some of the above behaviours can be other criminal offences as well as coercive control. For example, if your abuser caused damage to your property, they could be charged with coercive control and criminal damage.

Is gaslighting coercive control?

Although the term ‘gaslighting’ is often used flippantly, gaslighting is a form of coercive control and therefore domestic abuse.

Gaslighting is when a perpetrator tries to control a victim by convincing them that they are wrong about something. For example, the abuser might threaten their partner and then deny it happened when confronted about it, leaving them doubting themselves and twisting their sense of reality.

Who is most at risk of becoming a victim of coercive control?

We are all at risk of coercive control and it affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Coercive control often manifests within romantic relationships, however, those particularly at risk are older people and those who have mental or physical disabilities.

Unfortunately, abusers can take advantage of those who rely on them for care or support, for example, someone might control their elderly mother’s finances or isolate them from other family members so that the behaviour goes unnoticed.

How is coercive control proven?

Coercive control can be incredibly complex and difficult to spot, as the behaviour is often dismissed as someone being a ‘control freak’ or ‘protecting them’ from the outside world.

Each case of coercive control will be unique, and so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with this type of domestic abuse. Generally speaking, your abuser will be guilty of coercive control if:

  • They are personally connected to you, e.g. your partner or spouse
  • Their behaviour has a serious effect on you (more on this below)
  • They knew (or ought to have known) that their behaviour would have a serious effect on you

What does ‘serious effect’ mean?

To prove ‘serious effect’, the behaviour, or fear that the behaviour would happen, must have happened on at least two occasions. You will also have felt distressed or at risk of serious harm, and it will have affected the way you carry out day-to-day activities. For example, you may have started working from home instead of going into the office so that the abuser could ‘keep an eye’ on you and reduce the risk of colleagues noticing something is wrong.

The court will look at whether a ‘reasonable’ person who had all the information your abuser had would have known their behaviour would have a serious effect on you.

Getting help for coercive control

If you think that you are being controlled, it is important to seek legal advice from a specialist domestic abuse solicitor as soon as possible. Our expert team can protect you from further abuse, including:

Our Domestic Abuse team provides sympathetic advice tailored to your circumstances, putting you and your children’s interests at the centre. We work with other services and domestic abuse charities to help keep you safe and to help you move on when you feel ready.

Get in touch with our domestic abuse solicitors

If you or a loved one has experienced coercive control, or any other form of domestic violence, please get in touch. Call us on 0117 325 2929 for a discreet and confidential chat.


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