Coercive control:
abusive behaviour in teenage relationships

Saturday 5th December 2015

For Day 11 of our 16 Days of Activism blog series, Chlo, a member of the Women’s Aid Young People Advisory Panel and survivor of domestic abuse, shares her story.

“I’m a member of the Women’s Aid Young People Advisory Panel, our role is to represent the views of young people within Women’s Aid; so to talk about how young people specifically are affected by domestic abuse, and the different opinions and needs that young people might have. We’ve done things like helping write information leaflets for young people and we were invited to speak to the Joint Committee for Human Rights for their violence against women and girls inquiry last year.

I also run a project I set up in Bristol called Speak Out, which is about raising awareness of domestic abuse in young people’s relationships. I run sessions for students in local schools and have trained teachers, Brook staff and mental health staff who work with young people. I set up the Speak Out project and got involved with Women’s Aid because experiencing domestic abuse from my ex-boyfriend made me realise it’s often seen as something that only affects adults and young people don’t always know very much about it.

I met my ex-boyfriend online when I was thirteen; he was three years older than me and always talking to me and giving me compliments. My real life was much more difficult and my ex seemed like the only person who actually cared and was on my side. We became boyfriend and girlfriend online and he was always saying how much he loved me and we were going to get married and be together always.

About six months after we began talking online I was taken into hospital as an inpatient with anorexia completely against my will, I was very homesick and I couldn’t have any Internet access or phone him. So I broke up with him which I didn’t really think was a big deal because we’d never even met face to face.

He was absolutely furious. He said I’d ruined his entire life and he started calling me names and swearing at me on texts. I’d been bullied at school by boys who said the same kinds of things so it didn’t strike me as a big deal. He calmed down and we arranged to meet face to face for the first time.

He was very shy and polite so after that he would often come and stay with me and my parents for the weekend and I went to stay with him in Birmingham. He seemed like the perfect boyfriend, very charming, always bringing presents and doing little things for me.

In between visits he started to change, he’d lose his temper and scream at me. Or go on about how ugly girls looked if they didn’t dress in a revealing way, then call me a slut and a whore for following his instructions. He started self-harming and said it was my fault for making him unhappy.

Every argument went back to how I’d broken up with him in 2011, he said after that I’d changed into a bad person and he could never love me quite as much again.

He stashed over fifty boxes of paracetamol ready to take an overdose and he’d show them to me but say if I told anyone he’d do it straight away. I would stay up all night whilst he repeatedly hung up the phone saying he was on the edge of a building ready to jump and then not pick up for hours.

I was too exhausted to go to school and he said there was no point anyway because I was too stupid. I told him I wanted to go to university and he lost his temper saying he couldn’t believe I would do that instead of spending my time with him.

By the time I first called the police In March 2013 he had been shouting for everyone to look at me because I was a “slag and whore” right in the middle of Birmingham city centre; and he’d threatened that him and his friends would find me and stab me in the face. Then later on the phone described in detail how he fantasized about luring me to his house and stabbing me to death, as he’d seen a favourite TV character do.

The police officers I spoke to really helped me because they told me that what he was doing was abuse which had never even occurred to me before. My ex was my first boyfriend, and I think it’s often the case that young people don’t have the experience of healthy relationships to know what’s happening isn’t normal. It’s so easy just to think “all couples argue”, especially when someone is telling you that you provoked them all the time. And once they start wearing down your self-esteem and isolating you, it spirals to a point that you can’t see a way out.

The police didn’t take the case any further that time because there wasn’t proper evidence of a crime. My ex knew I’d spoken to them and he just got worse. He used, which is a website that allows you to send and receive anonymous messages.

I’d started self-harming, copying what he’d done, and he sent streams of messages taunting me for not self-harming ‘properly’ enough. Telling me “the world would be a better place if I were dead” “do everyone a favour“ “slit my throat or drink bleach”. A few days later my account was hacked and everything got deleted.

I called the police again after that but the officers I saw weren’t as helpful as the first. I had a hard time convincing them the solution wasn’t just to delete my account. What happens online does have very real consequences and it does need to be taken as seriously.

There were several times when I was hysterical, picking up knives to stab myself or begging my mum to “make it stop” because I thought I could never get away from him and he was going to kill me. Too many young people get told “block their profile” “come off social media” and I don’t think that’s an answer.

The police eventually arrested him for harassment and insisted I wanted to press charges. It wasn’t easy because he kept contacting me saying if I didn’t drop them he would kill himself or kill me first. I felt like I was betraying him to the police when it was my fault he was so angry. In the end I was very lucky, he pleaded guilty and the judge gave him quite a strict sentence. He got a suspended prison sentence, electronic tagging and a curfew so he couldn’t leave his house between 5am and 5pm for two months; he paid me compensation and has a restraining order not to contact me for five years.

I think it is really important young people learn about healthy relationships and that they do early on. The only way we can help young people recognise the warning signs of abuse and feel confident asking for help is by educating them. Sexual bullying and name-calling often goes unchallenged in schools but it all contributes to the idea that it’s okay for young men to have that power over young women. We need to learn about gender-stereotypes, about things like everyday sexism and how it oppresses women, about respectful relationships and consent. And young people need to know that if someone is making them feel afraid in a relationship. Afraid they’re going to hurt them or afraid to disagree with them or disobey them, it’s not normal and it’s never their fault.”

Controlling Behaviour in Relationships - talking to young people about healthy relationships-coverControlling behaviour in relationship – guidance for parents

Chlo has been working with Women’s Aid to develop a guide for parents to help raise recognise and raise awareness of coercive control. The guide, produced in partnership with Avon, will:

  • help you recognise if your child is being controlled by their partner
  • help you to talk about healthy behaviour in relationships with your child
  • show you how to collect evidence of coercive control
  • and tell you where to go if you or your child needs help.

Learn more and download the guide today


About the Author

Chlo, aged 18, is a young activist, campaigner and A-level student from Bristol. She won Young Person of the Year at the UK Sexual Health Awards for her work on Speak Out, a campaign to raise awareness about domestic abuse in young people’s relationships. Chlo is also a member of the Women’s Aid Young People’s Advisory Panel who, in October 2014, gave evidence to the government Joint Committee for Human Rights as part of their violence against women and girls inquiry.  Chlo was inspired to set up the Speak Out project and become involved in campaigning after experiencing abuse. She is determined to raise awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse among young people and help other teenagers to access support sooner.

About 16 Days

From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, Women’s Aid will release a blog a day, encouraging people to take action and use their influence to help raise the status of women to a level where violence against them is no longer tolerated. Read more blogs from the series

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