What is coercive control?
Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.
We campaigned and succeeded in making coercive control a criminal offence. This has marked a huge step forward in tackling domestic abuse. But now we want to make sure that everyone understands what it is.
Coercive control creates invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life. It works to limit their human rights by depriving them of their liberty and reducing their ability for action. Experts like Evan Stark liken coercive control to being taken hostage. As he says: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”
How do you know if this is happening to you?
Some common examples of coercive behaviour are:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food
- Monitoring your time
- Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
- Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear and when you can sleep
- Depriving you access to support services, such as medical services
- Repeatedly putting you down, such as saying you’re worthless
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
- Controlling your finances
- Making threats or intimidating you
You can read more in this article we wrote for The Telegraph
Statistics on coercive control
- In the year ending December 2016, there were a total of five cautions and 155 defendants prosecuted for coercive and controlling behaviour in England and Wales. The majority of defendants prosecuted for coercive and controlling behaviour were male (97%). There were 59 offenders convicted of coercive and controlling behaviour: 57 of these offenders were male, two were female. (ONS, 2017)
- Analysis of Merseyside Police domestic abuse data found that 95% of coercive control victims were women and 74% of perpetrators were men. 76% of coercive control cases happened within an intimate partner context. The study found that common abusive behaviours used in coercive control included “…use of technology (such as phone trackers, controlling social media usage, barrage of text messages or monitoring phone usage), sexual coercion, monitoring behaviours, isolation, threats, financial abuse, deprivation (depriving access to support) and physical violence (63% of coercive control cases featured reports of physical violence).” (Barlow et al, 2018)
- One study found that 95 out of 100 domestic abuse survivors reported experiencing coercive control. (Kelly et al, 2014)
- Another study found that women are far more likely than men to be victims of abuse that involves ongoing degradation and frightening threats – two key elements of coercive control. (Myhill, 2015)
Read our blogs on coercive control
29th December 2015
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Women’s Aid and other organisations campaigned to have this recognised in law, and we are thrilled that this has now happened. It is a landmark moment in the UK’s approach to domestic abuse, and must be accompanied by awareness-raising among the public, and comprehensive professional training for all agencies that deal with domestic abuse.” Read more
Watch videos on coercive control
Getting help and advice
If you’re in a controlling relationship and need help, call us for free on the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.
If you think your teenage daughter is in a coercive relationship, we’ve created a toolkit to help.
Barlow, C., Walklate, S., Johnson, K., Humphreys, L. and Kirby, S. (2018) Police responses to coercive control. Published online: N8 Policing Research Partnership (156 of the cases studies were listed as S.76 coercive control offences, the data studied were from January 2016-June 2017.)
Kelly, L., Sharp, N. and Klein, R. (2014) Finding the Costs of Freedom How women and children rebuild their lives after domestic violence. London: Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit and Solace Women’s Aid, p.19
Myhill, A. (2015) ‘Measuring coercive control: what can we learn from national population surveys?’ Violence Against Women. 21(3), pp. 355-375
Office for National Statistics (ONS). (2017) Statistical bulletin: Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. Published online: ONS