Coercive control refers to a sustained pattern of controlling behaviours that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship, giving a perpetrator power over their victim making it difficult for them to break free.

Tactics used to achieve this imbalance of power which leads to a state of complete dependency for the victim include:

  • isolating them from their support networksif someone has no-one else to turn to and engage with on a meaningful level, they cannot disclose what is happening and reach out for help.
  • exploitation which can takes many formssexual, financial as well as emotional (things such as name calling, constant put downs).
  • victim blaming - depriving them of their independence and their own sense of self to the point where they do not know who they are any more.

There is also the constant threat of escalation towards physical abuse and very often perpetrators use intimidation and the threat of injury to control their victims. A certain look, a certain action – such as grinding teeth may become warning signs that a victim will recognise and force them back into line.

In essence coercive control can be described as a ‘prison without walls’.

Coercive control became a criminal offense in December 2015 and carries a sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment. The number of coercive control offenses recorded by the Police have increased significantly, year on year. According to the Review of the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour Offence undertaken by the Home Office in March 2021 the number of offences has increased from 4,2461 in  the year 2016/17 to 24,8562 in 2019/20.  

The report goes on to state that in 2019, 1,112 defendants were prosecuted for Coercive Controlling Behaviour offences. This represents an increase of 18% from the previous year. Whilst we recognise this as positive progression, we also know through the advocacy work we do with our clients that there is still a long way to go to completely eradicate this heinous crime.

There is still significant room for improvement in understanding, identifying, and evidencing Coercive Controlling Behaviour. The Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that currently only a small proportion of all Coercive Controlling Behaviour comes to the attention of the police or are recorded as Coercive Controlling Behaviour.

We challenge the government to provide more funding and place more emphasis on the need for a far greater level of training and upskilling for front line police officers to recognise Coercive Controlling Behaviour offenses when attending incidents, and to enable them to recognise patterns in behaviours from perpetrators which underline the incident they have been called out to.

We all have a part to play in continuing to evolve the way in which this crime is recognised, and ensure that justice is served on those that fall victim to it. We are committed to ensuring that we continue to advocate for the rights of victims to be heard and their experiences validated. We would like to ensure that all victims are treated in a trauma informed way and in accordance with their needs.

To do this effectively, the question that should always be asked is ‘what can I do to minimise the stress for the victim?’ The answer usually lies in ensuring that victim’s feel safe – both in a physical and an emotional sense. They need to build trust in the people who are there to help them – this happens naturally when there is transparency and clear professional boundaries in place. Effective listening skills also play a part in building a safe and supportive rapport. It is also crucial to start to instil empowerment in those impacted by domestic abuse. The best way to do this is to offer them a voice and allow them to make their own choices about what happens next.

If you would like to explore more ways of working alongside victims of coercive control or any other form of abuse, please look at our website or give us a call on 01206 500585.