Signs of coercive and controlling behaviour

Signs Of Coercive Control And Behaviour4th Sep 2019

Coercive Behaviour: Definitions

Various dictionaries define ‘coercive’ as “using force or threats to make someone do something”.

The Women’s Aid Federation of England describes coercive control as “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”.

The government defines controlling behaviour as a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by:

  • isolating them from sources of support
  • exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain
  • depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape
  • regulating their everyday behaviour.

Escape From Coercive Control – Get Expert Legal Help Here

Most cases we see involve complaints by women against men. However, our family law solicitors are seeing an increasing number of cases in which the man is the victim. We are also seeing more cases involving LGBT couples.

Signs Of Coercive Behaviour

Coercive control can range from violence – such as rape or assault – and criminal damage to threatening behaviour and more subtle (but insidious) methods. Examples include:

  • threatening your children, threatening to take custody of them
  • isolating you from your friends and family
  • depriving you of your basic needs, medical care or specialist support
  • spying on you, monitoring your online activities or who you speak to
  • controlling where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear, when you can sleep
  • repeatedly putting you down, telling you that you are worthless
  • enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise you
  • controlling your finances, allowing your only a paltry or punitive allowance
  • restricting your mobility (stopping you from working or gaining access to transport).
  • Coercive activity does not always take place in the home; the perpetrator can use messaging, texts, emails or phone calls to exert controlling behaviour from a distance. 

How The Perpetrator Makes It Harder For The Victim To Escape Control

Sometimes the perpetrator will force the victim to commit criminal offences such as shoplifting or neglect/abuse of children:

  • to make the victim blame themselves for what is happening to them
  • as a form of blackmail – to stop the victim from reporting them to the police, social services or other authorities.

Sometimes the perpetrator will threaten the victim’s children. Or they may threaten to reveal or publish private information about the victim. This can include ‘outing’ someone.

Coercive Control Is A Crime

The Serious Crime Act 2015 closed a legal loophole by creating a new offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships”. Offenders can be fined and jailed for up to five years.

To secure a conviction, you must prove that:

  • the behaviour takes place “repeatedly or continuously”
  • you and the perpetrator were “personally connected” at the time the behaviour took place
  • the behaviour had a “serious effect” on you (causing you to fear that violence would be used against you on “at least two occasions”) or it has had a “substantial adverse effect on your day-to-day activities”
  • the offender knew (or ought to have known) that their behaviour would have a serious effect on you.

Getting An Injunction

We can apply to court on your behalf to get an injunction:

  • A Non-molestation Order – to stop the perpetrator from threatening you or your child
  • An Occupation Order – to make the perpetrator leave your family home.

Anyone who breaches an injunction is defying a court order. This is contempt of court – a criminal offence. Penalties include prison.

Injunction cases can be heard quickly to protect the victim and their children as soon as possible. Judges usually play safe – they seldom turn down these applications.

But the order can be challenged at a later date. This helps to protect people from being wrongly accused of something simply to get them out of the house. We have seen this happen on a number of occasions and have successfully challenged the order to safeguard the client’s rights.


Get Expert Legal Help

Our large team of solicitors in Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch, Broadstone and Wimborne provides expert legal advice on a wide range of family matters including divorce, separation and children arrangements.

Book a free chat with one of our family law team.

For more information, contact Coles Miller Partner Richard Perrins, head of our Family Law Department, 01202 355698.