What is coercive control?

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Family Law on Thursday, March 7th, 2024

Until as late as 2015, legislation relating to domestic abuse related solely to physical violence. However, as domestic abuse victims know only too well, just because your partner, spouse or family member doesn’t hit, it doesn’t mean they can’t hurt. In 2015, a big shakeup of legislation finally outlawed controlling and coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships  – a type of abuse that Theresa May, then Home Secretary, said “can be tantamount to torture”.

But what is coercive control?

Definition of coercive control

According to domestic abuse charity, Refuge, coercive control is “an act, or a pattern of acts, of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation that abusers use to harm, punish or frighten survivors.” It is a pattern of behaviour, as opposed to an isolated incident of abuse, which slowly picks away at the survivor’s self-confidence, resilience and even their grip on reality. Coercive control can wreak havoc with a person’s mental health and leave significant psychological scars, which can be just as damaging as physical violence.

Examples of coercive control

Any of the following behaviours are examples of coercive control.

  • Monitoring or tracking your movements, search history or communications with others
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Preventing you from accessing support
  • Financial abuse, i.e., controlling what you spend or withholding money
  • Being emotionally or physically threatening
  • Gaslighting (lying or twisting the truth to make you doubt yourself/question your sanity)
  • Humiliating you and putting you down both privately and in front of others
  • Making you afraid of what will happen if you disobey or leave.

If you have experienced any of these behaviours, then you may be a victim of coercive control. Please remember that this is a criminal offence – it is not your fault – and that nobody deserves to be treated this way.

We would strongly encourage you to seek support either from a solicitor or from an organisation or charity that supports victims of domestic abuse. Of course, we understand that this is difficult for people with an abusive or controlling partner, because their independence has usually been severely curtailed and they are often cut off from support.  

What support is available for victims of coercive control?

Because coercive control is a criminal offence, you can seek legal help to bring criminal charges against your partner or family member. If found guilty in court, they could face imprisonment, fines or other penalties.

You can also seek support from a family lawyer to take civil action to protect yourself against an abusive partner if, for example, the charges against them were dropped due to a lack of evidence. They can provide advice and guidance on:

Non-molestation orders (also known as restraining orders)

This is a type of injunction designed to prevent an abusive partner or family member from harming, harassing, threatening or intimidating you and your children, whether in person or via any other means of communication. These orders have serious consequences if breached, with a potential penalty of up to five years in prison.

Occupation orders

Whilst a non-molestation order is designed to prevent an abusive person from going near a person or a property, it does not specifically deal with that person’s right to live in the property. An occupational order, on the other hand, defines who is permitted to live in or enter certain areas of a property.

Prohibited steps orders

This court order is designed to prevent a parent (or somebody with parental responsibility) from making decisions about a child’s upbringing or wellbeing without the court’s express permission. For example, a prohibited steps order will prevent the person in question from taking the child abroad or making medical decisions on the child’s behalf.

Divorce or separation proceedings

A family lawyer can support you through divorce or separation proceedings if you are married or in a civil partnership. They can also provide advice and guidance on leaving an abusive partner if you are not married.

Domestic abuse charities

If you are unable to contact a lawyer, or if you are concerned about your safety, then please do take a look at this page from Citizens Advice, which provides the contact details of a wide range of organisations who offer advice and resources for both women and men who are experiencing domestic abuse.    

Please get in touch

At Attwaters Jameson Hill, our lawyers have worked with victims of domestic abuse and coercive control to put legal remedies in place to keep them and their children safe. We understand how fragile your home situation may be and will ensure we only communicate with you in a way that is safe and that you feel comfortable with.

It is our firm belief that nobody should have to feel afraid or anxious in their own home, so if you are ablet to please do contact our compassionate and empathetic lawyers for support on 0330 221 8855 or email enquiries@attwaters.co.uk. If emailing, please let us know whether it is safe to reply or if there is a particular time we should ring you.

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