Abuse isn't always physical

Domestic abuse can involve physical violence, where an abuser harms someone leaving visible marks and scars.  But it can also be psychological – something that is referred to as coercive and controlling behaviour. This type of abuse leaves no marks or scars but can cause victims to experience fear, and loss of freedom, on a daily basis.

Coercive control became a criminal offence in the UK in 2015. This means that police and courts can look for patterns of controlling behaviours rather than specific incidents of abuse or violence.  If someone is found guilty of this offence they could go to prison for up to five years, receive a fine or both.

The types of behaviour associated with coercion or control can include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends, family, colleagues
  • Stalking their movements or controlling how they spend their time
  • Monitoring social media accounts or tracking their mobile phone
  • Making unreasonable demands
  • Taking control over aspects of a person’s life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what they wear and when they can sleep
  • Depriving them access to support services, such as healthcare
  • Repeatedly putting them down, telling them they are worthless
  • Taking control of a person’s finances, giving them an ‘allowance’ or forcing them to take on debts
  • Taking food away or limiting food, this can be connected to saying they are overweight
  • Making threats or using intimidation to force a change in behaviour or choices; this can include sex too
  • Damage to property, such as destruction of household goods and valuable personal items
  • Preventing them from having access to transport or from working

Coercive or controlling behaviour does not relate to a single incident – it is a purposeful pattern of incidents which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.

Signs of an unhealthy and controlling relationship:

You can’t do the things you want to do

In a healthy relationship, there’s an acceptance from both people that an important part of a relationship is the need for independence, as well as doing things together, such as having your own interests or separate friends. If you feel like you’re not able to have these things, or have needed to give up them up to please your partner or to avoid their bad behaviour, this may be a sign of an abusive relationship.

Your unhappiness doesn’t matter, or they contribute to it

Often abusers are unwilling to listen to why you’re unhappy or will tell you that it doesn’t matter. He or she may also put you down, say you you’re stupid and unattractive or that no one else will love you. This is emotional abuse and can affect your confidence and self-esteem. If you’re not allowed to do the things you want, or feel isolated from family and friends, talk to someone who can help.

They blame you for their behaviour

There is no excuse for domestic abuse but often abusers will blame other things. For example, they might say it’s because they had too much to drink or had taken drugs.

They may also try to diminish what’s happening – saying you deserved it or that because they didn’t hit you, it’s not abuse. They may even pretend it didn’t happen. For this reason, it can take a long time for some people to recognise they are experiencing domestic abuse. The truth is, there is no excuse for any kind of abuse and it’s never the victim’s fault. The abuser is responsible for the way they choose to behave.

Chlo was a victim of coercive control.  This is her story:

You are not alone

If you feel that you are a victim of coercive control you can call the police for help on 101.  If you, or someone you know, is in danger, or in an emergency, always call 999.

Police call handlers are experienced in supporting people and understand how difficult these situations can be.

You can also contact the police online by completing a secure Report a Crime or Incident Form.

Your report will be dealt with by a police officer who has specialist training in dealing with domestic abuse. You can expect to be treated professionally and feel supported.

You may also receive support from a specialist Victim and Witness Care Officer through the Lighthouse Victim and Witness Care programme.

You can find out more about the people and services ready and waiting to help here, and can find a full list of support services in your area here.

If you are worried about someone you know you can find out how to help them here.  You can also report via Crimestoppers anonymously, who will pass on your concerns to an appropriate organisation.

Contact them on Freephone 0800 555 111.