Coercive or Controlling Behaviour

Domestic Abuse

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What is coercive or controlling behaviour?

It is behaviour that amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse.  It does not relate to a single incident, rather an ongoing pattern of behaviour that occurs over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion, over another. It makes the victim feel isolated, intimidated, and in fear.

The government has published a long list of behaviours that are considered coercive or controlling, but it is up to the courts to decide in each case whether the alleged acts amount to criminal activity.

TYPES OF COERCIVE OR CONTROLLING BEHAVIOUR

  • Making unreasonable demands – often followed up by threats, pressure or physical violence if you don’t agree to them

  • Taking control over aspects of someone’s everyday life, including where they go, what they wear, or not letting them leave the house

  • Monitoring their whereabouts using GPS locator services on their mobile phone or using spyware

  • Isolating someone from their friends or family

  • Depriving them of access to support services such as a doctor, or withholding medication

  • Repeatedly putting them down, such as telling them they are worthless

  • Threatening to hurt or kill them or someone close to them

  • Physical violence

  • Disclosing or threatening to disclose private information about someone

  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity

  • Online or digital abuse (more on this below)

  • Financial abuse, such as taking their wages or benefits, or controlling how they spend their money (also more on this below)

Is it a crime?

Yes.  Since 2015 it has been a criminal offence to repeatedly behave in such a coercive or controlling way that it has a serious effect on the victim.  Convicted offenders will receive a maximum prison term of five years or a fine.

What sort of signals might suggest that someone is being subjected to coercive or controlling behaviour?

These are some indicators that might suggest someone you know is being abused:

ABUSE INDICATORS

  • They stop socialising as much as they used to and seem to withdraw into themselves

  • They seem nervous or frightened of their partner or their partner’s reaction to things they’ve done. They might refuse to appear in photos in case their partner sees them on social media

  • They don’t seem to have control over their money

  • Their partner constantly checks up on them and gets jealous a lot

  • Their partner disrespects them in public, belittling them in front of others

  • They have unexplained injuries, or wear clothes that cover up their body

  • For more information on spotting the signs, click here.

What can you do if you suspect someone is being subjected to coercive or controlling behaviour?

If it is safe to do so, you can try talking to the victim about how they areand whether everything is ok at home and in their relationship, to see if they will open up to you about their situation.  Click here for some advice about how to have the conversation.

ONLINE AND DIGITAL ABUSE

What is it?

Online abuse is when domestic abusers use online or digital tools to torment their victims.  It is an aspect of coercive control and is especially common among younger people as prolific users of social media.  Abuse can be perpetrated over social media platforms such as Facebook or Whatsapp, or it can involve the monitoring of someone else’s social media and emails.  Other forms of online abuse include the sharing of intimate photos or videos without someone’s consent (commonly known as revenge porn) or the use of spyware or GPS on someone’s phone or computer to track their whereabouts (stalking).

Online abuse and threats can often be taken less seriously than abuse and threats in person, but online abuse is commonly experienced as part of a pattern of domestic abuse and this obsessive and controlling behaviour instils fear in the victim, making them feel as though the abuse is inescapable.

Research by Women’s Aid into online domestic abuse suggests that at least four in five people who have been a victim of online abuse had also experienced other, offline forms of domestic abuse from the same person.

Is it a crime?

Yes. Publishing revenge pornography on social media platforms or other websites, or sending such images via text message or email is a crime, punishable by up to two years in jail.  Other forms of online or digital abuse are not offences in their own right but can be produced as evidence to prove other offences such as harassment, stalking or coercive control.

FINANCIAL OR ECONOMIC ABUSE

What is it?

Financial abuse is a type of domestic abuse involving one person taking control of another’s access to money, diminishing the victim’s ability to support him or herself and forcing him/her to depend on the abuser financially.

It is commonly experienced as part of a pattern of domestic abuse and coercive control and can take many forms, such as:

FORMS OF FINANCIAL ABUSE

  • Spending someone’s money without their consent

  • Controlling how much money someone is given, often giving them only a small ‘allowance’ and forcing them to beg for money

  • Forbidding someone from having a bank account

  • Taking out loans or credit cards in someone else’s name and racking up debts or deliberating ruining their credit rating

  • Intentionally squandering or gambling with communal resources

  • Borrowing money from someone and never repaying it

  • Preventing someone from getting a job or acquiring assets

  • Preventing someone from obtaining education

Financial abuse can be a key barrier to victims leaving an abusive relationships – they can’t afford to leave.

Even if they do manage to leave the relationship, financial abuse can continue afterwards in child maintenance disputes, legal costs and wrangling over joint assets.

Is it a crime?

It can be.  The perpetrator can be guilty of committing theft or a “deception offence” under the Fraud Act 2006.  It can also be key evidence to support a charge of coercive or controlling behaviour, or other domestic abuse offences.

Who is at risk?

Financial abuse seldom happens in isolation; a recent report for the TUC and Women’s Aid, called Unequal Trapped and Controlled, found that financial abuse was often the first sign of further emotional or domestic abuse.

Financial abuse can also be a common part of elder abuse, where members of an elderly person’s family exploit or misappropriate their finances.  This can involve:

FINANCIAL ABUSE OF OLDER PEOPLE CAN INVOLVE:

  • Taking someone’s money or property without their consent

  • Forging their signature for financial transactions

  • Coercing or influencing someone to sign over deeds, wills, or power of attorney

  • Borrowing money from someone and never repaying it

  • Deceiving someone into believing that money is exchanged in return for the promise of lifelong care

Click here for more information about financial abuse of older people, from our information pack on Loneliness & Vulnerability.