Coercive & Controlling Behaviour

In December 2015 coercive and controlling behaviour became illegal in England and Wales. Since then, there has been a steady rise in awareness of the signs of coercive control and an increase in allegations.

What is coercive control?

Domestic abuse is not just physical. Coercive control is a persistent form of emotional and psychological abuse, forming a pattern of behavior by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim. Examples of this behaviour include:

  • Isolating a person from friends and family
  • Depriving a person of basic needs, such as food
  • Monitoring a person’s time
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or spyware
  • Taking control over aspects of a person’s everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what they can wear and when they can sleep
  • Depriving a person access to support services, such as medical services
  • Repeatedly putting a person down, such as saying they’re worthless
  • Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising a person
  • Controlling a person’s finances
  • Making threats or intimidating a person
In the news

In August 2010 Sally Challen killed her husband after 40 years of being controlled and humiliated by him. She admitted killing him, but denied murder claiming diminished responsibility. Her case was that she had been subjected to abuse and intimidation by her husband, whom she met when she was 15. At this time coercive control was not a criminal offence. She was jailed for life for his murder, but on the 28th February 2019, had her murder conviction overturned in a landmark decision. Three judges ruled fresh evidence given by a psychiatrist undermined the safety of her conviction and she will now face a retrial for the charge of murder.

Speaking outside the court after the ruling, her son said: “It’s an amazing moment. The courts have acknowledged this case needs to be looked at again, as we have always said as a family. The abuse our mother suffered, we felt, was never recognised properly and her mental conditions were not taken into account.”

This ground-breaking case has brought to light a previous lack of understanding around coercive controlling behaviour and the devastating affect it can have on a victim.

Support for victims of coercive control

If you believe you are the victim of coercive control and are worried about the consequences should you decide to separate from your partner, your first step should be to contact a professional for advice. Our team of specialist family lawyers will talk you through your options and can provide guidance regarding the impact on your children and financial situation. All enquiries are dealt with confidentially and we take this responsibility very seriously.

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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