Controlling/Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate/Family Relationship


  1. What is it?

Controlling/Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate/Family Relationship is a new piece of legislation which went live on 29th December 2015.  This carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a fine.

Without the concept of coercive control in domestic abuse, we easily link the physical abuse and maybe emotional abuse, however we potentially miss a wide range of controlling acts such as manipulation, intimidation, sexual coercion and psychological abuse.  The concept of coercive control pulls together these behaviours that so many victims face in their relationships.

Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 provides the new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour.

  1. Definition;

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

Controlling behaviour is: 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 and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: a continuing 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.

  1. Why?

The offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour that occurs during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together or family members. This offence sends a clear message that this form of domestic abuse can constitute a serious offence particularly in light of the violation of trust it represents and will provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. It sets out the importance of recognising the harm caused by coercion or control, the cumulative impact on the victim and that a repeated pattern of abuse can be more injurious and harmful than a single incident of violence.

  1. The Signs;

What are the signs, presentation, behaviours, and characteristics of coercive control?  Consider the behaviours, any physical or sexual coercion, how do the victim and perpetrator present to the police?  Are there any children at the address? What do they say?  Be cognisant that individual behaviours add up to a cumulative effect.

  1. Relevant behaviour of the perpetrator can include;
  • Isolating a person from their friends and family
  • Depriving them of their basic needs
  • Monitoring their time or online communication
  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep, taking money/wages from them
  • Depriving them access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless, humiliating or degrading the victim
  • Financial abuse including control of finances
  • Threats to hurt or kill and/or threats to harm a child
  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone)

This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. Evidence to consider;
  • Copies of emails/phone records/text messages/social media
  • Photographs of injuries
  • 999 tapes or transcripts
  • CCTV
  • Body worn video footage
  • Medical records
  • Witness testimony, e.g the family and friends of the victim may be able to give evidence about the effect and impact of isolation of the victim from them
  • Bank records to show financial control
  • Diary kept by the victim
  • Evidence of isolation such as lack of contact between family and friends, victim withdrawing from activities such as clubs, perpetrator accompanying victim to medical appointments
  • GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles etc.,

This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. Additional Resources;


Officers should pay particular attention to questions on the DASH risk assessment relating controlling and coercive behaviour. Where coercive and controlling behaviour is identified, the risk should not be a standard risk.

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