Feature: It’s all about Control!

Do you know enough about the new controlling or coercive behaviour legislation?

The legislation which makes behaving in a controlling or coercive way an offence came into force on 29th December 2015 and it provides another form of protection to victims of domestic abuse.

What does the new legislation say?

The legislation is contained in Part 5, Section 76 of The Serious Crime Act 2015; it states that a person commits an offence if they knowingly and repeatedly or continuously engages in controlling or coercive behaviour towards another person with whom they are personally connected and upon whom the behaviour has a serious effect.

The legislation states that if the behaviour causes the victim to fear on at least two occasions that violence will be used against them or the behaviour causes serious alarm or distress which has a significant effect on the victim’s usual activities then this would be an offence under the legislation.

A ‘personal connection’ is defined as one where the two parties are either members of the same family or are, or have been, in an intimate relationship or lived together. The new legislation covers civil partnerships and engaged couples as well as married couples and relatives. If the victim is under 16 and the perpetrator has parental responsibility then there is protection for the victim elsewhere in the act.

Anyone found guilty of an offence under the new legislation is liable on conviction to up to five years imprisonment or a fine, or both.

Read the legislation at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/9/section/76/enacted

How to recognise coercive or controlling behaviour.

Recognising coercive or controlling behaviour might not be something you feel ready to do quite yet but whether you are a professional or a family member, friend or colleague here are some things to look out for:

Can the individual make their own decisions or do they seem frightened of doing the wrong thing?  

Fear of reprisals can disable victims of controlling or coercive behaviour from making choices or decisions. It might stop them from doing normal everyday things or activities and could cause them to doubt their own abilities even in connection with the most basic of activities or tasks.

Is their partner or family member critical or blaming?

By definition someone who chooses to coercively control the actions of their partner or family members must be an expert manipulator. They are likely to blame, criticise or accuse the victim for any problems or difficulties; perhaps claiming that the victim must have mental health problems etc.

Does the individual exhibit unusual behaviours or undertake unusual activities?

There are a lot of rules for someone who is the victim of coercive control. It might be that they have a very specific set of instructions or tasks that they feel they have been told they must complete and this prevents them from taking part in activities away from the home or makes them late for work, school or appointments. This could be anything from excessive cleaning rituals, not being able to eat or drink without permission or use the toilet, rules about when or if they can leave the house. These ‘rules’ are likely to be very specific and the fear of reprisals will make them almost impossible to ignore. However it is likely that they will not be spoken about easily.

Routine Enquiry:

Asking the right question, in the right way, is vital. All professionals are encouraged to routinely enquire about an individual’s domestic abuse status. This is so any individual affected always has a chance to speak out or ask for help.  However, whilst a victim of domestic abuse is generally more likely to confide in a friend or family member, it is not an easy or comfortable thing to acknowledge or talk about. So don’t expect an immediate disclosure the first time you ask.

Here are just a few of the kind of questions that might encourage someone to talk about it:

  • How are things at home?
  • What is life like for you?
  • Do you feel safe at home?
  • Do you have anyone to talk to?


It’s also really important to ask these kinds of general lifestyle questions in private away from any potential perpetrators of abuse.

Domestic abuse and coercive control can take a long time to build up to the stage that it starts to have a serious effect on the victim(s). A victim might not know that they are being controlled or abused and by the time they do realise, their self-esteem and confidence may have been broken down so completely that they are not able to take action to protect themselves or remove themselves and or their children from the situation.

It’s important that we all pay attention to what is going on with family members, friends or colleagues and it’s also important that we listen to and believe someone who does summon the courage to talk about what might be happening or to disclose domestic abuse.

Research carried out by SafeLives in 2015 shows that on average a victim of domestic abuse could attempt to disclose up to 5 times before they actually get the help they need.

This website contains loads of advice and guidance for anyone affected by domestic abuse and there are so many other websites and on-line resources out there so if you can’t find what you need here please search elsewhere. It’s easy, just type your question into a search engine and see what happens!

Broken Rainbow LGBT Domestic Violence Helpline

National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* (LGBT) Domestic Violence Helpline provides confidential support to all members of the LGBT communities, their family, friends, and agencies supporting them. The helpline is run by specialist trained operators and provides a space where you can talk through what is going on, and explore your options.

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Bedfordshire Change Project

Bedfordshire Change Project is a community domestic abuse prevention programme. There are services for men and for women who want to change the way they behave in their relationships. The service is delivered in Luton and Central Bedfordshire but run by Relate North Essex & Herts.

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