What is Coercive Control?

POSTED ON 29/08/2020 IN Emotional Wellbeing

In recent years it seems as though there are a couple of new terms being spoken about more in society in the area of psychological abuse. One of those terms is ‘coercive control’, which only became a crime in 2015. This blog post will be discussing what it is, the signs of it happening within a relationship or happening to someone else, and what support is available.

Coercive control is a criminal offence and is similar to domestic abuse, but it doesn’t have to include physical abuse for it to be termed as being it. Anyone who is forced to change their behaviour because they are frightened of how their partner or ex-partner will react is experiencing abuse. Coercive control is an act, or a pattern of acts, of threats, humiliation, intimidation and assault, or other kinds of abuse that the abuser uses to punish, frighten, or harm their victim. The abuser uses this behaviour, often over some time, to exert power and control over their victim. Due to the coercive control, the victim ends up being reliant on the person who is inflicting this on them, and they become isolated from their support network, which includes friends and family. The abuse is used to create this environment, with the victim ending up dependant on their abuser, deprived of their independence, and their everyday behaviour being regulated by them.

There are many examples of how coercive control can be used within a relationship, with, I think, some being more subtle than others. Acts such as the abuser depriving their victim of their basic needs such as food or support services, constantly putting them down and saying they are worthless, being jealous or possessive, being humiliating, dehumanising, or degrading, controlling their money, intimidating them or making threats against them, or being nice one minute and abusive the next, are more obvious examples of coercive control by a partner. More subtle signs of such behaviour could be seen as ones that may start off being small and not so obvious. Examples of these are an abuser monitoring their partner’s time, tracking their movements and who they talk to, telling them what to wear, when to sleep, who to see, and where to go, and making their partner doubt their own judgement and playing mind games with them.

As coercive control happens within a relationship it may be difficult for someone on the outside to spot that anything is wrong. However, there are some signs that may be easier to spot than others. If an abuser is isolating their partner from their family and friends and overall support network, this could be quickly spotted. A victim of coercive control may also walk on eggshells around their partner to avoid making them angry, so this is also something that could be spotted if the person is anxious about how their partner would react to different situations. Other signs may be more difficult to spot, but if people are aware of what coercive control is, it might be easier to see in people’s behaviour.

Anyone can be a victim of coercive control, but it has been found that women are much more likely to be victims of ongoing frightening threats and degradation, which are two elements of coercive control. However no matter who the person is, there is support available. Depending on a person’s circumstances, it may not be as easy as just leaving the relationship. The support available within the links in the references list provide information on how and where to get help with aspects such as money, housing and legal help.

There is a myth surrounding domestic abuse (in all variations) that it is a ‘private matter’ because it occurs within relationships. However, like with any crime, it is a social problem, not an individual one. It therefore needs to be spoken out against to ensure that it is being tackled and the victims get the help and support they need. More information about coercive control and domestic abuse in general can be found in the references section.


24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247

The Men’s Advice Line – 0808 8010 327


Sarah Keeping 

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach


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