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What actually is coercive and controlling behaviour?

Updated: Feb 1



Coercive and controlling are terms that we have seen quite regularly over the past few years when talking about domestic abuse. Over the years, as with most laws, they have been updated to include variations to cover new risks that come to light. Domestic violence law has changed considerably over the past 10 years and we are slowly getting to a better place with regards to the law and being able to help and support victims.


Have you ever thought about what the terms coercive and controlling actually mean? Many words/phrases used in law often can have different interpretations in whatever context they are used.


Coercive and controlling behaviour was first introduced to us in October 2017 as a form of domestic abuse yet they can still be difficult to define. People being controlled and coerced are often unaware that this is what is happening to them and that it is in a fact a criminal offence.


What is domestic abuse?


Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.


As you can see the definition of domestic abuse encompasses both coercive and controlling behaviours.


What is Coercive behaviour?


Women’s Aid describes coercive control as an act or a pattern of acts of assaults, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.


By using coercive behaviour on a partner it makes the person dependant by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.


What is controlling behaviour?


Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person inferior 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.


As you read both definitions, you understand why they are often used in the same sentence as the person being coercive and controlling (the perpetrator) ultimately wants the receiver (the victim) to become dependent upon them as they are in fear of what the perpetrator will do otherwise.

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