A survivor of domestic abuse, Rachel Williams, describes coercive or controlling as being like carbon monoxide poisoning, “you do not realise how affected you are until it is too late”.
Coercive or Controlling behaviour became an offence in UK Law in December 2015 under the Serious Crime Act 2015. The offence covers extreme psychological and emotional abuse and carries a maximum of 5 years imprisonment, a fine or both.
Coercive or controlling behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of incidents that occur over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another.
The term ‘Coercive Control’ was coined by Professor Evan Stark, a sociologist, who wrote a book of the same name, following years working with women affected by domestic abuse.
He wrote the book to explain his observations and the realities for domestic abuse survivors that, although physical violence was part of many domestic abuse cases, there were a range of other behaviours that were as detrimental, if not more so than physical violence.
Prof. Evan Stark defines the concept of coercive control as a, “pattern of domination that includes tactics to isolate, degrade, exploit and control” victims, “as well as to frighten them or hurt them physically”. Stark found that the level of control experienced by a victim or survivor is a predicator of severe fatal violence.
Coercive Control can range from influencing what you wear, to controlling every move you make, who you see and where you can go. The perpetrator may not need to use physical violence to control your life.
Luke and Ryan Hart, whose father murdered their mother and sister, explain how their whole lives were dominated by their father. He used fear of retribution to control the household and murdered his wife and daughter when they attempted to leave him and start a new life. This highlights how important it is not to underestimate the risks associated with this kind of abusive behaviour.
If you are concerned that your partner, or a family member could be experiencing coercive, controlling behaviour call IDAS for support.
Resources for teaching about coercive and controlling behaviour
View resources (on BBC website)