“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 an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a person.” (Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill, January 2019)
In the media we too often hear the words: “Domestic abuse incident” or “the incident occurred after the relationship had broken down, when someone has been murdered or seriously injured. Domestic Abuse is not a single incident but a pattern of behaviour that extends beyond physical force, beyond the home and often beyond the duration of the relationship.
The types of coercive control being used will differ from victim to victim. Perpetrators will often use a combination of tactics and/or take advantage of any perceived weaknesses or insecurities in order to maximise the victim’s distress.To assert power and control over their victim and the whole family, including children they will:
Intimidate and isolate the victim from family, friends and any source of support. Control or observe/track the victim’s daily activities; making them account for their time, restricting access to money and restricting their movements. Intercepting and checking phones calls, messages, emails and social media. Prevent the victim from taking medication and/ or accessing health care. They will humiliate and embarrass the victim and deny their access to personal hygiene (sanitary products), eating, sleeping and going to the toilet.
I heard an interview with a lawyer on the radio last month who works with women who have been victims and survivors of coercive control. She talked about a client of hers who was made to eat all her meals from a dog bowl. Another client was only allowed to use the toilet when the perpetrator gave their permission.
The perpetrator will constantly criticise the victim, as a parent and partner. Threatening to take the children, kill the victim, children, themselves, the whole family.
They behave inconsistently and have little or no concern for the welfare of the family, although on the surface often appear to portray the very opposite. They use the non-abusing parent’s inability (owing to abuse they are suffering) to parent against them so that they may be afraid to ask for help as they may fear their children will be taken away from them.
In his book Coercive Control (Oxford University Press 2007), Professor Evan Stark explains how the perpetrator closes down the victim’s opportunities to escape, to communicate or to have access to transport. He talks about the violence used in coercive control being designed to punish, hurt or control the victim: Its effects being cumulative rather than incident-specific, frequently resulting in serious injury or death.
Domestic abuse will impact on every part of the victim’s life. They may feel helpless, frightened hopeless, trapped and isolated, have feelings of guilt over a “failed” relationship. The perpetrator will make them feel responsible for the abuse, show remorse and make promises that they will change .They will minimise the abuse; blame it on stress, alcohol, drugs.
The perpetrators are “master manipulators”, they will try to manipulate family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and any professional that may be involved with the victim / family.
Supporting a victim who has been coercively controlled is most complex and challenging area of work for practitioners in safeguarding, caring and support services. It can be very frightening and upsetting even for the most experienced practitioners. What victims tell us is that they want to be listened, believed, supported and measures to be taken to assure their safety….