Coercive control – spot the signs

Coercive control has been defined as:

“Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. Coercive control 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 their victim.”

Women’s Aid (2020)


“a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another”

(Home Office, 2013).

In the year ending March 2019 17,616 offences of coercive control were recorded by the police, compared with 9,053 in the year ending March 2018 (ONS, 2019). There were also reported 1,177 offences of coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship where a prosecution commenced in the year ending March 2019.

Coercive control describes someone’s need for total emotional control over their partner, and it’s often gained through subtle or sneaky tactics. Here are the top 8 signs to look out for:

  1. Isolating you from your friends or family
  2. Depriving your basic needs
  3. Monitoring your time
  4. Monitoring any form of communication you may have
  5. Controlling your everyday life such as where you go, what you wear and who you see
  6. Depriving you of medical services
  7. Controlling your money
  8. Degrading and humiliating you repeatedly

On the 25th December 2015, the Serious Crime Act was introduced. The Act made controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship where the behaviour has a serious effect on the victim a criminal offence.  However, coercive control is a relatively new crime and still widely misunderstood. In fact, many people in a relationship subject to coercive control do not recognise that it is a crime and that it should be reported.

The perpetrator of coercive control often starts with love bombing (an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection)  and charm to draw the victim in. Once the relationship is established and the victim emotionally invested, gaslighting is a common technique used as part of coercively controlling behaviour. Gaslighting is a subtle form of one-to-one control and refers to convincing someone they’re wrong about something when they are not. This includes frequently disagreeing with someone and refusing to listen to their point of view.  Refusing to hear what your partner has to say – even if they are in the RIGHT is also gaslighting, which shows an unwillingness to be proven wrong. (Relate, 2020). Gaslighting can also be used deliberately as a form of control.

It is important for anyone who feels they are in a relationship where coercive control is apparent to speak out and get help. Our family solicitors are on hand to speak to anyone in confidence about their specific situation and the options available to them. For more information please contact one of the family team assistants on 01473 611 211

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

Ipswich Divorce Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email