Coercive control refers to a pattern of controlling behaviours that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. These behaviours give the perpetrator power over their partner, making it difficult for them to leave.
Sometimes, coercive control can escalate into physical abuse. However, even when it does not escalate, coercive control is a form of emotional abuse that can cause psychological trauma.
This article will look at what coercive control is, how common it is, if it is illegal, possible signs of danger, and how to get help.
What is coercive control?
Coercive control can create unequal power dynamics in a relationship.
Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence. It describes a pattern of behaviours a perpetrator uses to gain control and power by eroding a person’s autonomy and self-esteem. This can include acts of intimidation, threats, and humiliation.
Research into coercive control suggests that this type of abuse often predicts future physical violence.
Anyone in any type of intimate relationship can experience coercive control. Some research suggests that it is mainly women who experience it, while other studies suggest that the rates for men and women are similar.
Signs of coercive control
According to the United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service, the following behaviours are signs of coercive control.
A person may exert control by deciding what someone wears, where they go, who they socialize with, what they eat and drink, and what activities they take part in. The controlling person may also demand or gain access to the partner’s computer, mobile phone, or email account.
The perpetrator may also try to convince their partner that they want to check up on them because they love them. However, this behaviour is not part of a healthy or loving relationship.
Exerting financial control
This occurs when a person controls someone’s access to money and does not allow them to make financial decisions. This can leave a person without food or clothing and make it harder for them to leave the relationship.
Isolating the other person
A controlling person may try to get their partner to cut contact with family and friends so that they are easier to control.
They may also prevent them from going to work or school.
Insulting the other person
Insults serve to undermine a person’s self-esteem. This may involve name-calling, highlighting a person’s insecurities, or putting them down.
Eventually, the person experiencing this abuse may start to feel as though they deserve the insults.
Making threats and being intimidating
Threats can include threats of physical violence, self-harm, or public humiliation. For example, a person trying to control their partner may threaten to hurt themselves if their partner tries to leave or release sexually explicit images or personal data online.
The controlling person may also break household items or their partner’s sentimental belongings in an attempt to intimidate and scare them.
Using sexual coercion
Sexual coercion occurs when the perpetrator manipulates their partner into unwanted sexual activity. They may use pressure, threats, guilt-tripping, lies, or other trickery to coerce them into having sex.
Involving children or pets
The controlling person may use children or family pets as another means of controlling their partner. They may do this by threatening the children or pets, or by trying to take sole custody of them if their partner leaves.
They may also try to manipulate children into disliking the other parent.
Signs of danger
Domestic abuse can escalate into physical abuse and, in some cases, homicide. Signs that an abusive relationship is becoming dangerous include regular physical abuse and murder threats.
If a person feels that they are in physical danger or fears for their life, they should dial 999 or their local emergency department immediately. Neighbours, friends, and family can also do this if they know someone who is in danger.
Is coercive control illegal?
In England and Wales, coercive control is a criminal offence.
Some academics argue that criminalising coercive control is not a complete solution to domestic abuse, because many criminal justice systems are not equipped to make judgments on it.
Most justice systems rely on physical evidence to charge people with specific criminal acts, such as assault or rape. However, coercive control is not a specific act. It is a pattern of behaviours. It also tends to leave less physical evidence than violence.
Despite this, coercive control is still abuse, and it can cause long lasting psychological trauma for those who experience it.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 999 or otherwise seek emergency help.