In this blog I want to share with you some details and guidance around the offence of Coercive and Controlling Behaviour.

The offence of Coercive and Controlling Behaviour came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine. It’s a serious offence. The offence can be found in the Serious Crime Act 2015.

The offence was brought in to try and bridge the gap in the criminal offences to protect victims. The offence is to help victims who experience controlling and coercive behaviour. That is behaviour which stops short of physical violence or harm BUT is behaviour which causes serious psychological and emotional harm.

There is a statutory framework around the offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015. The Government has also produced guidance on he offence. This guidance is aimed at the Crown Prosecution Service but does provide useful information about what the offence actually is and how it will be prosecuted.

Read the guidance >>>>>

Before we look at the offence and some examples I want to explain what is meant by controlling and coercive behaviour.

It’s important to remember there isn ‘t a legal definition of either and so, the definition used is one which has been agreed by a number of organisations and the government.

What is controlling behaviour? 

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.

What is coercive behaviour? 

Coercive behaviour is:

a continuing act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim

That’s quite a mouthful and probably doesn’t make any real sense on first reading.

Essentially, coercive and controlling behaviour will show itself in a range of ways, for example:

  • threat of rape
  • not able to control own finances
  • being isolated from family and friends
  • stopping the victim from getting to appointments
  • preventing medical attention
  • threatening to harm a child or prevent the victim from seeing the child should they try to leave
  • using a child as a weapon

The list can be long and these are just a few examples to give you an idea of how the offence may show itself.

So what is the offence? 

The offence lies in the behaviour of the perpetrator. It is behaviour which is repeated or is continuous. The behaviour must have a serious impact on the victim. For example , the victim must be fearful violence will be used against them (on at least 2 occasions) or have a serious impact on the victims day to day activities.

In any of the list of examples above, the victim could be either fearful of violence or the threats would have a serious impact on their ability to go about their day to day activities.

The victim and perpetrator must be connected, personally, at the time of the offence. This means they must have been in either in a personal relationship together  or were family members living in the same household. Or they had been in a personal relationship or had lived together.

Also, the perpetrator must know their behaviour would have a serious negative impact on the victim.

Remember : coercive and controlling behaviour can take place anywhere.

Such behaviour isn’t limited to the home environment, it can take place in public, on social media or via the internet.

The important part is that the offence took place on at least 2 occasions and caused the victim fear/impacted their daily activities.

NB, where the victim is under 18 years of age, child protection procedures should be used.

What evidence can be used to show controlling and coercive behaviour?

Thankfully, there a good number of ways a victim can show they have been controlled or coerced. For example:

  • emails
  • phone records
  • text messages
  • copies of social media messages/posts
  • posts on websites
  • evidence of assault
  • photographs of injuries
  • CCTV
  • diary of victim

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just to show the range of options available to a victim.

If the victim is keeping a diary, this should be kept somewhere away from the perpetrator. Should they find it, it could lead to further harm being caused.

If you suspect someone is being controlled and coerced, treat it in the same way you would a victim of physical domestic abuse.

Remember, nothing in this blog constitutes legal advice and should not be relied upon for legal purposes. This blog is for guidance only.

Want more?

Want to keep on top of your safeguarding obligations, join Kate and other child protection professionals in The Safeguarding Association community.

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Now you know more about the different types of abuse, learn what the various stages of child protection look like in my short course: Overview of Child Protection Stages


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Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Safeguarding Practitioners Ltd & Kate Young disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.

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