Coercive or controlling behaviour

What is controlling behaviour?

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts performed by the abuser and designed to make their victim subordinate and/or dependent. These acts include but are not limited to:

  • Isolating the victim from sources of support
  • Exploiting the victim's resources and capacities for personal gain
  • Depriving the victim of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape
  • Regulating the victim's everyday behaviour

What is coercive behaviour?

Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used by the abuser to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

The new offence under the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship, S.76 Serious Crime Act 2015 sends a clear message that this form of behaviour can constitute a serious offence in relation to the violation of trust and will provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. It recognises the harm caused by coercion or control, the cumulative impact on the victim and how a repeated pattern of abuse can be more injurious than a single incident. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

The offence occurs if:

  • A person (perpetrator) repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (victim), that is controlling or coercive; and
  • At time of the behaviour, both parties are personally connected; and
  • The behaviour has a serious effect on the victim; and
  • The perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the victim.
  • The perpetrator and victim are personally connected if they are in an intimate personal relationship; or they live together and are either members of the same family; or they live together and have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

There are two ways in which it can be proved that the perpetrators behaviour has a 'serious effect' on the victim:

If it causes the victim to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them; or if it causes the victim serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities

For this offence, behaviour must be engaged in 'repeatedly' or 'continuously'. Another, separate, element of the offence is that it must have a 'serious effect' on someone and one way of proving this is that it causes someone to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them.