Coercive and Controlling Behaviour – an ugly modern day phenomenon

I sat down with interest to watch the short film ‘I am Nicola’ on Channel Four last week. Since controlling and coercive behaviour was made a criminal offence on the 29th December 2015, after spending some time in the spotlight initially and following the first conviction, I feel it has been under-examined and poorly reported in the media. This is despite the fact it is clearly becoming more prevalent in our society and within many different types of relationships. 

The Crown Prosecution Service Case information system recorded 960 offences of coercive and controlling behaviour where a prosecution commenced at magistrates’ courts in the year ending March 2018. This is a three-fold increase from 309 in the year ending March 2017 (ONS, 2018). 97% of defendants prosecuted for coercive and controlling behaviour in the year ending December 2017 were male (ONS, 2018).
This one off film dealt with the subject sensitively, and presented the nature of this type of abuse as it is, subtle and layer like. Nicola and her partner Adam seem happy at first blush both in each other’s company, and to the outside world, but quickly as the observer you can identify his emotional manipulation, subtle removal of freedoms, and understated attempts to secure submission from Nicola.

What was so engaging and alarming of about this drama was just how believable it was. Adam is not a conventional bully, his abuse of Nicola is not as obvious as threats of physical violence, but it impacts her the same way and with the same result, acquiescence.
Controlling and coercive behaviour can happen between any individuals who are connected to each other. You do not have to been in a romantic relationship.  It can come in many forms:

  • Being stopped from working or going to school/college/university.
  • Having money taken away or controlled.
  • Being isolated from friends and family.
  • Having access to food, drinks and day-to-day products restricted.
  • Having their social media accounts monitored or controlled.
  • Being told what told wear.
  • Being threatened with violence if you do not behave in a certain way
  • Having threats made to loved ones or pets

Data obtained by the BBC from 33 police forces in England and Wales, for January 2016 to July 2018, showed there were 7,034 arrests for coercive and controlling behaviours but only 1,157 of those arrests ended with someone being charged. In my opinion that data should be a source of alarm.Outside of pursuing a criminal prosecution, our specialist family lawyers can advise and assist you in applying to the family court for an injunction to protect you from domestic abuse or to exclude your abuser from your home if were associated to them. You are associated to your abuser if you and your abuser:

  • are or were ever married, engaged or in a civil partnership
  • are or were living together (including as flatmates, partners, relations)
  • are relatives, including: parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews or first cousins (whether by blood, marriage, civil partnership or cohabitation)
  • have a child together or have or had parental responsibility for the same child
  • are or were in an intimate personal relationship of significant duration


This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter. 

Sarah Speed
Partner, Head of Family
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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