Difference between Controlling behaviour and Coercive behaviour

Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support. This allows the controlling person to exploit the subordinate person resources and capacities for personal gain. Therefore depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour 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.

Such behaviours can be actual or implied physical violence, or they can be extreme psychological or emotional abuse. Some examples include:


Actual or implied physical violence examples

  • threats to hurt or kill;
  • threats to a child;
  • threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).
  • assault;
  • criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
  • rape.


Extreme psychological or emotional abuse examples

  • isolating a person from their friends and family;
  • depriving them of their basic needs;
  • monitoring their time;
  • monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
  • taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
  • depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
  • repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
  • enforcing rules and activities which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
  • forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
  • financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

Domestic abuse is ongoing, purposeful behaviour that is aimed at dominating one’s partner, and often one’s children as well. It is also referred to as coercive controlling violence or simply, coercive control.


New Legislation

New domestic abuse legislation under the Serious Crime Act was introduced on 29 December 2015 to make actions of coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence.

This means that since 2015, victims who experience controlling or coercive behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

The offence does not apply retrospectively.

The new offence closes a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour in an ongoing relationship between intimate partners or family members. The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

This new domestic abuse offence will protect victims of controlling and coercive behaviour who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives by the perpetrator.

The offence applies when the behaviour takes place repeatedly or continuously, meaning on an ongoing basis.

The pattern of behaviour has to have a serious effect on the victim. This means that they have been caused to either fear that violence will be used against them on at least two occasions or they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s usual day-to-day activities.

The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or ought to know that it will have a serious effect on the victim.

The victim and perpetrator must have been personally connected when the offences took place. It is not necessary for the perpetrator and victim to still be cohabiting or in a relationship when the offence is reported as long as the incidents took place when they were “personally connected”, and after the offence came into force.


How to get help

If you are or know somebody who may be at risk of this behaviour does not hesitate to contact a member of our team for independent advice. Contact our 24-hour discrete support line.

You may be entitled to Legal Aid if you have been a victim of domestic abuse.

Our legal team also has close connections with a range of support services to provide you with safety and security.

People also read:

24 Hour Domestic Abuse Helpline

Domestic Abuse Legal Advice

Getting A Non-Molestation Order


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