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Controlling and Coercive Behaviour

Our work often includes clients talking about control or perceived negative behaviour within a relationship. This control can at times be minor; but, for many, it can include very significant levels of control and accompanying domestic physical abuse. While we are able to help some of these families through mediation, many more need to seek stronger legal protection. 

If you feel that you have been subjected to controlling and coercive behaviour (CCB) we hope this blog can help you to find the help you need. 

CCB describes broad patterns of behaviour by one person to another in which the wrongdoer interferes with the victim’s life, safety and well-being. It can include overt forms of behaviour, such as physical or verbal assaults - or more subtle forms of behaviour that take place behind closed doors. The Home Office guidance, produced for the police, gives a helpful list of examples of types of behaviour that can be controlling and coercive: 

  • 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 activity 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 their self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities
  • financial abuse including control of finances, such as: only allowing a person a punitive allowance
  • 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 (e.g. destruction of household goods)
  • rape
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

 Some people in controlling relationships know that they are being controlled, but find it impossible to leave the relationship. Often wrongdoers are repeatedly remorseful, promising to change, only to repeat the cycle again and again. Others only recognise the controlling nature of the relationship once it has ended and over a period of time. Often the riskiest time for someone who is in a controlling relationship is when they communicate the relationship is going to end and they leave their partner. It is crucial to ensure you take appropriate safety precautions during this period – websites like Women’s Aid help you with ideas about how to create a Personal Safety Plan. Anyone who is the victim of CCB can use this site to help them create a Personal Safety Plan. 

CCB is a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act 2015 and can result in a fine or term in prison. In 2019[1] the police identified 24,846 criminal cases involving CCB, but only prosecuted approximately 6% of them. Finding and recording evidence to secure the prosecution is one of the biggest hurdles of securing a conviction.  

You can also obtain protection via the family courts; by obtaining protective injunctions, such as a non-molestation order. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 also introduces other types of protection, known as Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which will become easier to obtain in the near future.   

Generally, mediation requires a balance between the participants. If one partner has controlled the other, it is unlikely to be suitable. If you are considering mediation, the mediator will assess you and your circumstances in order to determine whether conversations in mediation could help you to sort out arrangements related to separation, such as: arrangements for children or in relation to finances. If you need to apply for court you may be exempt from needing to attend a MIAM due to domestic abuse; however, if you do not have sufficient evidence then you may still need to. Please remember that if you disclose information in the MIAM or mediation, this will be treated as confidential. The mediator will be able to refer you to local sources of advice and support. 

There are times when mediation can remain a potentially safe and suitable optionoption for victims of CCB. If a victim of CCB feels that approaches such as hybrid mediation or shuttle mediation would enable them to still progress a mediation case, then they should talk to their mediator about how these options could be managed effectively and safely.

There are many helpful websites that provide information about CCB. You can read more about lots of types of abuse on the government’s ENOUGH campaign website: What is abuse? | ENOUGH. If you would like to reach out for more help, you can contact the following organisations: 

  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ (run by Refuge)
  • The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327 (run by Respect)
  • The Mix - free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)
  • Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123


Author: Claire Molyneux


[1] Review of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence Updated 10 May 2021   

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