What is domestic abuse?

Before outlining coercive control, it’s beneficial to firstly gain an understanding of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are terms used interchangeably.

In simple terms, domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of violence, abuse, coercive or controlling behaviour between those aged 16 or over. Additionally, for these types of actions to be labelled as ‘domestic abuse’, it must be conducted between two people with a personal connection.

A personal connection is an intimate personal relationship. Examples of a personal connection include a couple who are married, relatives, parents of the same child etc. Furthermore, if there is no personal connection, the offence won’t be valid under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. However, the act may fall under another criminal offence, e.g. harassment or stalking.

What are the primary forms of domestic abuse?

The four primary forms of domestic abuse include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological, or financial abuse

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is a form of domestic violence which involves a strategic form of ongoing oppression used to instil fear. This instilled fear limits the victim’s human rights as it deprives them of their freedom and ability to take action.

Some experts have spoken out on coercive control and made comparisons to being taken hostage. In both cases, the victim’s world is regulated by the abuser, as they’ve been trapped in an environment of fear and confusion.

Therefore, although coercive control is more subtle than physical abuse, it’s every bit as harmful. Hence, why it’s an illegal form of abuse in the UK.

How does the law protect someone facing coercive control?

The Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA) brings severe and organised criminals to justice. Section 76 of the SCA recognises the seriousness of the harm coercive control can cause. 

The law outlines that an action is considered a coercive control offence when:

  1. A person repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive,
  2. If both parties were/are personally connected, at the time the behaviour took place.
  3. The action has had a severe effect on the victim. For example, a party creating fear which impacts the other party’s day-to-day life.
  4. The person committing the controlling or coercive behaviour knows or should know that the actions will have a severe impact on the other person.

It will not amount to repeated or continuous behaviour if a party displays controlling or coercive behaviour on one occasion. In this instance, you may still have a case. The courts will likely look for any evidence or pattern of behaviour. If you can establish the pattern over some time, then this might satisfy the offence.

What can a defendant of a coercive accusation argue?

The only defence a defendant can provide is arguing that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. In this instance, a defendant will need to prove, in all circumstances, that their behaviour was reasonable.

An example of a defendant being reasonable is if the defendant is a carer and the person making the allegation is mentally ill. The mental illness might mean that the alleged victim has to be kept at home or take medication. In this case, the defendant will succeed if they prove this behaviour is for the safety of the patient.

What is the sentencing for a person who is guilty of coercive control?

The maximum penalty for a coercive control offence is six months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. In the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. However, there may be other penalties such as compensation orders, criminal behaviour orders or restraining orders.

Criminal solicitor working on a coercive control matter
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