The police recorded almost 850,000 domestic abuse-related crimes in the year ending March 2021, representing 18% of all offences recorded by the police. [1] This figure only represents a fraction of cases as many forms of abuse in the UK are often unseen crimes.

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Yvette Hazelden is Strategic and Development Lead for Domestic Abuse at Look Ahead, and has over 20 years’ experience working in the Domestic Violence sector. Look Ahead are a service supporting thousands of people in London and the South-East with a diverse range of needs, providing tailor-made support, care and accommodation services. In this post, Yvette shares some of the signs of coercion and control to help both survivors and those supporting them.

Coercion and Control

Please note: We prefer the term survivor but in this context, I have used victim for the majority of the piece.

What is Coercive Control?​

Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used by abusers to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. It makes someone dependent by isolating them from family and friends or outside support and by having their behaviour and movements monitored and regulated.

Coercive control is when a person with whom you are personally connected, repeatedly behaves in a way which makes you feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared.​ It was made illegal in 2015 and there have been prosecutions but it is a difficult form of abuse to prove as it usually happens over time and a picture needs to be built in order to prosecute.

All domestic abuse is rooted in power and control and no matter what form the abuse takes, both sit at the core of the behaviour.

The following types of behaviour are common examples of coercive control​.

What are Some of the Signs of Coercion and Control?

Isolating you From your Friends and Family​

This is a common trait in abusive relationships. The more that someone is isolated from friends and family the more the abuser can convince the victim/survivor that they are not being abused, that it’s all in their head.


Gaslighting is psychological manipulation through which abusers confuse their victims and convince them that “it’s all in their head.”

With the victim/survivor already isolated from any outside support from family or friends there is no one to let them know that they are being abused. It is subtle and ongoing manipulation which is insidious and accumulative.

Controlling How Much Money you Have and How you Spend it​

Financial abuse is also part of coercion. This can take various forms from not allowing a victim access to their own money for instance by having their benefits paid straight into the abuser’s account or a joint account to which the victim has no access, or by taking their bank card or cash when they get paid. Financial abuse can also include running up debts and/or taking out a loan in their victim’s name. In addition, victims/survivors can be coerced into signing credit agreements and then not see a penny of the loan or have access to the goods purchased.

Monitoring your Activities and Movements​

In the beginning of a relationship, this can be seen as a caring thing to do. The term “Love Bombing” is often used. This is when the abuser bombards the victim/survivor with gifts, affection, and messages. Very often the relationship will move very quickly, and moving in together, or getting the victim/survivor pregnant in the early days of the relationship is commonplace.

Constant messages can be seen as a caring act particularly by young people. Asking “Did you get home okay?” or “Where are you now?” can come across as innocently checking in. While this can be part of non-abusive relationships, in a coercive context these messages will become more frequent and sinister. The abuser will expect an instant reply and if the response does not come back quickly enough will want an explanation as to why. This will in turn lead to accusations of ignoring or cheating on the abuser and so on. All this is completely unfounded and in the abuser’s head, but it is difficult to ignore and can wear the victim down. Ignored messages can have consequences and this is when the violence can often start.

Repeatedly Putting you Down, Calling you Names or Telling you that you are Worthless

If someone continually tells a person that they are stupid, fat and ugly, and that no one else will want them, it is hard for the person to believe otherwise. Bearing in mind the earlier point of isolation, with no one else to tell the victim/survivor that they are clever and beautiful, and the fact that this abuse is constant and on a daily basis, the victim/survivor will start to believe the lies. ​

Threatening to Harm or Kill you or your Child

Victims/survivors use survivor strategies to get through the abuse and to stay alive. When someone is threatening to harm or kill a person or their child if they leave or refuse to do as they’re told, they will conform. This is where we often see victim blaming by agencies and ​more generally in the media and by family and friends.

People may say “Why doesn’t she just leave if it’s that bad?” or “I wouldn’t put up with that.” However, adding together the isolation, the constantly being told you are worthless, that no one will believe you, that your children will be taken into care, and it is easy to start seeing why someone would not leave.

We should not ask “Why doesn’t she just leave?” but “Why doesn’t he just stop?” The blame and responsibility for all abuse lies with the perpetrator not the victim. No matter how long it may take her (or him) to leave or how many times they go back, we need to understand that there should be no blame placed on the victim/survivor.

Threatening to Publish Information About you or to Report you to the Police or Authorities

Abusers often threaten to tell Social Services about a victim/survivor’s so-called “bad parenting” if they leave. This is another tactic to make sure that victims/survivors do not leave. If the victim/survivor has been coerced into committing crimes, then obviously the perpetrator will use that against them even if the victim/survivor may have been complicit purely from fear.

Damaging your Property or Pets

Again, a common control tactic of perpetrators is to damage property and items, particularly items that are of sentimental value to the victim/survivor or are irreplaceable.

Victims will very often walk on eggshells being careful not to say or do the wrong thing otherwise there is the threat of damaged belongings or damage to the house which if the victim is a tenant can often mean them getting into trouble with their landlord. A lot of tenant anti-social behaviour issues can be attributed to domestic abuse, but the questions are not asked of the victim/survivor or they do not have the opportunity to speak to someone on their own, and so are too frightened to say anything.

Hurting the family pet is also commonplace and there are strong links between domestic and animal abuse. Abusers frequently use pets to control victims/survivors. Abusers will threaten to harm or kill pets, refuse veterinary treatment, shut them in or allow them to escape.

Research shows us that perpetrators can also attempt to control the victim/survivor’s children with threats to harm family pets, for instance to force them to keep quiet about abuse they have witnessed. Pets are another reason that it is difficult to leave the relationship as the victim will not want to leave their beloved pet in the hands of their abuser.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very common following escape from an abusive and controlling relationship and survivors can experience nightmares and flashbacks.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse and need urgent assistance please contact the Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. If you are in immediate danger please call the police on 999.

[1] Office for National Statistics, (2021) Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales,

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The police recordd almost 850,000 domestic-abuse related crimes in the year ending March 2021. In this post Yvette Hazelden, Strategic and Development lead at Look Ahead, shares some of the signs of coercion and control to help better the support services can provide to survivors.

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