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It’s not always over: coercive or controlling behaviour and post-separation abuse

Domestic abuse cases involving coercive or controlling behaviour (CCB) are an all too frequent part of our work as family lawyers here at LGFL. Managing Director Rita Gupta looks at what coercive control is and what to do if it continues after separation or divorce.

In my role as a family lawyer, I see the impact of all forms of domestic abuse on a daily basis. I can understand just how far-reaching abuse is, and how it can affect anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, class, and other characteristics. Controlling or coercive behaviour is just one part of a pattern of abuse, but as the name suggest, it defines how that abuse plays out.

 

What is coercive control?

As a Staffordshire Police guide states:

“Controlling and coercive behaviour (CCB) … is a deliberate and calculated pattern of behaviour and psychological abuse designed to isolate, manipulate and terrorise a victim into complete, fearful obedience.”

We applaud the strong terms used here; CCB is a very serious offence and can destroy lives.

As abuse charity Women’s Aid further explains:

“(Coercive and) controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.”

Coercive and controlling behaviour (CCB) has been an offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act since 2015. Last year, the Act was updated to include post-separation abuse by dropping the requirement for “personally connected” abusers and abused to be living together.

As the then Minister for Safeguarding Victoria Atkins MP stated:

“This amendment … send(s) a clear message to both victims and perpetrators that controlling or coercive behaviours, irrespective of living status, are a form of domestic abuse.”

 

Not living together but still being abused

Coercive control is not a “one-off”. It is a pattern of behaviour over a long period of time that causes serious harm to the victim, and to any children who are exposed to this. This includes abuse continuing beyond the domestic situation - post-separation abuse.

Post-separation abuse is a potentially dangerous scenario, as the Government website recognises:

“Victims who leave their perpetrator are often subjected to sustained or increased coercive or controlling behaviour post-separation, and are statistically at the highest risk of homicide within the period immediately after leaving.”

We have long championed the cause of those caught up in a cycle of abuse that continues long after they move out and even divorce their abuser. Our article on post-separation abuse has been our most popular and most read article for almost 18 months.

 

Am I a victim?

Such is the control exerted by their abuser, many of our clients have failed to recognise that their abuse has in fact been happening for a number of years Often they have been in denial or found it just too difficult to face.

I have particularly seen a rise in high performing professional who are almost living a double life by being successful and powerful to the outside world, but feeling powerless at home. Whilst the statistics would support that women are more likely to be abused, men can be victims too and the harm caused is just as damaging.

 

Reporting of CCB incidents

Thanks to the amendment, victims can now report incidents of coercive and controlling behaviour from non-resident ex-partners dating back to April 2023.

Previously this kind of behaviour from non-cohabitating personal contacts fell under legislation on stalking and harassment.

The “encouraging” news is that both reporting and prosecution of CCB cases is on the rise. In the first year of the offence being in law, only 309 cases reached a first court hearing. By 2020, that had risen to 1,208. The number of recorded CCB offences had also risen, to almost 25,000.

However, these figures are considerably lower than reported domestic abuse incidents. These stood at 889,918 domestic abuse-related crimes recorded in England and Wales for the year ending March 2023.

 

A ‘course of conduct’ offence

The difference in the number of reports is mainly due to CCB being a ‘course of conduct’ offence. Unlike domestic abuse reporting which often happens after a single incident, a CCB offence is based on the reporting of multiple, repeated incidents potentially spread over years.

This can make life extremely difficult (and potentially hazardous) for victims of coercive control, as they need to report repeated controlling incidents to build a case. Unless done covertly, the very act of reporting could fuel further controlling behaviour.

 

Taking action on CCB

Coercive control is still a difficult concept for many people to understand, let alone to spot the signs. Therefore, victims may feel that there is no point in reporting it and that they might not be believed.

This is simply not the case. As Staffordshire Police state:

“You will be believed.

You will be listened to.

You can get support.”

The same applies here at LGFL. We will listen, we will advise, and we will take action as required. To discuss your situation in complete confidence, call us now.

If you are experiencing any form of domestic violence or threats of violence, the time to act is NOW.

- Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.

- Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women) or the ManKind confidential helpline 01823 334244 (men).

- Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.

 

You can also download our LGFL Domestic Abuse helpline leaflet here.

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- Book your consultation online