dct in Exeter, Devon

Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship

Statutory Guidance for the government’s new Coercive or Controlling Behaviour Offence

This new offence will mean victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice - offenders could be jailed for up to 5 years and fined. It is aimed at closing a gap in the law around patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour, as defined below, during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together, or family members.

  • Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. 
  • Coercive behaviour is: a continuing 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

In order for the offence to apply, the pattern of behaviour alleged must have a "serious effect" on the victim, Home Office guidance says this means they must have either feared 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 their usual day-to-day activities. Such behaviours might include:

  • 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 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 (such as destruction of household goods)
  • Rape
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.  

A defence is also included to provide a further safeguard against inappropriate use of the new offence. It will apply where the defendant can show that they believed they were acting in the victim's best interests and that their behaviour was objectively reasonable.