Coercive Control to be a Criminal Offence

Speakoutloud.net coercive control criminal offence Clare Murphy PhDFar seeing legislation puts the ambulance at the top of the cliff.

In January 2015 the UK House of Commons amended the Serious Crime Bill [Lords] to make Coercive Controlling behaviour by an intimate partner or family member a criminal offence. The legislation came into force on 19th December 2015.

Here is one man’s story about the way he coercively controls his wife and her family. He doesn’t beat her, and neither does he swear at her. He doesn’t overtly threaten her, nor does he call her abusive names. He doesn’t appear to forbid her from doing things nor tell her what to do, say, or think.

Outwardly he’s a great guy, a decent and loving husband and dad.

But it’s an act. 

The reality is that this man is on a quest — and it doesn’t include his wife and child.

Male socialisation includes a dominant social message that it is not befitting of a man to negotiate with a woman. He must be in charge.

This man puts himself first at all times — over and above the welfare of his wife and their child, in every way and in every possible circumstance where he’s not being seen by family and outsiders.

His needs, wants and desires always come first, and he will risk her health and their child’s health and safety to increase his power and control.

Unbelievably, if need be, he will even make his own life a little bit less comfortable to make life more miserable for his wife and child if it will reinforce his control.

He overloads her with work, including heavy, physical labour whilst he sits sedentary doing “important” things in his room.

He enslaves her — not by “forcing” her — but by training her. He has “trained” her to do everything and never, ever to ask, or expect, him to pull his weight — even in an emergency.

Early on and throughout their relationship she resists his coercive control, argues, pleads in ongoing, futile attempts to resolve his dominating behaviours. She hopes to retain the fabric of her dreams and continually seeks the elusive man she married.

In turn he threatens her if she continues to challenge him. He never openly threatens her. Instead he selects from his battery of controlling tactics and behaviours. He intimidates her with non verbal communication and body language, controls her with the silent treatment, makes ostensibly innocent casual asides which hurt her or frighten her, constantly interrupts her to wear her down, emanates an atmosphere of menace, gloom and hostility.

And, over time, the stress of the unrelenting abuse and control infiltrates her physical being, adrenaline runs wild, she is riddled with nervous tension, increasing anxiety, confusion and insecurity. She gradually adapts to her circumstances, like a frog in a pot of cold water slowly heating up. Her resistance is slowly breaking down as he penetrates and denies her values and beliefs. He manipulates her perspectives and gradually impairs her judgement. His ideas, almost imperceptibly, take precedence.

If it suits him, he will let her go without food. He won’t cook and he won’t go out for groceries and supplies, even if it means they both go without if she is too busy to do it. He won’t care for her even when she is sick.

Using a tone of kindly concern, over time he casts doubts on her friends, suggesting they are not true friends and can’t be trusted. If she insists on seeing her family who live some distance away, he makes her pay for travel even though she has no earnings. She has no savings, no money of her own, and can rarely afford to do this. He isolates her. She is trapped.

She can buy small items, and groceries, but must wait for his permission for bigger purchases, even essential items like fuel to heat the house. Meanwhile he is in control of the purse and just splashes out whenever he feels like it.

He persuades her to leave the house unheated when he’s not around. She’s been well trained. He insists she and child are warm enough, despite the low temperatures. They can rug up. When he comes home at the end of the day, however, the heating goes on.

She learns never to question this. He has coerced her thought processes over a lengthy time. He will never let her have her way. Nor be herself, nor do what she chooses. She is powerless.

He exploits her family. If her parents take them out, he picks the most expensive and extravagant things on the menu, even though he is wealthier than her parents. This is not a “one off”. He is constantly visiting at her parents’ house for drinks and dinner. He has a huge appetite. But months go by before he returns the favour.

He neglects his wife and child. But he knows her parents will pitch in and take up any slack when he puts her and the child at risk. Her parents are beside themselves with worry about their daughter’s wellbeing. He asks her parents to do dirty, menial jobs for him, despite having their own work to do, health to deal with and life to lead.

He makes excuses for his neglect and lack of support based on lies, and constantly changes the lies, then denies changing his stories. She is left unsure of what he actually did say, what actually is true and what is fabrication.

He makes snide remarks and utters put-downs to and about his wife. They’re often couched as jokes, or even as helpful and kindly suggestions. He calls her demeaning names, but persuades her they are affectionate “pet names”.

On the other hand he often says the most reasonable and kindly things, but his utterances have gradually become meaningless. He may point out that she does too much drudgery and should take a break. She should eat better, have a rest, have more fun.

Yet by his domineering attitudes, actions and behaviour, he ensures none of this can happen. She believes his words and is confused that they do not match his actions. Despite her recognition of this disparity, the forces of coercive control remove her rationality and dampen her gut instinct.

As she listens to his words, whether they’re lies, kindness, abuse or manipulative, she tries to hear her own fading voice — but, over time, he has silenced her too often. She now silences her own voice.

If he shows her affection it is often slightly threatening. Squeezing her in bear hugs, joshingly pushing and pulling her, lifting her up in a fireman’s lift. But at other times he can be almost sugary sweet with her, stroking her  and calling her affectionate names. The affection is increased dramatically when people he wants to impress are watching.

She loses touch with her deep knowing that what he does is “not right.” But despite wanting to be herself, his subtle persistent coercive control prevails. Finally she too is swamped by the dominant social messages that women should submit to men. She succumbs.

When the UK Legislation amendments become law it will be a crime to repeatedly or continuously engage in behaviour towards another person that is controlling or coercive. It is a crime when that behaviour has a serious effect on the victim and that the controlling person knows — or ought to know — that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the victim.

He must come first and he knows what he’s doing.

My extensive in-depth research over the past 14 years reveals that men who coercively control their female partners know and ought to know that their behaviour is having a serious effect.

He coerces the relationship in such a way that she realises, when he is working, he must come first, because he is the breadwinner and puts in all this effort. When he is on holiday, or at weekends, he must come first because it is his precious leisure time. In most every case, what his wife, or his child want or need, is of no interest to him.

“Centuries of male provider privilege creep into the year 2015.”

He plans their social life, and their travel, exclusively around his friends and his family. He has trained her never to suggest meeting her own family and friends, and if she does suggest it, he says they need time on their own, have too much on, or that the child needs a quiet home. None of which applies if his friends and family are visiting.

It appears he gains pleasure from disappointing her by breaking his promises, disappointing her hopes and her expectations. He does gain more than that of course. He gains and maintains power.

He learns from dominant social messages that, in the context of an intimate relationship, he must do this to maintain the mask of a dominant form of masculinity. In pursuing this form of gender inequality he must ignore his authentic self.

That is why he extols his own generosity and munificence when he takes her for lunch, to a place he likes, to eat his choice of food, at a time that suits him. He never takes her somewhere she chooses, to give her pleasure, nor does he seek out a gift for her or for their child to please or delight them. This is his way of showing masculine independence.

He makes her wait weeks or months for essential items or help, then arbitrarily, and suddenly, grants her wish, and she must show deep gratitude for this. Many times he will never grant her wish, and she must struggle on.

He believes himself to be an “alpha male” and he persuades her to believe he is too.

This alpha male ensures the house is cold, gloomy, dirty and smelly. No matter how hard she works, he makes sure it stays like that. Except . . . when anyone he wants to impress is around. In this case it all changes to . . .  a warm house, creature comforts . . . he helps with housework . . . engages in childcare . . . house renovations and other man-about-the-house chores — in a sudden whirlwind of contrived image management.

People who witness his “caring” behaviours, wonder what is wrong with her, why she is exhausted, tired, stressed, strained and ill, when her husband is such a great guy and does everything for her.

Following months and years of assaulting her emotions, wearing down her nervous system, he creates the impression that she is unbalanced and unstable, so that people actually feel sorry for him having to put up with such a wife.

If her concerned parents suggest that he may not be so perfect, then he attacks them saying they have it in for him and he convinces his wife that her parents have got it in for him, and that they are interfering and meddlesome in-laws.

The “apparently” decent and loving husband who doesn’t beat his wife, who does not threaten her nor swear at her, convinces everyone that he’s a great guy, and also convinces his wife that he is a wonderful alpha male.

But this is an act that hides a despairingly subtle form of gender inequality.

It covers up the emotional abuse that flies unseen under the radar. 

It is socially condoned in the sense that the persistent myth says a man “owns his wife and children” and is allowed to run his own household as he sees fit. Despite the fact that most right thinking people know this is a relic from the past, the taken-for-granted “head of the household” notion persists.

Coercive Control is Criminal, unjust, debilitatingly common, yet  . . . .

It is considered normal male behaviour — he is the boss, she is there to care for him and the child. Many Judges don’t hold perpetrators accountable. Many Psychologists treat one-sided coercive control as mutual abuse. Huge swathes of the population “don’t get it”, believing merely that she is a nut case — they have no clue that coercive control traps victims.

It’s rare for social service professionals to be trained in subtle hidden coercive control and abuse. This then often leads them to unwittingly cause more harm by enabling children to be under the care of the abuser.

His friends and his family think she’s a bit weird and difficult, because he has deceived them, manipulated their minds too. He has trained his wife so well that she does not know she is being controlled and abused — he’s led her to believe she’s at fault. He leads others to believe that too.

His behaviours have a serious effect on his wife.

The proposed UK Legislation states that behaviour has a “serious effect” on the victim if it causes the victim to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against her, or it causes her serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on her usual day-to-day activities.

Coercive Control is one of the greatest risks that may lead to physical violence or murder.

Dominant social messages have trained him to control his wife. At the same time he is not forced to oppress her. . . . He chooses to oppress her.

One of the men I interviewed about his control and abuse of female partners told me:

“These days society’s changing, they don’t like violence. So if I can belittle somebody quicker with my mouth than I can with my fists, yup, I’ve learnt that over the last ten years.” —Sam

In most countries it is not illegal to do what is described in this blog. 

And the perpetrator knows that. In the UK the perpetrators of ongoing coercive control are now acting illegally. They are causing serious harm.

Domestic violence has long been talked about as a safety issue. But this story is describing coercive control with no physical violence. He is not forcing her. He is taking away her freedom and liberty.

This subtle insidious form of private domestic abuse is a centuries old, and ongoing, violation of women’s human rights. It remains a socially condoned form of domination and entrapment played out in millions of homes world-wide.

It is not about women freely choosing to be abused. It’s about the belief held by many men that they have a so-called “right” to control his “property”. And in the process, restricting women’s ability to thrive, flourish and freely pursue her hopes and dreams.

Whilst a man who controls his partner may achieve his dream and goal to be an alpha male and claim the social praise and kudos that has been given to men for centuries at the wider level of society — he unwittingly sabotages his own authentic hopes and dreams.

The criminalisation of coercive control in the UK places an ambulance at the top of the cliff, so that perpetrators of coercive control can be cut short in their tracks, held accountable early on in the relationship, before his possessiveness leads to physical violence and murder.

The new UK law says 

Any reasonable person who coercively controls others “ought to know” they are causing harm. 

Simple, really… 

Law or no law … it’s time to look at the symptoms and causes of “domestic violence in a new way”. 

Time for “any reasonable person” to speak out loud about the signs of coercion and psychological abuse they see, or suspect, is going on behind closed doors.

The Serious Crime Act 2015, Chapter 9 “explicitly criminalises patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour where they are perpetrated against an intimate partner or family member”.

I have attached the Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship: Statutory Guidance Framework

Updated this page 2nd January 2016

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Meet the Author

Clare Murphy PhD is the founder of SpeakOutLoud. Her website is dedicated to providing in-depth research about coercive control and psychological abuse. Clare mentors, supervises and trains professionals to recognise and work safely with domestic violence. She offers one-on-one counselling and consultation to those who are ready to make sense of coercive control and abuse, and to Grow and Flourish Beyond Trauma.