#16Days – Spotting the signs of coercive control

The 16 days of action against domestic violence campaign may be coming to close, but the issues raised should never be far from our minds.

Last week, Louise from our Customer Contact Services team, shared her family’s experience with domestic abuse and how the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) offers support to colleagues.

I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about an issue of domestic abuse that is often overlooked.

Domestic abuse isn’t just about a ‘strong man’ physically abusing a ‘weak woman’ – a story that has been played out in the media for a very long time. The problem with this narrative is that we often don’t recognise different types of abuse occurring in relationships that don’t look like this. This can make it difficult to spot signs of abuse and support those in need.

For example, a family carer might be taking money from someone who they look after or a gay couple where one partner is isolating the other from friends and family.

It’s important for us all to be more aware of the different types of abuse that can occur in an intimate relationship. Domestic abuse can take on the form of controlling and coercive behaviour.

Coercive control is acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. The perpetrator uses controlling behaviour to make their victim feel helpless and isolated.

It can happen without physical violence and can be just as detrimental to a victims’ wellbeing. This is why, in 2015, existing legislation was changed to include a new offence which would give police the power to stop this from happening.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that cases of coercive control have more than doubled since last year. The new ONS figures suggest that the increase is likely due to police forces increasing their use of the new law over the last year, a sign that we are hopefully instigating cultural change around this form of domestic abuse.

So what does controlling and coercive behaviour look like? Here are some examples from Women’s Aid.

  • controlling your finances, such as taking your wages or benefits or only allowing you a small allowance
  • preventing you from working or studying or controlling your ability to go to work or a place of study
  • controlling what you wear
  • preventing you from having access to transport
  • controlling when you can sleep and eat
  • disconnecting the phone and internet or taking away or destroying your mobile, tablet or laptop
  • monitoring you via online communication tools or using spyware following you and checking up on you
  • not allowing you any privacy (for example: opening your mail, going through your laptop, tablet or mobile)
  • repeatedly checking to see who has phoned you
  • embarrassing you in public
  • isolating a person from their family and friends
  • telling you where you can and cannot go
  • not letting you use your car
  • shutting you in the house
  • saying the abuse doesn’t happen
  • saying you caused the abuse saying you wind them up
  • crying and begging for forgiveness saying it will never happen again
  • repeatedly putting you down such as telling you that you are worthless
  • enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise you
  • buying clothes that are purposefully too small for you to ‘diet’ into
  • making you wear clothes that are baggy and worn.
  • making angry gestures, shouting you down or using physical size to intimidate
  • destroying your possessions
  • breaking things and punching walls
  • threatening to kill or harm your family and friends, family pets
  • threats of suicide

Help and advice

At the NHSBSA we have a Domestic Abuse Support Network (DASN) – a group of volunteers trained by the Northumbria Police Commissioner to support fellow colleagues experiencing domestic abuse.

If you’re in a controlling relationship and need help, there’s a variety of organisations that can help.

Domestic abuse investigation units

These are local points of contact for advice for domestic abuse and can be contacted on 101. In an emergency always call 999.

National centre for domestic violence

Provides a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender or sexual orientation.

0844 8044 999

Refuge and Women’s aid

Women’s Aid is the national charity for women and children working to end domestic abuse. The 24 Hour helpline and online services, which include the Survivors’ Forum, help hundreds of thousands of women and children every year.

0808 200 0247 (24-hour)

RESPECT- domestic abuse perpetrators’ helpline

A team of skilled professionals offering advice, information and support to domestic violence perpetrators, as well as to their ex-partners and frontline workers. They are a helpline and email service.

0808 802 4040


Talk to Samaritans any time you like, in your own way, and off the record – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.

0845 790 9090

Victim support

Help for victims. Services are free and available to everyone, whether or not the crime has been reported and regardless of when it happened.

0808 168 9111