What should I do if I am accused of controlling or coercive behaviour?

Being accused of controlling or coercive behaviour is very serious. It’s not only an emotionally distressing incident to go through, but if found guilty of an offence, it could lead to imprisonment or damage to any civil (family) proceedings when dealing with divorce, financial petitions or arrangements for children.

Sometimes allegations of controlling or coercive behaviour can be false and motivated by one party trying to punish another, especially in angry or bitter relationship breakdowns. Whilst it’s only right that true victims should have their voices properly heard in the criminal justice process, it’s important that balance is struck for those that are accused. 

If you are accused, whether the allegation is true or not, it’s essential to make sure you get the appropriate advice and support.  Our partner and specialist in this area is Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh. You can speak to her here

Keep reading to learn more about controlling or coercive behaviour and what you can do if you are accused of it. 


What does the law say about controlling behaviour / is it a criminal offence?

In 2015 controlling or coercive behaviour became a criminal offence in the UK under Section 76 of the Serious Crimes Act. It aims to address abusive behaviour that may not be physical in nature and occurs within an intimate or family relationship. 

Since then, it has become part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which is outlined as ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’ 


What are examples of controlling and coercive behaviour?

Controlling or coercive behaviour manipulates how a person thinks and feels. It can be interpreted widely and could include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends or family
  • Monitoring a person online or in person 
  • Controlling a person’s finances 
  • Controlling where a person can go
  • Sexually coercing a person 
  • Denying a person access to services such as medical support
  • Threatening or intimidating a person
  • Damaging a person’s reputation 
  • Humiliating a person 

However, it’s not limited to the above and can include other behaviours. 


Has anyone been convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour under the new laws?

The number of convictions around controlling or coercive behaviour has increased yearly. In 2018/2019, there were 1,177 prosecutions, and in 2019/20, there were 1,208 prosecutions. 

Under Section 76, controlling or coercive behaviour is deemed to have happened when: 

  1. A person repeatedly or continuously engaged in behaviour towards the victim that was controlling or coercive;
  2. That at the time of the behaviour, the two people were personally connected;
  3. That the behaviour can be shown to have had a serious effect on the victim
  4. And that the defendant knew that the behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim

A person’s behaviour is classed as having ‘serious effect’ where it can be proved that a person caused the victim to fear the violence that would be used against them on at least two occasions or that the behaviour caused serious alarm or distress which had a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities. 


What are the punishments for conviction of controlling or coercive behaviour?

There is a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for controlling or coercive control. 


What should I do if I am accused of controlling and coercive behaviour by my partner or ex-partner?

The most crucial step is to seek support and advice immediately. Even if it hasn’t been reported to the police, legal support will help you prepare for anything down the line.

If you are accused and arrested, you are entitled to legal counsel, and you should take it. Even if you believe you can explain what happened. As many domestic violence prosecutions have been made based solely on admission under interview, legal support will ensure this process is done properly. 

It’s critical to be completely honest with your legal advisor so they are properly informed and can prepare for everything. 


What happens when this occurs during family proceedings?

In some cases, accusations of controlling or coercive behaviour can be an attempt by a spouse to improve their position in divorce proceedings. It’s usually made during applications involving children and applications for injunctive protection from domestic violence.

When this happens, it’s up to the Family Court to decide whether coercive control has taken place, and the court will seek to establish whether it’s more likely than not that it happened. They will do this from evidence gathered from both of you, oral evidence and cross-examination.

Whilst these cases don’t always escalate to the police, the accusor could turn to the criminal law to gain the upper hand. That’s why it’s essential to seek legal support as early as possible to minimise the damage and help you protect yourself. 


Can I counterclaim if I’m accused of controlling and coercive behaviour?

In cases where both parties accuse each other of the same or similar behaviour, there is a danger that using the criminal justice system becomes an arms race between the two sides. 

It’s also likely that police will review a counterclaim as retaliatory if you make the same or similar allegations.  Since this is classed as typical perpetrator behaviour, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would operate directly against you in this situation.


How do you prove controlling and coercive behaviour?

There’s lots of evidence that could prove the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. The following non-exhaustive list is from the Statutory Guidance.

  • Copies of emails
  • Phone records
  • Text messages
  • Evidence of abuse over the internet, digital technology and social media platforms
  • 999 tapes or transcripts
  • CCTV
  • Body-worn video footage
  • Records of interaction with services such as support services (even if parts of those records relate to events which occurred before the new offence came into force, their contents may still, in certain circumstances, be relied on in evidence)
  • Medical records
  • Witness testimony, for example, the family and friends of the victim may be able to give evidence about the effect and impact of isolation of the victim from them
  • Diary kept by the victim
  • Victims account of what happened to the police


Will I get a restraining for controlling and coercive behaviour?

A court may issue a restraining order to protect a victim, even if you are not convicted of the crime. The restraining order would prohibit you from doing certain things, such as contracting the person. Breaching (breaking) this restraining order is a criminal offence. 


Will I get a criminal record for controlling and coercive behaviour?

Yes,  if you are found guilty or plead guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour in Criminal Court, it will go on a criminal record. If this happens, you will have to disclose should an employer ask if you have any criminal convictions, and it will flag up on any DBS checks. 

If you are arrested and not charged, this could appear on an enhanced DBS check commonly used for teachers, nurses, sports coaches or care workers. These enhanced checks can include ‘any other information held’, which references any details where you have been arrested but without charges being brought. 

If you are looking for help and advice on controlling and coercive behaviour, please contact our partner Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh who specialises in this area.  You can speak to her here.