Whilst there is greater awareness in recent years about coercive control, it still continues to be of significant concern and a number of recent news articles have highlighted this.

Firstly, Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse charity, has recently confirmed that it has been in discussion with ITV about Love Island. Women’s Aid has commented that this isn’t about individual contestants but has said that ITV has shared information about the contestants’ inclusion training “but what appears to be missing is specific information on abusive relationships and an understanding of controlling behaviour in relationships[1]."

Secondly, news reports have been following the criminal trial of ex-Manchester United and Wales footballer, Ryan Giggs, who has been charged with controlling and coercive behaviour and assault against his former partner and assault against her sister. Mr Giggs denies these allegations.[2]

The legal framework

Coercive control is an offer under s.76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. A person commits an offence if:

  1. The perpetrator repeatedly or continuously engages in behaviour towards another person (the victim) that is controlling or coercive;
  2. At the time of the behaviour, the perpetrator and victim are personally connected;
  3. The behaviour has a serious effect on the victim; and
  4. The perpetrator knows or ought to know that the behaviour will have a serious effect on the victim.

‘Personally connected’ is currently defined as being in an intimate personal relationship or two people living together who are either members of the same family or have previously been in an intimate personal relationship.

This definition is to be widened to include that the victim and perpetrator:

  1. are or have been married to each other;
  2. are or have been civil partners;
  3. agreed to marry one another (whether or not terminated);
  4. entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not terminated);
  5. are or have been in an intimate personal relationship;
  6. each have or have had a parental relationship in relation to the same child; or
  7. are relatives. [3]

Crucially, the need to for the victim and perpetrator be cohabiting will be removed.

‘Serious effect’ is defined as causing the victim to fear that violence will be used against them on two occasions or causing the victim serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day to day activities.

One aspect of coercive control can be gas lighting, which is a more commonly recognised term – this is when the perpetrator tries to make the victim doubt their reality. It is thought to be a term taken from the 1944 film Gaslight in which a manipulative husband tries to convince his wife that she is imagining strange goings on which includes the gas lights flickering.

Statutory guidance

The government has issued draft statutory guidance on controlling or coercive behaviour. This is lengthy guidance but is helpful in terms of understanding what types of behaviour can constitute coercive control, identifying the behaviour and conducting appropriate risk assessments. The consultation about the guidance closed on 25 June 2022 and the government’s response to the consultation is awaited.

Issues to consider as a public body or a provider

There are a number of different facets to coercive control. Aside from the criminal legislation set out above, coercive control is a safeguarding concern, can arise in Court of Protection proceedings and is also of concern in the family courts. It is an issue which public bodies and providers should consider as they may have responsibilities to safeguard the victim and also any children who may be impacted. It is therefore important that coercive control is an area in which public bodies and providers have an awareness of and policies in place to manage this.

Our forthcoming lunchtime education webinar

This is a developing area which providers and public bodies will need to carefully consider. Bevan Brittan LLP has organised a lunchtime education webinar in which Emma Cashin (Emergency Department Independent Domestic Sexual Violence Advisor at Next Link Housing) and Bethany Scarsbrook (St John’s Chambers) will look at understanding the impact of controlling and coercive behaviour and the practical and legal issues that arise from it.

Watch our training webinar via this link.


[1]              Love Island: Women's Aid talks to ITV over 'controlling behaviour' - BBC News

[2]              Ryan Giggs: Ex-Man Utd and Wales star headbutted ex-girlfriend - court - BBC News

[3]              s.68 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the date for this to come into force is currently anticipated to be summer / autumn 2022

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