Controlling or coercive behaviour - a simple tale of country folk?

Have you been following the Archers recently? One of the most gripping story lines at the moment features the ongoing abuse of Helen at the hands of her new husband Rob Titchener. This man is portrayed as a life training tick, a parasite in most senses of the word. Listeners are confused as to why Helen puts up with his manipulative and controlling bullying behaviour and why she puts up with the humiliation that he causes her. The point is that Helen did not start this relationship with any other expectation than she should progress to a normal happy manner. Had there been any slightest inkling of what was to come then she would not have gone down that route – she is not stupid although many people think that she is – even Helen herself.

Of course this is just a story and made up – isn’t it? If you are not an Archer fan then you will not know that Helen ran her own organic cheese making business and was an independent minded single parent. However, she found it hard to bring up a child alone even with a supportive family and sufficient income, so when Rob appeared in the village – attractive, charming and apparently single – it was not difficult for him to sweep a voluntary Helen off her feet. She told her parents how happy and in love she was, how much he loved her and that this was what she had longed for all her life. However, Rob’s behaviour quickly developed – it was little things at first – the criticism of her clothes, her weight, her hair. Some of these comments can be dressed up as caring but they have the affect of inevitably eroding her confidence.

The story line in the Archers presents a strong narrative example of controlling domestic abuse which at the end of last year became a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison. The new legislation will enable the Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges where there is evidence of repeated, or continuous or controlling behaviour within an intimate or family relationship. Abuse can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps or even dictating what they wear.

Controlling behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for an individual to take control over another. The sort of behaviour covered by the legislation – section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 would be isolating a person from their friends or family, depriving them access to support services, repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless and control of finances. The list cannot be exhaustive. The Director of Public Prosecutions has commented that this behaviour can be incredibly harmful in an abusive relationship where one person holds more power than the other, even if on the face of it, this “behaviour might seem playful or loving”.

More and more people are seeking assistance and advice because they are experiencing abuse by a partner including restrictions on accessing their own money, or forcing them to take on debts or spying on them online. This is a difficult area and vividly illustrated in the Archers story line. If the controlling behaviour is not addressed then almost inevitably the behaviour may progress to actual physical violence. Listeners to the radio soap have been witnessing the slow isolation of Helen from her friends and family. Some of her friends have become to notice that something is not quite right and have offered Helen a lifeline, a chance to talk, to admit she is not living the idyll she is presenting to the outside world. However, Helen cannot quite bring herself to admit it. We do not yet know how the story line will play out but it is certainly reflecting the experience of many women in our society. It is not a problem exclusively for women but the research clearly shows that the vast majority of manipulating and controlling perpetrators are men. We will need to see how the new legislation can operate in this difficult area and how easy it will be to establish criminal liability. However, the legislations framework document clearly underlines the importance of this behaviour and why it must be addressed when it says in ringing terms; not only is coercive control the most common context in which women are abused, it is also the most dangerous.

If you feel that you may be the victim of this sort of behaviour then do speak to someone from this firm’s domestic abuse department.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.