Coercive Control and Psychological Abuse

domestic abuse 2Strengthening the Law in Scotland

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill is reaching its final stages as it progresses through the Scottish Parliament. Once the Bill is enacted it will cover behaviour “which is already criminal as well as abuse which might not be captured by the current law.” 

The new legislation will cover controlling and coercive behaviour which is emotionally or psychologically abusive.

Coercive control was a term developed by leading academic Eva Stark.

“Coercive control is not primarily a crime of violence; it is first and foremost a liberty crime. “

” violence is used (or not) alongside a range of other tactics – isolation, degradation, mind-games, and the micro-regulation of everyday life (monitoring phone calls, dress, food consumption, social activity etc).  The perpetrator creates a world in which the victim is constantly monitored and criticised; every move is checked against an unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable ‘rule-book’.” Cedar Network

The issue was covered in BBC Radio 4s iconic programme ‘The Archers’ throughout 2016 where leading character Helen Archer was in a coercive and controlling relationship with Rob Titchener. The programme followed the development of the relationship which witnessed a once confident single parent and businesswoman Helen become demoralised and degraded by the controlling actions of Rob. Even her own child was turned against her.

The relationship became more violent with an escalation not only on the psychological level but with increasing acts of physical abuse and rape. Helen ends up stabbing Rob followed by imprisonment and a long court case which eventually clears her name. The programme also deals with the reactions of the tight knit gossipy community to both characters and the eventual outcome.

The Archers gets around 4.7 million listeners, first broadcast in 1950 and going nationwide on the 1st of January 1951. For campaigners wishing to strengthen the laws on domestic abuse it was an incredibly important story for it to cover and to raise awareness amongst the wider public of coercive control.

domestic abuse home

Police Scotland is to provide extra training to 14,000 officers to help them in assessing situations where coercive and psychological abuse is taking place.

Watch: Police training ahead of new domestic abuse law

Michael Matheson, Justice Secretary in the Scottish Government said:

“Attitudes towards domestic abuse are changing – it’s no longer seen as a private matter, or no business of criminal law.”

“We’re doing everything we can to tackle the scourge that is domestic abuse at every opportunity – supporting victims, tackling perpetrators with enhanced legislation, and also tackling the underlying attitudes and inequalities that very often create the conditions for violence against women and girls to take place.”

“There’s no place for it in Scotland and this new funding will greatly assist in tackling it.”

Watch: Domestic Abuse Campaign 2017

Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, Police Scotland, said:

“Police Scotland is committed to reducing the harm caused by domestic abuse and is working with partners to eradicate it from Scotland. “

“We know that the controlling behaviours, used by perpetrators to maintain power and control over victims, can be both devious and devastating. However to those outwith the relationship, the ways in which a perpetrator will conceal their actions can often make them appear innocuous in isolation.”

” We have committed to this critical training to address these issues so our officers and staff can better recognise the signs of controlling behaviours in domestic abuse, support victims and bring perpetrators to justice.”

The offence in the Bill deals with the abuse of a partner or ex-partner. These are:

  • spouses or civil partners of each other

  • people living together as if spouses of each other

  • people in an intimate personal relationship with each other

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

Related Stories:

Transforming Support for Victims of Rape & Sexual Assault

Equally Safe: Prevention & Eradication of Gender Based Violence

Orkney Rape Crisis 

Sexual violence affects more people in our community that we imagine. Confidential support and advocacy for anyone from age 13. Whether recent or long ago. Whether you report or choose not to. We believe you.

Mon – Fri 9.30-4.30pm or call

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline 08088 01 03 02 6pm till midnight

Women’s Aid Orkney 

01856 877900




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