• 2 min read

What is coercive and controlling behaviour?

Hipster couple drinking coffee in Stockholm old town.

In recent news, the American actor and producer Jonah Hill has been accused of using controlling behaviour towards his former partner Sarah Brady, a professional surfer.

Ms Brady has produced copies of communications purportedly sent to her by Mr Hill in which he sets out a list of requirements which he expected her to comply with in order to be in a romantic relationship with him. It is alleged that Mr Hill dictated how Ms Brady could conduct her social life; her work life; what she wore and what she posted to social media.

What is coercive and controlling behaviour?

Clients often refer to their former partner’s behaviour within the relationship as being coercive and controlling, but what exactly is coercive and controlling behaviour?

  • Coercive behaviour –the legal definition of coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.
  • Controlling behaviour – the legal definition of controlling behaviour is an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

At first glance, the communications allegedly sent by Jonah Hill to Sarah Brady appear to be controlling in that he set out a list of requirements which would have the effect of making Ms Brady subordinate to him and regulate her everyday behaviour. The behaviour may also be considered coercive if Mr Hill was found to have harmed Ms Brady, punished or frightened her by restricting her ability to work as a professional surfer; by insisting that she did not surf with men or promote her work by dictating what she could or could not wear in photographs and her posts on social media.

Is coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal offence?

In the UK, coercive and controlling behaviour is a criminal offence under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the police therefore have the power to investigate allegations and charge an alleged perpetrator who would then be subject to a criminal trial. In criminal proceedings, the Court must be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the alleged behaviour has been domestically abusive.

How do the civil courts treat coercive and controlling behaviour?

Within the context of family law, the civil Courts have the ability to make findings of domestic abuse if satisfied that it is more likely than not this behaviour has been used by one person against another person where both are aged over 16 years and are personally connected to each other. If there are children of the family and findings of domestic abuse have been made, the Court must then go on to determine what arrangements are in the best interests of the children’s welfare.

How can Trethowans help?

If you believe you may be suffering from coercive and controlling behaviour in your relationship but are unsure as to how best to proceed, the Family team at Trethowans offer an initial free consultation so that you can receive advice about the options available to you.

Call us today on 0800 2800 421 or make an enquiry here to book your free initial consultation.

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