Controlled by my partner? How to spot and stop coercive control

Ruth Dodsworth explores the crime of coercive control and what needs to be done to stop this insidious domestic abuse.

In 2015, a new offence was brought into law making coercive and controlling behaviour a crime.

But how much is known about this often hidden form of abuse?

ITV Weather presenter Ruth Dodsworth, herself a victim of the behaviour, investigates coercive control, how to spot it and, crucially, how to stop it.

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviour in which an abuser controls their victim’s life, systematically removing their independence and support network and coerces their victim through verbal intimidation, threats and/or physical abuse. 

It’s a pattern Ruth knows all too well, having suffered years of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, who is now in prison for coercive and controlling behaviour.

Ruth shares her story of being swept up in a whirlwind romance where she misread early signs of jealousy and possessiveness in her husband as proof of his love for her.

"I had no idea that the threats and manipulation my ex-husband used for almost a decade were actually a pattern of criminal behaviour," she said."

"He would call me dozens of times a day, wanting to know where I was and who I was with. He would check my phone and even delete contacts from it.

"He would turn up at my workplace, or insist that I leave the studio to eat lunch with him in his car."

Ruth says for years she still did not realise how bad things had got and she didn’t recognise her husband’s behaviour as criminal until the police turned up to arrest him in 2019 after their children became concerned for her safety.

Ruth says that until police explained the signs of coercive control she had not recognised them herself. 

Ruth meets other victims of coercive control who share their experiences and stories.

The programme also features experts and charities who provide details of what more needs to be done to protect people from this type of abuse.

"It is the most dangerous form of domestic abuse that there is. It is the form that is most likely to lead to serious harm and even to homicide," said Professor Jane Monckton-Smith.

"So we have to be able to identify it. And we have to be able to recognise when it's escalating and things are getting more dangerous.

"If you get into a relationship with somebody who is controlling, there are red flags. One of the biggest is that they are routinely jealous and possessive.

"We tend to interpret that as love. We need to start interpreting that as control."

The programme explores the ways in which coercive control is being tackled by police forces across England and Wales, and whether enough is being done to protect victims and ensure perpetrators are being brought to justice.

The new law was designed to protect those afraid in their own homes, but Tonight has found that whilst reports of this form of domestic abuse have gone up, convictions are not following suit.

The programme sent a Freedom of Information request to all Police forces across the UK and found that while reports of coercive control to police in England and Wales increased from over 7,000 in 2018 to more than 14,000 in 2020, over the same period there were less than a 1,000 convictions for this offence. 

The Home Office told Tonight that “coercive control is an abhorrent crime” and said that later this year the Domestic Abuse Act will be expanded to widen protection to victims, including those who do not live with their abuser.

It also acknowledged that more needed to be done to “support those who are pursuing justice through the courts” and, to that end, updated guidance would shortly be published.

PC Mike Taggart of North Wales Police advises: "Please don’t suffer in silence. For general safeguarding advice and support; victims who are being subjected to domestic abuse can call one of the national helplines or in an emergency, call 999 for an immediate police response."

'Controlled By My Partner? The Hidden Abuse' is on ITV Hub

Helplines:

  • England: Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

  • Northern Ireland: Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline 0808 802 1414

  • Scotland: Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 0800 027 1234

  • Wales: Live Fear Free 0808 80 10 800

Useful organisations: