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Coercive control

Reference to statistics about domestic abuse “incidents” are only a small part of the full picture. Domestic abuse is not an individual “fight” or a one-off act. It is a pattern of behaviour. Most women who ask for help have been subjected to a pattern of domination, sometimes over many years, designed by the perpetrator to isolate, degrade, exploit and control them. This is known as “coercive control.”

Often when people think of domestic abuse they think of physical violence, but domestic abuse can be much more than that. For many women who live with domestic abuse there may be no scars, bruises or broken bones, but instead, emotional and psychological wounds which may never heal.

Abusers will say and do anything to justify these crimes. “Look at what you made me do” is the common refrain and excuse. Sometimes victims do not realise they are being abused. This may be because they’ve always been treated badly and expect nothing else. Or, when they’re told it’s all their fault, they believe that to be true – they must be a bad person, wife, mother, etc.

Women often hide the abuse because they are frightened or feel ashamed. And abusers are very careful to hide what they are doing, too.


A pattern of Abuse

Here are some of the behaviours you may experience if you are a victim of domestic abuse. Some of them are physical, but many more involve emotional manipulation, “messing with your head” to the extent that you may doubt your own sanity.

Some specific, controlling behaviours that the abuser can use:

  • No matter what you do, it’s wrong.

  • May be jealous of your family, friends, or even their own children. Often imagines partner is having an affair.
  • Is aggressively bad-tempered: either flares up over every little thing or lets anger build up and finally explodes, perhaps then carrying on as if nothing happened.
  • Tells partner it’s all their fault, or projects their own faults unto them (“if you didn’t…., then I wouldn’t…”). In effect, brainwashing you.
  • Manipulates facts (often called “gaslighting”), so that you question your sense of what’s real.
  • May have a Jekyll and Hyde personality, so that outsiders may not believe the woman when they tell them what’s happening.
  • May try to isolate their partner, discouraging them from seeing family and friends, from working or getting a better education. Controls access to money.
  • Uses verbal assaults (insults, put-downs, slanderous names)
  • Will do whatever it takes to drive their partner away, then whatever it takes to get them back.
  • Physical abuse frequently follows a pattern, e.g. some men always hit the woman in the face, others are careful to hurt her where the bruises won’t show.
  • May minimise the seriousness of the abuse or deny it completely. After an incident the abuser may fail to understand why their partner remains upset.
  • May use technology to intimidate and control. Trackers, smart locks, webcams and social media, or sharing revenge porn, are the latest weapons in the abuser’s toolkit.
  • May come from a family where the women and/or children were abused, so such behaviour feels normal.
  • May play with weapons such as knives or guns in a manner designed to intimidate.
  • May have other problems with the law, or with alcohol or drugs, which can make the abuse worse. But alcohol or drugs do not cause abuse – and are no excuse!

You can find out more by watching these real-life story videos produced by Scottish Women’s Aid.

Amira’s story

Shona’s story

I feel safer knowing BWA are supporting me

I feel more in control and hopeful because of BWA support

You’re amazing and your support is what keeps me going

I feel amazing, in control, a different person

Speaking to a support worker has made me feel safer in my home