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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 26-Jan-17 16:26:42

The power of coercive control

Domestic abuse legislation broadened in the last days of 2015 to include coercive control - and guard against it. Author Alice Keale describes her two year ordeal at the hands of the person who was supposed to care about her most.

Alice Keale

The power of coercive control

Posted on: Thu 26-Jan-17 16:26:42

(54 comments )

Lead photo

*Author not pictured

- 1 in 4 four women will experience domestic abuse during their lifetime.
- Approximately two women are killed by their partners or ex-partners every week in England and Wales.
- There are, on average, 35 assaults before a victim calls the police.
- The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 1 in 10 recorded crimes is domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is a huge problem, affecting a staggering 2 million people in the UK. It is a subject that has recently been brought to the forefront of both the political and news agendas, and on 29 December 2015, a new criminal offence of domestic abuse, 'coercive and controlling behaviour', came into force. But despite the vast scale of the problem, it is still a largely invisible crime that takes place behind closed doors and is perpetrated against women - and men - who, for one reason or another, are too afraid to report the crime to the police.

That was certainly the case for me. Like most other women, I imagine, I thought it could never happen to me. I believed I was too sensible to become the victim of a bully, and in any case, my loving family and friends would never allow me to get myself into such a situation. But my own experience has taught me a very harsh lesson - that it can happen to anyone and that when it does, it is incredibly isolating, debilitating, depressing and can be potentially life-threatening.

Almost six years ago, I met someone at work who was charming, intelligent and handsome. Within a matter of months, the 'love of my life' had transformed into a monstrous abuser who tormented me both physically and emotionally for the next year and half, until, thankfully, the relationship ended. His abuse not only left me severely traumatised, but also resulted in me losing my career, my home and all my money. As a result, I have spent the last four years painstakingly attempting to rebuild my life.

I had to answer questions while hooked up to a lie detector, and often had to endure being locked outside at night until the early hours of the morning, wearing nothing but my underwear.


For me, violence and emotional abuse began very quickly. Within a matter of weeks of meeting my 'perfect boyfriend', I felt trapped, in fear of my life and unable to escape. The first five weeks of the relationship had been a storybook whirlwind romance, full of grand loving gestures and plans for the future we were going to have together. Suddenly, I found myself sleep deprived – kept awake for most nights by a barrage of questions about my past, subjected daily to acts of violence, whilst being told that it was all my fault and that I had to make him better.

I continuously had to prove my love to him by meeting his outrageous demands. I had to answer questions while hooked up to a lie detector, and often had to endure being locked outside at night until the early hours of the morning, wearing nothing but my underwear. In addition, I had to spend all my savings on taking him away for holidays to exotic locations – holidays that should have been trips of a lifetime, but that became more painful memories of physical and emotional torment.

The speed with which the abuse began and escalated, as well as the 'methods' he employed to bully and coerce me, made me feel trapped – even though, in reality, I had countless opportunities to escape. He very cleverly and quickly isolated me from all my family and friends, so that I had no contact with anyone who could have helped me. Then he stopped me working, and soon I had no money and no home of my own.

Continual sleep deprivation, constant questioning and repeated violence wore me down so that I began to doubt myself and to believe his lies – that I had turned this 'perfect man' into a violent abuser and that it was my responsibility to fix him.

The power of controlling, coercive and emotional abuse is often underestimated. It certainly had a frightening hold over me, to the extent that I was almost brainwashed into believing that I had no way out of the horrific nightmare I was living.

Throughout the relationship and afterwards, my family and close friends were incredible. They never gave up on me, trying numerous times to intervene, even involving the police, and I know I wouldn't be where I am today without their continued love and support. Despite their attempts, however, it took me almost two years to be free of him and his abuse. In fact, inconceivable as it may seem, I didn't ever find the strength to walk away from him and I might still be living the same nightmare today if he hadn't told me to leave.

So although I can appreciate why many people can't understand why anyone wouldn't walk away from domestic abuse, I know from my own experience that, presumably for psychological reasons, doing so isn't as simple as it might sound. For some people, the reason might be financial, because they have dependent children and nowhere else to go if they leave the family home. For some, it's the fear of violence. For me, it was, at least partly, guilt because I thought I was somehow responsible for my partner's transformation from loving, perfect boyfriend, to violent bully.

Even now, when I am slowly beginning to get back to a sense of normality again, there are still moments when all the doubts return and I have to remind myself that I did not create the 'monster' that my partner truly was. Such is the power of coercive control.

If You Love Me by Alice Keale with Jane Smith is published by Harper Element and is available from Amazon.

By Alice Keale

Twitter: @HarperNonFic

Swanny Thu 26-Jan-17 18:05:15

Phew, this is a tough topic. It's stirred up many emotions in me, which will have to settle somewhat before I can write anything other than 'Well done Alice for regaining your own life'.

fiorentina51 Thu 26-Jan-17 19:08:13

Horrific treatment. So glad she was able to break free.
Just one point I'd like to make. It's not just women who can suffer at the hands of a controlling bully.

new.mankind.org.uk/survivors-stories/

ffinnochio Thu 26-Jan-17 20:15:14

Men were mentioned in 2nd para florentina51 .

Not easy to write about Alice. I hope your book helps others. flowers

fiorentina51 Thu 26-Jan-17 22:25:13

Noticed that after I pressed the post button.
Must read posts thoroughly. 😮

Iam64 Fri 27-Jan-17 08:26:59

1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse
2 women a week are killed by partners/ex partners.

I don't dispute the fact that men can also be subjected to abusive or controlling behaviour from their female partners. So far as we know, the figures are significantly lower than those for women. Women may be more likely to report or call the police, especially as abuse is less likely to be dismissed as 'a domestic' than it might have been 50 years ago. Story lines on soaps and in the Archers recently, have highlighted the issue of abuse against women. I'm not having a go at previous posters here but it never ceases to surprise me, how quickly women are t jump and and extend any discussion on the abuse of women to include male victims.

Anya Fri 27-Jan-17 08:42:40

I had a friend who was subjected to domestic violence. We all tried to make her leave him for years but all she would say is 'But I love him'. It wasn't until she found evidence that he has been sexually abusing his step-daughter that she found the strength to leave him.

Iam64 Fri 27-Jan-17 08:49:37

Anya, I hesitated in my previous post to point out the links between men who abuse their female partners whilst at the same time, abusing the children. Sexual abuse of children, statistically, is linked to physical, emotional, coercive control of women.

Mumsy Fri 27-Jan-17 09:19:16

Emmerdale is running a storyline at the moment about coercive control, finding it hard to watch as it brings back bad memories.

Iam64 Fri 27-Jan-17 18:56:08

The Archers story line raised bad memories for many listeners Mumsy. I know it's difficult for those of us who have been too close to domestic abuse in its various forms but I do believe it's much better to have it out in the open and discussed.

Christinefrance Fri 27-Jan-17 19:22:27

The trouble is it starts so simply then escalates insidiously without the victim being aware.
I can understand how women / men fall prey to someone who apparently cares for them to the exclusion of everyone else. It's good that awareness is being raised in many ways about this and maybe victims will recognise what is happening.

dahlia08 Sun 29-Jan-17 10:37:03

I know someone who is in that situation. I don't live close to her. We use to speak on the phone but not any more. I have been told not to contact her. So I am not sure what is the situation now. I am in the hope of hearing from her soon. Still waiting...

barbaralynne Sun 29-Jan-17 11:49:57

I am an Archers fan and 40+yrs ago was in an abusive relationship. It was only listening to the Archers that I finally was able to admit to myself that I had been raped repeatedly in my first marriage. It was so difficult to listen to it but it has helped me understand more. I was only able to leave him and take my 2 small children because he went off to Australia to take exams and I was then able to tell my parents what was going on.
Alice, I totally understand how difficult it was for you to leave. They destroy our self confidence and make us believe we are useless on our own and only they will ever "love" us. Thank you for telling your story and getting people talking about about this.

LindaWW Sun 29-Jan-17 11:57:51

My daughter's husband is a coercive controller (verbal, emotional, financial and verbal abuse. He has also been violent). He uses my 4 year old Grandson to control her over contact and handovers - lateness, etc. Her life is a misery and she has found it hard to leave. It is, I understand, akin to the Stockholm Syndrome - "I won't kill you today, I'll kill you tomorrow". The abused becomes grateful for not being killed as a protective measure.

Yorkshiregel Sun 29-Jan-17 13:12:16

So sad, but I have seen this happen twice to people I know. One a woman, one a man. It sounds so easy to say NO and walk away but this is done so gradually that the victim does not realise until it is too late and they are traumatised in to inaction.

Took a long, long time but now the Government has woken up to the abuse and the abusers will face prison....not a moment too soon imo. The biggest obstacle is getting the victim to report the abuse.

tigger Sun 29-Jan-17 13:15:28

It's hard to describe why you just cannot leave an abuser, especially where there are children involved. But I found the courage in the end after 23 years and have never looked back.

Caroline123 Sun 29-Jan-17 13:44:48

I'm finding it hard to watch emmerdale too.
My naive husband just can't see what's going on!

Ellie13 Sun 29-Jan-17 13:51:36

My ex bullied me for 25 years, then did me an enormous favour and left me, even though I was completely at a loss, my life was so much better. I'm now married again to a lovely man who treats me with love and respect. Men and women who ate bullies never change, it's their weakness they force on to other people. There is always life after a bad relationship.

TriciaF Sun 29-Jan-17 14:02:16

What is it with some men, who need to control their wives? Where does it come from? My Dad wasn't like that (he didn't have a chance in an all female family.)
My husband is very kind and generous, but he does seem to speak to me as if I was a child sometimes. I soon put him right. I know his father was very controlling with his mother, though not abusive as far as I know.
I suppose there are women who are control freaks too, but not so many.

GillT57 Sun 29-Jan-17 14:10:20

I watched with horror the slow unfolding coercion and isolation that one of my daughter's friends went through ( not being allowed to see friends,not allowed to wear make up, not being allowed to sit exams etc) She is now out the other side of it, but I cannot forgiver her parents who were so wrapped up in their own selfish lives and divorce that they would not listen to what they were being told. The Police have been wonderful to this young girl ( she is only 20) and have been a great support.

Elrel Sun 29-Jan-17 14:19:13

I lost touch with a dear friend when she remarried. Years later found her H was now with his bf's wife so got back in touch. I thought she just been busy but no. This kind, accomplished, highly educated woman had been told not to contact me and other friends. Wish we'd heard of coercive control. Wish she had! She was a hardworking successful psychiatrist.

Iam64 Sun 29-Jan-17 20:05:55

Eirel, I know a hard working, successful professor who was in the same position as your friend.
There was criticism of the Archers storyline but one of the key issues for me was that it de-bunked the myth that abuse doesn't happen in middle class or professional families.

downtoearth Sun 29-Jan-17 21:57:08

My daughters relationship was exactly as described....she committed suicide because of it

absent Mon 30-Jan-17 05:19:56

The coercive behaviour undermines your belief in yourself. If you are repeatedly told that you are worthless, ugly, a whore, stupid, lying, and, perhaps,reinforced by physical violence that is always denied as if you are completely mad, you begin to wonder about your own sanity. I can remember staring at a mirror when I had two black eyes and bruises across my face and bite marks across body trying desperately to convince myself that what I saw was real. My elderly mother had just been admitted to hospital and I had said that I couldn't go and see her in the state I was in. My partner asked "What state? What marks on your face?"

Absentdaughter had stayed at her father's house the previous night and was horrified when she returned and saw the state I was in. Poor child – but I was grateful that someone else confirmed that I was genuinely hurt and not imagining it. I lied about what had happened.

He stole my address book; he accessed my computer. He rang my friends and told them that I was unstable and that they shouldn't keep in touch. He told my local friends not to talk me and not to make me laugh. It chips away at your self-belief and your sanity. Ultimately, he pretended to strangle me, counting my pulse as he squeezed my throat, with my daughter asleep in the room next door. Four times in one night – quite apart from other things that I cannot bring myself to describe to anyone even after all this time.

absent Mon 30-Jan-17 05:23:08

Sorry everyone, but I have just sobbed my heart out after posting that. I thought I was over it and the man in question is dead.