As family lawyers, it is not uncommon for us to see manipulative and abusive behaviour referenced in a divorce petition or in an application for an injunction. However, particularly within the last year, we have seen an increasing reference to ‘gaslighting’ and coercive control. We believe that this has coincided with television programmes using their platform to raise awareness of such behaviour; mirroring what is happening within households across the UK.
In 2012, the government produced guidance on coercive control, defining it as an act or patterns of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
Controlling or coercive behaviour
In 2015, Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. This means that such behaviour could now result in the Crown Prosecution Service pursuing a conviction. Despite the legislation being in place, many victims still wrongly believe that a physical assault has to take place for abuse to be criminalised.
In 2020, Coronation Street’s Geoff and Yasmeen portrayed a coercively controlling relationship which left Yasmeen isolated and repeatedly humiliated by Geoff’s torment. Hollyoaks have more recently followed suit with the portrayal of abuse in a same sex relationship. Well-loved and confident character John Paul McQueen has been left similarly isolated from his family with shocking scenes at the beginning of January 2021, highlighting how behaviour can escalate into physical abuse.
How has Hollyoaks shown coercive control?
Firstly, John Paul is becoming isolated from his family and friends. George suggests that John Paul move in with him. Presented as a caring gesture, viewers will see that this is an attempt to remove John Paul from his supportive family and to monitor his movements. This is common with many victims losing their support network, and friends not realising the real reason for their withdrawal of communication. This highlights the importance of checking in with friends and family members that you may be concerned about.
Secondly, we have seen gaslighting; where an abuser will make a victim question their sanity or perception of reality. George physically assaulted John Paul and then repeatedly denied that he had done so. At the same time, he brushed this off as them both consuming too much alcohol and painted himself as the victim.
Recognising a controlling partner
Many victims of coercive control do not realise that such behaviour from their partner is controlling. As solicitors, we hear stories from clients who have been made to believe it is normal for their bank cards to be withheld or for their partner to become angry when they see friends without seeking approval beforehand. What programmes such as Coronation Street and Hollyoaks have done is open up conversations as to when a loving and concerned partner crosses the line to become a controlling partner.
Many victims live in fear of their partner and the repercussions of reporting them. However, it is hoped that television programmes will encourage victims to find the strength to speak to their local police who will consider if the behaviour has crossed the line into a criminal offence or speak to a family solicitor in relation to leaving the relationship or seeking protection via an injunction.
About the author
Zoe Worthington is a solicitor in dealing with all aspects of matrimonial breakdown including: divorce, financial matters and disputes concerning children. I also advise clients in respect of co-habitee disputes and Separation Agreements. in the family team at north west law firm SAS Daniels LLPLast modified: February 16, 2021