70% Of People Failed To Spot The Signs Of Coercive Control In Social Experiment
In one-off special Is This Coercive Control?, journalist and presenter Ellie Flynn brings together a group of twenty young adults to assess the fictional relationship of Rachael and Alex.
In a series of brief clips, played out on screen by two actors, the group see a party-loving Rachael lose her job after one too many nights out, seeing her become more dependent on high-earning boyfriend Alex.
While Alex seems to be kind and caring - buying Rachael gifts and letting her move in rent-free, there's a general unease that underscores their relationship, with things getting worse for Rachael as time passes.
After telling her that her clothes are "too slutty", Rachael starts to wear oversized, baggy jumpers and not wear make-up. Alex then goes on to secretly change numbers in Rachael's phone so she can't contact her friends, and displays violent tendencies by smashing plates in front of her.
He gets her drunk so she misses job interviews, but then subsequently turns all the situations back on Rachael, so she ultimately feels she is to blame.
But despite this established pattern of abusive behaviour, the majority of the group were willing to overlook Alex as causing any wrongdoing.
A total of 55 per cent of the group believed Alex wasn't aware of how his behaviour was affecting Rachael, while 70 per cent did not believe he was guilty of a criminal offence.
One man involved in the study even went as far to say that while he accepts Alex's behaviour was morally wrong, it did not warrant him to receive a criminal record.
However, relationships expert John Kenny told Tyla that coercive control is a form of abuse.
"Coercive control is defined as pattern of behaviours that are used to frighten, harm, punish, intimidate or humiliate. In relationships it is about creating an unequal power dynamic," he explained. "It is a form of abuse."
Kenny outlined six key behaviours to watch out for if you fear you may be in a controlling relationship, with the victims facing threatening behaviour, verbal abuse and gaslighting.
They may also experience "controlling" behaviour, using money, sex or other factors to get you to do what they want you to do.
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"They may deny you autonomy and freedoms," Kenny continued. "They take control of your life by checking your phone (or even insisting on knowing your passwords etc), saying if you can go out or not. They may turn the ones you love against you - this can be family or friends, leaving you reliant on the relationship you're in.
"On the whole it is an abusive form of manipulation that the perpetrator uses in order to overcome their own emotional insecurities, as coercive control would not be needed if someone didn't have maladpative behaviours."
The participants in the social experiment, who all recognised Alex's behaviour as abusive by the end of the study, were stunned to learn the coercive control was made illegal in the UK in new laws put in place in 2015.
The offence will carry a maximum of five years' imprisonment, in addition to a substantial fine.
Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation Karen Bradley said: "No one should live in fear of domestic abuse, which is why this government has made ending violence against women and girls a priority.
"Our new coercive or controlling behaviour offence will protect victims who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives by the perpetrator.
"We are sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and that emotional and controlling abuse will not be tolerated."
However, as coercive control often stops short of physical violence, it is often difficult to prove in the court of law - as explained in Rachael's story, with Alex walking free.
But things are set to slowly be improving in the UK, with 77 per cent of domestic abuse-related CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) prosecutions were successful in securing a conviction between 2018 and 2019.
Lisa King, Director of Communications and External Relations for Refuge UK told Tyla: "Controlling behaviour often takes place in private, domestic settings. It can be incredibly subtle, perpetrated through manipulative attempts to limit a woman's freedom in ways even she does not recognise.
"Extreme jealousy and possessiveness are often dressed up to look like 'care' or 'concern', but anyone forced to alter their behaviour because they are frightened of their partner's reaction is being abused."
With the UK set to enter a second lockdown, King recognises it is not always as simple for a woman to leave.
"There are many practical and psychological barriers to ending a relationship with a violent partner and it can be an especially dangerous time for women, as the perpetrator will often feel as though he is losing control," she said.
"Leaving is not a single act - it is a process that takes time. Women and girls may be afraid of what her abuser will do if she tries to leave. She may not know how she will cope financially or may be worried about her children. On average, a woman will attempt to leave seven times before she makes the final break.
"It takes a great deal of courage to leave someone who controls and intimidates you, but there is support available and you are never alone."
Is This Coercive Control? is available to stream on BBC iPlayer
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Featured Image Credit: BBC
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