Ellie Flynn looks into Coercive control for BBC Three

Best on the Box: a one-off programme looking into Coercive control.

Coercive control has been illegal in England since 2015, but how well do people understand it, and would they be able to spot it if they saw it happening? To find out, journalist and presenter Ellie Flynn brings together a group of 20 young people aged 18-30 for a social experiment, to see if they understand what constitutes coercive control.

Coercive control describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim. Over the last 18 months, coercive control has hit the headlines following the re-trial of Sally Challen over the killing of her husband.

Over the course of two days, the group watch a specially-written drama telling the story of the relationship between Rachel and Alex, which ends with an accusation of coercive control. As the story gradually unfolds over six parts, the group are invited to come to their own conclusions on what they see, and decide whether they think what they have witnessed constitutes a crime in the eyes of the law.

At each stage of the process, the group has the chance to vote on whether they think there is anything wrong with the actions of Rachel or Alex, before finally voting on whether they believe any of these actions constitute the crime of coercive control.

As the drama progresses, it becomes clear that there are a variety of different perceptions of the events. Some think that what they are being shown amounts to normal behaviour in a relationship, while others believe that a line is being crossed. But how many believe a crime is being committed? And how many are convinced that they know what that crime is?

Finally, the group hears from barrister Clare Ciborowska, who analyses what the group has seen, explains the law and answers the question posed by the drama: is this coercive control?

Is This Coercive Control, streaming now on BBC Three.

Geoff Metcalfe has been controlling his wife Yasmeen in Coronation Street.

Coercive control has been highlighted on television in ITV’s Coronation Street with the storyline of Geoff Metcalfe and Yasmeen Nazir showing the disturbing effects of coercive control relationships.

Announced by Corrie in June 2019 the programme-maker, ITV Studios, worked closely with Women’s Aid and Independent Choices Greater Manchester.

“It’s common for people to think abusive behaviour has to be physical – but you can damage someone profoundly without laying a finger on them. Many thousands of people feel trapped in relationships with someone who claims to love them but who is actually taking them apart piece by piece, isolating them from friends and family and locking them in an invisible prison of fear and insecurity.” – Coronation St producer Iain Macleod speaking in 2019

ITV execs when researching for the plot were told that an estimated 1.2 million women experience domestic abuse every year in England and Wales while the CPS recorded 960 offences of coercive and controlling behaviour where a prosecution commenced at magistrates’ courts in the year ending March 2018. Merseyside Police domestic abuse data found that 95% of coercive control victims were women and 74% of perpetrators were men.

With the covid-19 ‘lockdown’ these figures are expected to be higher for 2020. The Corrie storyline continues currently, with Geoff still ‘off the hook’ for his abuse, but his past actions are starting to catch up with him.

“Often, the abusive behaviours accumulate and intensify over time so that you don’t realise it’s happening – it’s an insidious type of brainwashing. I hope this story will help anyone going through similar experiences in the real world by highlighting that feeling undermined, belittled, controlled or intimidated by your partner is never okay. The old “sticks and stones” adage is just plain wrong – words can be instruments of torture and manipulation.” – Coronation Street producer Iain Macleod

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