Men becoming 'increasing victims' of coercive control, legal experts claim

Gabriella Swerling
Legal experts are reporting rising number of coercive control cases with male victims - Getty Images

Increasing numbers of men are becoming victims of coercive control relationships as their partners threaten to restrict access to children, legal experts claim.

The growing trend has been reported among lawyers who said they are seeing more and more cases of male clients who have become entangled in “unhealthy” coercive control relationships.

Coercive control - a pattern of behaviour which seeks to strip the victim of their liberty and sense of self - is usually associated with female victims. It became illegal to subject someone to coercive control in December 2015 following landmark legislation which paved the way for new charges to be brought where there is evidence of such behaviour in domestic abuse cases.

However male survivors and lawyers said that less social stigma surrounding men who speak out, combined with increasing numbers of cases where women threaten to take full custody of children, has led to rising numbers of cases with male victims.

According to research seen by The Telegraph, more than a third of men in the UK have admitted to being a victim in a coercive control relationship.

However more than half of respondents (53 per cent) reported having experienced some kind of bullying or controlling behaviour at the hands of their partner. This was the exact same percentage of female respondents who said they had been in this kind of relationship.

The research was commissioned by IBB Solicitors and conducted by independent research agency Atomik amongst 1,000 men and 1,000 women aged 18-65.

Kate Ryan, a family law partner at IBB Solicitors, said that in the 15 years she has been practicing she has seen an increase in cases for both male and female victims from all walks of life including professionals.

“I think there are more men coming forward now it is more acceptable and there is better support out there in terms of mental health and psychological support.

“There are also a lot of charities helping and generally society has less stigma around the subject so men are feeling there is less of an issue coming forward and speaking to police and lawyers telling them that they’re experiencing this kind of relationship.

“For some of them it has been going on for years and years. Even women don’t feel comfortable coming forward and as that’s becoming less of an issue for them, so it is for men. I think we’ll see a lot more of this as things go on.”

Ms Ryan said that regarding the trend of women “using” the child as leverage to threaten their partner into staying in the relationship is “100 per cent quite common”.

“Family courts, particularly where children are involved, are quite renowned with supporting women, and I think women know that and use it and know that their children are a hard-hitting point - yet that’s manipulation”.

She said that financial control, manipulation and checking up on where partners are also common features in coercive control relationships.

“The male element is coming out and undoubtedly there are other males like this who have experienced this and they will start to come out, easy with new definition of coercive behaviour.”

The research also found that amongst those who said they had experienced bullying or abusive behaviour, nearly half of men (48 per cent) said they did nothing about it - significantly higher than the figure for women (33 per cent).

In contrast, women were much more likely to say they had ended the relationship (37 per cent) compared with only 16 per cent of men experiencing issues.

Jane Wilson, a solicitor advocate at Hall Smith Whittingham who specialises in domestic abuse cases, said: “I think it’s good that males feel able to come forward now and talk about their abusive experiences. I suppose we have seen more women coming forward alleging abuse than men but we do see more and more men coming forward with allegations.”

Laura Guillon, senior associate at Hall Brown solicitors, added that fathers are often concerned about access to children during or following the breakdown of a relationship.

“I think it’s something that couples know will hurt the other one, and it’s certainly a threat.  It’s becoming more acceptable for men to be able top express their feelings compared to ten years ago.”