A GROUP that supports victims of crime and abuse across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of coercive control and emotional abuse in relationships.

The Victims First initiative is called ‘Know this isn’t Love’ and focuses on early warning signs of controlling behaviour and emotional abuse to help victims spot potential signs within their own relationships and seek support.

Coercive control became a criminal offence in 2015 and involves an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse by a perpetrator that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victims.

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Although many people associate domestic abuse with physical violence, coercive control recognises the damaging impact of other forms of abuse in relationships as well which can range from monitoring someone's activities and controlling their finances to making threats and repeatedly putting them down.

Victims First, which is managed by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, recently surveyed victims of coercive control across the three counties and had 670 people respond, describing 811 relationships.

It found one third of people had been in more than one abusive relationship, half of the abusive relationships began when the victim was under the age of 25 and 45 per cent of respondents were in the abusive relationship for more than 10 years.

Oxford Mail:

The most common types of behaviour were verbal abuse, isolation from friends and family and emotional abuse, including gaslighting – manipulating someone into doubting their sanity.

Matthew Barber, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Controlling and emotional abusive relationships have an extremely damaging impact on victims’ health and wellbeing.

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"Victims are unable to live their lives to the full and it can slowly erode their confidence and self-belief.

“Due to the psychological abuse they may be living in constant fear and uncertainty, feeling watched and controlled at all times, resulting in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts."

Oxford Mail:

He added the primary aim of the campaign was to help people experiencing abuse, some who may be in the early stages of a relationship, to recognise controlling and abusive behaviours.

Wendy Walker from Victims First said: “Abusive behaviour in a relationship is not only physical violence, it can be isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your time or behaviour, threats or verbal abuse, putting you down or controlling what you do or wear.

“Victims often describe it as feeling like they are walking on egg shells, never knowing what behaviour to expect.”

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She added: “This can create an enormous sense of anxiety. It is also not uncommon for people experiencing this type of abuse to be left confused and not sure what is happening and whether it is abuse.

“Abusers will often blame the victim and use a psychological technique called gaslighting to manipulate the victim into doubting their sanity.

Oxford Mail:

“If anyone needs help then Victims First is here for you. We know it can be hard to describe what you have been experiencing but if you contact us we will listen to you and we will work with you to get you some support.”

Anyone affected by coercive control or domestic abuse can access support through Victims First on 0300 1234 148 or online at victims-first.org.uk.