Breaking the silence surrounding coercive control

Annika Howard
Helplines Partnership | Ryan Hart - Keynote speaker at 2019 Annual Conference

At this year’s Annual Conference, where the theme was Strength in Numbers, our keynote speaker was Ryan Hart, a White Ribbon Ambassador and Refuge Champion.

On 19 July 2016, Claire and Charlotte Hart were murdered in broad daylight by the family’s father using a sawn-off shotgun. He then killed himself.

Ryan and his brother Luke, the two surviving sons, now openly share their story to raise awareness of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Identifying coercive control

Coercive control is insidious, it does not have to involve physical violence, there may be no physical bruises and those who are being controlled may not recognise it.

Ryan spoke about how the family had always been dominated by their father, but they had not recognised themselves as victims of domestic abuse. They had simply perceived their father’s behaviour as unpleasant and aggressive, but never considered him to be dangerous.

Ryan’s brother Luke says that ‘coercive control is like murder with a million pin pricks over many years.’

It wasn’t until the brothers were in the police station, after the murders, that they saw a poster on the wall about coercive control and realised it was a description of their father and his behaviour.

Common examples of coercive behaviour are:

  • Controlling your finances
  • Depriving you access to support services
  • Depriving you of basic needs
  • Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
  • Isolating you from friends and family
  • Making threats or intimidating you
  • Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
  • Monitoring your time
  • Repeatedly putting you down
  • Taking control over aspects of your everyday life

Domestic violence is completely absent in a third of all cases of domestic homicide. Coercive control is present in almost all domestic homicides.


Domestic abuse is isolating. Abusers will isolate their victims, by making social relationships difficult or uncomfortable to maintain. It is isolating for the victims of abuse, feeling they are alone with nowhere or no one to turn to for support.

Be aware – be alert

It’s not just down to the police to deal with, respond to and be aware of domestic abuse. Ryan said “strength in numbers is quite an apt term. Victims of domestic abuse will often talk to other people before they go to the police.”

One of Ryan’s key messages is that people need be aware and alert to potential cases of domestic abuse. Professionals, such as estate agents, letting agents and teachers, who come in to contact with families and individuals - it is in their power to notice the signs and question what they are witnessing.

Ryan shared an example of the locksmith who came to the family’s home to open a safe when they were moving his mother and sister out of the family home. Their father had locked away their mother’s passport and personal documents.

“The locksmith knew we weren’t breaking into the house. We were breaking out and fleeing. He didn’t ask any questions about two men loading up a removals van on the drive and needing to break open a safe. It was clear to me that he had seen situations like this before.”

Ryan and Luke now train police officers, community support officers, NHS staff and legal professionals to raise awareness of domestic abuse and coercive control. They show how people can support individuals and families in that situation.

Don’t take the journey on your own

If you recognise that you might be domestic abuse situation, there are services out there that can help. Part of what an abuser does is to make you feel that you are responsible for your situation and the chaos in your life.

It’s not for you to have to solve it on your own. It’s almost impossible to do it on your own especially with financial control. There are people and organisations who can help. Seek out and accept the help from charities and the police; not just to flee, but afterwards too. There is help when you feel ready, at every stage. You don’t have to do it on your own.

Sources of help, advice and information

Thank you to Ryan for sharing his, and his family’s story, and being so open and honest in his keynote speech at our Annual Conference. Luke and Ryan have released a book ‘Remembered Forever’, telling their story and challenging myths and stereotypes surrounding abuse and coercive control. You can find out more on their website CoCo Awareness.

If you or someone you know would like more information about organisations offering help, advice and support you can find details on Find a Helpline.

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