"Coercive and controlling behaviour is clever. You would have thought a police officer could see it coming, right?"

(129 Posts)
JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 06-Jan-22 14:40:41

Sharon Baker is a police officer and long-time Mumsnet user. She writes here about her experience of domestic abuse as a police officer and how she finally broke away. We estimate that around 6,000 women in the past three years have been helped out of abusive relationships through Mumsnet by our brilliant users. For many women, just being supported to understand that what is happening is not right and is not their fault is the first step.

“Somehow, because of what we do as a job, others see us as stronger and invincible to the same threats they face. Nothing could be further from the truth. My body armour and rank in the police force did nothing to protect me from being a victim of controlling and coercive behaviour at home. Somewhere I was supposed to be safe and loved. I was used to dealing with confrontation at work, running towards danger and helping. I was resilient to being sworn at and people trying to physically intimidate me. As a sergeant, I had to have those difficult supervisory conversations – none of it phased me. But the very things that gave others the impression I was strong actually kept me locked in silence longer.

Coercive and controlling behaviour is clever. It slowly takes away your confidence and your ability to trust your own thoughts and feelings until you’re left confused and unable to make simple decisions. You would have thought a police officer could see that coming, right? Except abusers are masters of manipulation and control. By the time I realised, it was too late. I looked around, I was trapped and I was isolated from family and friends. Here I was leading a team of police officers and, in the eyes of those around me, I was strong. The very fact that I was supposed to be keeping everyone else safe meant I felt too ashamed to admit I was terrified of going home.

I vividly remember scrolling through the Mumsnet forums one day and clicking on a thread about emotional abuse. It was the first time I read the term ‘red flag.’ I read posts from Mumsnetters describing behaviour and seeking advice. I literally stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe it. They were describing my life. I spent many, many more months reading posts, just lurking, wincing when the resounding ‘LTB’ would ring out. I kept burying my thoughts and justifying his behaviour. Being a police officer made it harder. Work was my refuge, somewhere where I could make decisions and have some control. No one had ever talked about being a victim at work. That just made me feel weak. I thought ‘it must just be me’ and it strengthened my feelings of shame. How could I keep my team and the public safe if I couldn’t do that for myself? "So I stayed silent."

The turning point came when the words became more. When I came home and the words ‘it’s over’ came tumbling out of my mouth, I hadn’t planned it, but as soon as I uttered them I felt a huge relief. Naively I expected it would be easy, but I don’t think it could have been any worse. That evening I hid in the spare room and Mumsnet provided me with a haven which I turned to for help when I had nowhere else to go in real life. Posters kept me company as the terror escalated. I did all I could to placate him, keep him calm, using all my skills as an officer but to no avail. I don’t remember calling 999 or what I said. I only remember the sense of fear I had.

While I waited for them, I saw him calm down, change and brush his teeth to hide the smell of alcohol. He only had to say one thing to me - ‘they won’t believe you.’ Scared and confused, I didn’t tell the officers what had really happened. I kept my secret for years. I lived my real life out anonymously, seeking advice and support from discussions. It gave me wonderful strength to know I was not alone.

Last year, that all changed. Now a Chief Inspector, I visited a member of my staff who had been assaulted by her partner. I was shocked at how she blamed herself, and her view that somehow domestic abuse could only happen to those who are weak. I took a deep breath and told her what had happened to me. We both cried. It was an important moment.

She was left shocked that someone who in her eyes was so strong could also be a victim. It gave her strength and it began to wash away the thick layers of shame we both felt. We were not alone.”

Sharon will be coming back onto the thread to answer your questions.

Experiencing domestic abuse and coercive control has nothing to do with how strong you are and it is never your fault. If you’re wondering whether you’re in an abusive relationship, complete this survey from Women’s Aid. You can reach Refuge’s domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247 24 hours a day, or you can chat to someone online. And here is more information about how to cover your tracks online.

You can find the Mumsnet Domestic violence Webguide here and our Violence Against Women campaign page here. There are many campaigns you can join to prevent domestic abuse (you can find some here) and many refuges and organisations you can volunteer at to help survivors of domestic violence. flowers

OP’s posts: |
Wagsandclaws Thu 06-Jan-22 14:59:08

This is so important. Thank you for sharing this, I got away ( a long time ago now ) and it took me 6 years.

Stationfork Thu 06-Jan-22 15:14:55

Thank you for sharing your story Ma'am. Did you crime it all in the end? Any investigation and if so do you now feel protected?

I too have gone through this but it was before I joined the job. Police were never involved.

Cyw2018 Thu 06-Jan-22 15:57:10

My friend is the strongest person I know. She is a mother of 3, a stillbirth survivor, an up and coming politician and a business owner (I don't know where she finds the time).

In her late 20s/early 30s she was in a controlling relationship. To the point that she was "shamed" in front of various friends for cooking him the wrong thing, given a curfew (for no specific reason) when coming out for my 30th birthday, and had a glass smashed against the wall next to her head when she ended the relationship, amongst other things.

If it can happen to her then it can happen to anyone and that is terrifying.

chestnutSquash Thu 06-Jan-22 16:25:05

This is why the MN relationships board is a fantastic resource that should be protected and nurtured at all costs.

Theunamedcat Thu 06-Jan-22 16:27:13

He was right they won't believe you they truly believe my ex husband has the right to know who is in my house who is parked outside my house (public highway) and where I am with "his" children (who he doesn't bother with) apparently I should just tell him it's been 7 years since we split he has been engaged he has refused to sign divorce papers for five years (again perfectly reasonable behaviour for an engaged man) he blamed me and despite me showing them I had filed for divorce they said his story was more plausible and I should just "move on" (I had done nothing but complain about him harassing me)

They don't get it

SandysMam Thu 06-Jan-22 16:36:59

Are you working with your officers to make sure they respond better to these situations? There are so many threads on mumsnet about the police making things worse or being rubbish. Thanks for sharing.


thefourgp Thu 06-Jan-22 17:10:17

Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important. I work as a complaint manager and frequently deal with hostile people. I’m fairly comfortable with confrontation (not that I like it but I’m trained on how to handle it) and I’m confident in getting my point across without being angry/aggressive. But I could never ‘win’ an argument/discussion with my ex no matter what awful thing he’d done. Everything was always my fault. He never apologised and took no responsibility for the misery he caused. It was so confusing and I felt weak and powerless. No-one should be made to feel that way by the person who’s meant to love them the most. Gaslighting, coercive control and emotional abuse needs to be talked about much more openly than it currently is.

Hillarious Thu 06-Jan-22 17:10:52

The Archers handled coercive control excellently. The storyline panned out over a number of years. As the listener you could see how you were drawn to the Rob character and how you can be unaware of someone's manipulative behaviour. He was totally credible as a caring husband.

Hadenoughofthisbullshit Thu 06-Jan-22 17:15:38


This is why the MN relationships board is a fantastic resource that should be protected and nurtured at all costs.

Yes definitely, I left my partner a few months ago. I never even started a thread, But I’d lurked so much that just I knew that I had to LTB. Thanks to you all.

sweetbellyhigh Thu 06-Jan-22 17:19:27

That's a very courageous post and you sound like a very special person.

I have been in abusive relationships and I think I have been abusive. In all honesty I wasn't being "clever", it was simply the only way I knew how to interact having been raised in domestic hell. I know now.

sassbott Thu 06-Jan-22 17:20:56

Such a powerful story, thank you for sharing

spiegelwally Thu 06-Jan-22 17:52:22

Ty for sharing OP.

We need this kind of expertise as police officers often appear to crop up as abusers - and then they protect their own.

xpc316e Thu 06-Jan-22 17:53:11

I too was a police officer who was trapped in a coercive, controlling relationship for 15 years. I am a male and at the time (35 years ago) there was very little awareness of coercion; consequently I felt entirely alone and ashamed to be in a nightmare of my own making.

I did eventually leave and created a new, normal life. Quite where I get the strength to leave from, I shall never know.

JanglyBeads Thu 06-Jan-22 17:54:33

Wow, thank you for this.

I often try to help on such threads. Particularly important to not increase women's sense of shame

Would love to know what you feel you can do to change police attitudes, some of which, IME, can be very harmful.

RandomMess Thu 06-Jan-22 18:09:23

Thank you so much for sharing your story, the more women in careers and seen in positions of power that share I think the more it helps break down the barriers.

So glad you got away thanks

User57327259 Thu 06-Jan-22 18:16:49

Your story has helped me to understand why women who are in jobs that would make me think they were strong enough to see through abuse and even have skills and knowledge to counteract abusers. I escaped years ago, probably because I do not have any of the skills needed to deal with confrontation, abuse or violence. Certain females saw what I refused to tolerate and told a male to leave my property and even congratulated me on getting rid. Now those females have their own abusers and despite their occupation do not seem able to understand their position and escape.
The abusers hate someone like me because I call it out and dont cover for anything.

AdamRyan Thu 06-Jan-22 18:26:07

Thank you
I would never talk about being in a coercive relationship at work as I'm so ashamed of it. But I read this
It made me realise that some of the things that make me a "strong woman" in others eyes is precisely why I'd be attracted to a manipulator.
Hope you are doing OK now flowers

YouCantTourniquetTheTaint Thu 06-Jan-22 18:30:54

This is so vitally important. No one is weak for being a victim of DV and CC, I've had a couple of incidences including being shoved hard off the bed for refusing sex, and a knife being brandished at me, and ugly words being spat at me, I dismissed them as "oh it was just the drink" little did I realise that he was an addict who would eventually crash his car, drunk, and went to rehab. After 3 years of incidents like this I finally ended it when he showed no care to me when my dad died. I couldn't live like that anymore.

I had to move back in with my mum, and 4 years later I'm still here (for unrelated disability issues) but I'm rebuilding and I'm studying criminology and law, I'm going to do my masters, I'm going to be somebody.

For a long time I was a mixture of ashamed and sad mainly for not being strong enough to change him. Now I know I had a lucky escape.

Thank you for sharing your story flowers

MichaelAndEagle Thu 06-Jan-22 18:39:40


This is why the MN relationships board is a fantastic resource that should be protected and nurtured at all costs.

Absolutely. I would still be in my abusive marriage without it.

RestedDevelopment Thu 06-Jan-22 18:42:32

This is why the MN relationships board is a fantastic resource that should be protected and nurtured at all costs.
Had Yes definitely, I left my partner a few months ago. I never even started a thread, But I’d lurked so much that just I knew that I had to LTB. Thanks to you all.

Totally agree with both and this was additionally my experience. If it wasn’t for FWR primarily and other sections on MN it would have taken much longer to escape and much harder and lonelier to recover and rebuild.

I also echo others who say it is imperative that police get a handle on abuse within their ranks and concerted and continuous efforts made to address the appalling levels male violence and male sexual violence.

Words are not enough without action and justice.

Thank you Sharon for your post, in so many ways we have to stop being silent because the shame is the abusers, not ours.

I do wonder how many have remained silent after investigations are dropped by police though, out of fear of being dragged through the courts by the abuser for slander? Because I have to say that the lack of successful prosecutions mean many, many women are faced with their abusers walking free and able to create their own narrative (crazy, lying bitch) feeling they’ve been ‘proved innocent’ purely by lack of police/court action against them.

And it is heart-breaking to hear people mouth off about ‘if it was that bad surely they’d be locked up, not out walking the street’ because actually it is so easy for abusers to escape consequences - and that isolates survivors trying to rebuild their lives even more.

HiltonSq Thu 06-Jan-22 18:45:27

Thank you for sharing.

I'm going to share too if I may. (NC)

With my young children, I was in a coercive and abusive relationship, my husband was a police sergeant.

The OW was also a police officer.

Together they put me through hell.

When I was hurt, OW would say if I reported him, she would cover for him and say I'd made it up.
When he dragged me upstairs by the hair, with the OW waiting for him in the car on the drive, she said she would say she'd seen me walk up the stairs.

If I complained, he told me he would lose his job I would have no maintenance ( what is that?- he never paid anyway).

When I was in the town centre with my husband, the OW would 'follow' us on the CCTV system.
She sent anonymous letters to me and my family, made abusive calls.

His police colleagues covered for both of them.

He lied to the Child Maintenance agency.

When I asked for help, tried to report him, asked the police to find the LO's or to have them returned when he refused, his police line management made me feel I was a neurotic and just a 'wronged' wife.

InAState22 Thu 06-Jan-22 18:56:01

Thank you so much for sharing. I have been supported by Women's Aid for 2 years after leaving a severely coercively controlling marriage.

I wish more police officers had the understanding you describe of coercive control. I have just spent Xmas and NY dealing with police, having had to finally report my abusive EXH to police for harassment of my DS (14) and verbal abuse of me.

Individual officers were great, but I have seen 4 different officers, none of which had read the notes from the previous one. The third one said she would issue a formal warning to EXH and then emailed to say she had run out of time. A totally different officer rang today, with no knowledge of the background, but did ring EXH to issue the warning - two weeks after I first made the report.

Each time I had to re-live the abuse; re-explain why DS has opted for no contact currently: re-send abusive emails and messages. It was re-traumatising.

I wish there could be more education if police about this, and specially trained officers. Or at least for them to read the records.

ArtfulScreamer Thu 06-Jan-22 19:04:10

Just out of interest I wonder if the offender was in the same line of work. I work for the police and have come across several colleagues who are DA victims and often the offender is also a colleague which makes it even harder to speak up and be heard.
I'm fortunate enough never to have been a victim however my brother wasn't so lucky, my ex SIL is narcissistic, manipulative and controlled him throughout their marriage and despite the fact she left him for someone else she's continued to make his life hell, unfortunately as she's a social worker I'm sure she'll be the one believed by those who didn't bear witness to her many tantrums during the marriage.

TheVanguardSix Thu 06-Jan-22 19:18:18

Thank you for sharing such an emotional and traumatic experience.
My question is a bit frank (simply because I am experiencing this right now and am awaiting the CPS to charge my former husband): How can we trust officers to see our manipulative partners' coercive control if they can't recognise it in their own relationships? We're meant to trust your judgement. You're only human and an abused one at that. So how do you confront abuse/DV when you've been a victim of coercive control? How your own traumatic experience shape your approach to other victims throughout your career?
It is a harsh question, I understand. And you don't have to answer. But it would be good if you could.

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