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Walking on Eggshells: almost 4 in 10 Mumsnet users say they have been in a controlling or abusive relationship

A new Mumsnet survey to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, run in partnership with Women’s Aid and Surrey Police, reveals that 38% of the survey respondents say they have been in a controlling or abusive relationship* with a partner – but almost a quarter (24%) of users who said they had been in a controlling or abusive relationship told no-one about any incidents of controlling or abusive behaviour.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 15, 2021

Woman looking scared

Mumsnet surveyed 1,002 Mumsnet users on their experience of coercive and controlling behaviours in their relationships in an online survey. Despite the high numbers who acknowledge that have been in a controlling or abusive relationship, only half (51%) of respondents are aware that coercive control became a criminal offence in 2015.

"It took me so long to realise I was even in an abusive relationship – education about this is so important. Plus, I believed so strongly that it was my fault that I didn't seek help at the time."

The three organisations have also produced a documentary on coercive control titled 'Walking on Eggshells', featuring testimonies from survivors and commentary from Women’s Aid and Surrey police.

One fifth (21%) of users who said they had been in a controlling or abusive relationship reported it to the police. Users were more likely to disclose their experience of coercive and controlling behaviour to a friend or family member than the police, with 45% of users disclosing to a close female friend and 31% disclosing to a close family member.

"My partner didn’t outright 'ban' me from doing stuff or seeing people etc – they just go on about it and grind you down until you give up for an easy life."

The most common coercive and controlling behaviours ever experienced by respondents in their relationships, whether they identified the relationship as abusive or not, include:

  • Being put down, eg being told that they are worthless: 52%

  • Being isolated from their friends and family: 44%

  • Having their time monitored (eg by making them come home at a certain time): 43%

  • Having control taken over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep: 35%

  • Having criminal damage committed which made them feel fear or threatened (eg destruction of household goods): 35%

"I was slowly isolated from family and friends, told what to spend money on or not on, social media accounts taken over & male friends removed … I was put down and became a shadow of myself."

Over a quarter of respondents also said that they have had a partner who financially abused them (26%), enforced rules and activity which were humiliating, degrading or dehumanising (27%) or made threats to hurt or kill them (28%).

60% of all survey respondents said they suspected that a friend or acquaintance was in a controlling or abusive relationship.

Mumsnet Founder Justine Roberts said: “We see so many conversations on Mumsnet in which users make disclosures about their partners’ behaviour. Most of the time, the person being controlled doesn’t realise that their partner’s behaviour is wrong, let alone criminal; they’re often asking for advice about how they can make their partner happier. We’re very proud of the many Mumsnet users who give a name to this behaviour and support those experiencing it.”

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “No survivor should face domestic abuse alone. All too often abuse that does not leave bruises is not taken seriously enough. Yet we know from our work with survivors that coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic abuse. It is a subtle form of abuse, a slow poisoning, that often a woman may not even recognise until the abuse escalated to the point that the barriers to escaping seem insurmountable. It can also take months, years, sometimes even a lifetime, to heal from this devastating form of abuse if she cannot get the support she needs to rebuild her life after experiencing domestic abuse.

“By teaming up with Mumsnet and Surrey Police, we hope that this documentary will put a spotlight on coercive control and help bring this form of abuse from out of the shadows. For any survivor who watches it, we want you to know that you are not alone, Women’s Aid is always here to listen to you, believe you and support you.”

If you are worried that your relationship, or that of someone you know, is controlling or abusive, you can contact the Freephone 24 hr National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit If you are in immediate danger, always dial 999.

What is coercive control?

  • Coercive and controlling behaviour is a repeated pattern of intimidation, isolation and control that abusive partners use to instil fear in the victim to hold power over them.

  • It is a form of domestic abuse, which may occur without any physical violence inflicted and has a long-lasting and devastating impact on the survivor.

  • It was made a criminal offence in December 2015 yet it is still a largely misunderstood and underreported crime.