The CAFCASS ‘Tool’ for Assessing Coercive Control

Be prepared

In several posts I have already described how CAFCASS go about assessing families and anyone being assessed by CAFCASS should read the relevant blogs and also can go to their website.  

Find out what’s likely to happen and how CAFCASS conduct their assessments.  It’s really important that you know what CAFCASS might ask and what they will focus on.  You can be prepared for what’s ahead and be ready to frame your statements in a way that will help the court understand your case. 

Don’t go to court, to appointments or into assessments blind. The better you understand what’s required of you and how to deal with important issues the better you can make your case. So do your research and understand the processes. Then you can fight your corner more effectively. 

The ‘Tool’ for assessing coercive control 

This assessment tool has been developed by CAFCASS but is based on the DASH tool devised by Safe Lives https://safelives.org.uk/ . You can find DASH here

CAFCASS say that this tool should be used when there are signs of coercive and/or controlling behaviour in the relationship.  The purpose is to get more detail.

It has a series of main headings followed by examples.  The assessor can add any other relevant behaviour raised by the victim.  The assessor has to decide if the particular example behaviour of the potential abuser occurs ‘always’, ‘to some extent’ or ‘never’ and to take account of the note on gender (see below) in each example. 

Restricting freedom

  • My partner isolated me from family and friends
  • My partner told me what to wear
  • I was not allowed to go out without permission
  • I was not allowed to use the car
  • Medical care was denied to me or to the children
  • I had to account for my time when I had been out
  • My partner was jealous about who I spoke to when I was out
  • I was accused of having affairs
  • I was deprived of basic needs/food/sleep
  • My partner tracked my phone location to monitor my whereabouts
  • My partner monitored my messages, e mails and social media account

Emotional abuse

  • My partner belittled and abused me in front of the children
  • My partner insulted me in front of family and friends
  • My partner insulted my appearance
  • My partner called me names and swore at me
  • My partner had rules which I had to follow
  • My partner withdrew affection
  • My partner threatened to find me if I left
  • My partner did not let me tend to the children
  • My partner told me I was stupid or crazy
  • My partner instructed the children to abuse me

Intimidation and threats

  • My partner physically abused me
  • My partner used the threat of physical abuse to control me
  • My partner changed their mood for no reason
  • My partner destroyed my or the children’s possessions
  • My partner threatened to harm or did harm the children as a punishment to me
  • My partner threatened to or did ruin planned events
  • My partner threatened to take the children away
  • My partner threatened to kill me in a way which made me believe it
  • My partner raped me
  • My partner humiliated me sexually
  • My partner abused the family pet
  • My partner drove the car in a reckless manner
  • My partner blamed me for making them angry
  • Economic abuse
  • My partner denied me money
  • I was not allowed to spend money on myself or the children
  • I had to account for everything I spent
  • I had to ask for basic necessities
  • My partner spent money on themselves only
  • I was kept in the dark as to our finances
  • My partner went through my belongings for evidence of spending

CAFCASS guidance on conducting the assessment. 

The assessor will talk through the form with the victim (and should comment on their use of the term ‘victim’) and determine the nature and intensity of the behaviours and ask relevant questions around current perceptions and safety. The purpose of this task is to consider how the disclosed/alleged behaviours may still be affecting the victim either as a current risk (i.e. they are ongoing), or whether the impact is more psychologically affecting and the victim still feels controlled or coerced. 

CAFCASS say the tool should be used to establish the risk with regard to:
  • The nature of the behaviour and primary perpetrator and 
  • The extent to which these factors were present in the relationship 
“Your assessment should establish:
  • The extent to which these factors remain present in the relationship
  • The current risk to victim and child
  • The impact on parenting capacity
  • The impact on the child
  • Mitigating protective factors”

They add that “This tool is a guide only. It is to be used in conjunction with complementary tools and as part of a holistic assessment process.”

CAFCASS Definitions

Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour is defined as “a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”

Coercive behaviour

Coercive behaviour is defined as “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. Coercive control involves repeated, ongoing, intentional tactics which are used to limit the liberty of the victim. Those tactics may or may not necessarily be physical. They can be sexual, economic, psychological, legal, institutional, or all of these. By deploying these tactics the abuser can create a world where the victim is constantly monitored or criticised and every move and action checked. Victims often describe coercive control as not being ‘allowed’, or having to ask permission, to do everyday things; and being in constant fear of not meeting the abusers expectations or complying with their demands. The term walking on eggshells is often used.”

The CAFCASS Note on Gender

“Research both nationally and internationally is clear that victims of coercive control are overwhelmingly female and the perpetrators are male, whereas situational couple abuse has greater gender symmetry.  For those using this tool where men are victims of coercive control, the tool should be used with full knowledge of the current research base as above and relevant gender notes included as appropriate.”

Interpreting this paragraph is difficult – does it send a message that the overwhelming gender imbalance in the ‘current research base’ (which most CAFCASS officers will not actually go and review and understand), should make CAFCASS officers sceptical of  men claiming to be victims of coercive control?

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