Define the Line

  • Define the line smallerMore than half of young people have experienced controlling behaviour in relationships
  • A third say that how a controlling partner had treated them prevented them living their life
  • Two in five think these types of behaviours are not talked about enough
  • Almost one in three young people say they find it difficult to define the line between a caring action and a controlling one
  • Over a third would not know where or who to turn to for support if they were experiencing the issue

In March 2017, Refuge and Avon undertook extensive new research into how young people are experiencing non-physical violence in their relationships. The study – and the event to launch it – marked International Women’s Day 2017 and ten years of the Avon Foundation supporting Refuge and other women’s charities across the world.

infographic 180 x 328The findings

The research – which included focus groups and in-depth interviews with 16-21-year-olds as well as an online survey – found shocking levels of non-physical violence in their relationships. More than half said they had experienced controlling behaviours from a partner, and more than a quarter said that a friend, or someone they knew, had been a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship. You can view the findings via this infographic.

He wont let me see my friends 328 x 180Why does it matter?

It matters because domestic violence is all about control. It is systematic, patterned, purposeful behaviour on the part of the abusive man to control his partner. If we are ever to reduce domestic violence, we need to give the younger generation a clear message: no man has the right to control and abuse his partner, and healthy relationships are based on equality and respect. For support, click here.

Event panel LK pic 180 x 328Launch event

‘Define the Line’ was launched at an event at London’s Somerset House, hosted by the Avon Foundation, just ahead of International Women’s Day 2017. At the event, Avon announced a donation of £250,000 to Refuge to support its services. It was attended by international domestic violence practitioners and included a video message from Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP and a speech from Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Home Office Sarah Newton MP.

Sarah Newton MP at event LK pic 180 x 328Impact

As well as high-profile political engagement, Refuge and Avon secured widespread media coverage for the ‘Define the Line’ study – with the help of Bethany, a 19-year-old survivor of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour. The research featured on Channel 5 News, Reuters, BBC World, CNN and LBC.





Bethany got together with her ex-boyfriend when she was 16. Initially, it was a happy relationship – he was charm personified and made her feel like she was on top of the world. As their relationship developed he became more and more controlling. Bethany bravely shared her story as part of the ‘Define the Line’ campaign.

Bethany 1“I didn’t realise it at the time, but my ex forced me to push people out of my life, and slowly isolated me bit by bit. It was incredibly subtle – he would wait until I’d had an argument with a family member and then convince me I didn’t need them and should cut them out.


“I understand now that most abusers isolate their partners – if you isolate a woman, it means she’s less able to access support and more reliant on him. That’s what he did to me. Slowly but surely, he made it so that he was my only outlet for anything – he convinced me he was the only one I needed.


“He was extremely jealous and possessive. I couldn’t have male friends – or if I did that must mean I was cheating on him. Relationships with anyone else were seen as a threat, so I eventually gave them all up. I had cut out everything and everyone in my life; everything revolved around him and what he wanted. I was made to do things and act in ways that I never would on my own.


“I stayed with him out of fear that he would kill himself. He used to threaten suicide and it was absolutely terrifying. I felt like it was my responsibility to stay with him in order to keep him alive. So I did. People might question why I went back, but when you’re so tightly wrapped around someone’s finger, you do everything you can for them despite how badly they’re treating you because that’s exactly how a controlling partner operates.


“The pain, physically and mentally, that I’ve suffered from the whole situation has been excruciating, but I would also say that there is life after abuse. Talking about what happened to me and working with Refuge has been really empowering. I can stand here now and say I am safe and happy; I have a new boyfriend and I am enjoying my studies and feeling positive about the future.”