PICTURE the scene – you’re in a relationship where you’re being told who you can and can’t talk to.

Your partner has control of your money, your contact with your family, you’re told what to wear, or that everything you do is terrible or embarrassing.

These are some of the traits of coercive and controlling behaviour, of which Essex Police investigate hundreds of cases, with more than 400 in 2020 alone.

However, just 22 of those cases resulted in someone being charged or summonsed to court. Around 86 per cent of cases were dropped due to difficulties in gathering evidence.

Abusers who admit or are convicted of controlling and coercive behaviour on their partners can be jailed for five years, for behaviour such as isolating them, exploiting them financially, depriving them of basic needs, humiliating or threatening them.

Legislation was introduced five years ago to tackle the “insidious” form of domestic abuse but the figures show that the majority of allegations do not reach court.

Chief Supt Andrew Mariner, Essex Police’s lead for domestic abuse, has shared the challenges police face when investigating the crime.

He said: “Unlike acts of physical violence which are sometimes more obvious, controlling or coercive behaviour is a hidden harm crime where the victim is controlled by the perpetrator in other ways.

“Anyone, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality or social background, can be a victim.

“It has a devastating impact on victims and their families and due to the nature of this abuse, the signs may not always be obvious.

“Victims are often controlled in all aspects of their lives including access to money, loved ones and communication channels.

“This can make the job of the police and our partners really challenging in some cases. “Unfortunately, not every investigation meets the threshold for a charge for this specific crime and when that is the case, we endeavour to pursue action with other crimes such as assault, harassment or malicious communications, or orders such as Domestic Violence Prevention Orders to support victims.

Most recently, south Essex saw the case of Angela Kingston, who was jailed for two years for the offences against her husband and two sons.

The drug-addicted 43-year-old of Rochford Garden Way, Rochford, took control of the family’s finances and used every scrap of cash to buy drugs.

She would steal her sons’ games consoles and other possessions and her older son would often put her in the recovery position. When they confronted her about her parenting, she would say she would kill herself.

The issue has also featured in ITV soap drama Coronation Street, which saw Geoff Metcalfe inflict the behaviours on partner Yasmeen Nazir.

The new figures are likely to reflect a “significant” number of crimes that did not meet that prosecution threshold, according to Louisa Rolfe, assistant commissioner at the National Police Chiefs Council.

She said in such cases, officers work to safeguard victims and build cases should abuse worsen, adding: “This is still relatively new legislation and we are determined that we will use it effectively to better protect victims and bring dangerous offenders to justice.”

Lucy Hadley from Women’s Aid described the proportion of cases closed due to evidential difficulties as “really concerning” but acknowledged that gathering evidence in such investigations was a known challenge.

She said it was vital that “all judges, prosecutors and police officers truly understand coercive control and are confident in investigating, evidencing and prosecuting this crime.”