Abuse in relationships is a huge problem. A reality that goes underreported on a massive scale. Those on the receiving end of abuse tend to feel shame and often blame themselves and as a result they keep silent. Domestic abuse encompasses physical violence as well as verbal and emotional abuse.
A common characteristic of domestic abuse is coercive control. This is where one person in the relationship establishes a pattern of behaviour designed to erode the other person’s self esteem and confidence. The victim’s sense of self is stripped away and their human rights are ignored.
Coercive control is a term and a concept developed by the academic and activist Evan Stark which seeks to explain the range of tactics used by perpetrators and the impact of those actions on victims/survivors. In Stark’s own phrase, the concept explains ‘how one person entraps another in everyday life’.
Examples of coercive control
Isolation, degradation, mind-games, and the micro-regulation of everyday life (monitoring phone calls, dress, food consumption, social activity etc). The perpetrator creates a world in which the victim is constantly monitored and criticised; every move is checked against an unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable ‘rule-book’.
The rules are based on the perpetrator’s stereotyped view of how their partner should behave, rules about how they cooks, house-keep, parent, perform sexually and socialise.
The following types of behaviour are common examples of coercive control:
- isolating you from your friends and family
- controlling how much money you have and how you spend it
- monitoring your activities and your movements
- repeatedly putting you down, calling you names or telling you that you are worthless
- threatening to harm or kill you or your child
- threatening to publish information about you or to report you to the police or the authorities
- damaging your property or household goods
- forcing you to take part in criminal activity or child abuse
Your abuser will be guilty of the offence of coercive control if
- they are personally connected to you, and
- their behaviour has had a serious effect on you, and
- your abuser knew or ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on you.
What does serious effect mean?
Your abuser’s behaviour is considered to have a serious effect on you if:
- on at least two occasions you have feared that violence will be used against you, or
- you have felt serious alarm or distress and it has had a substantial effect on your usual day to day activities. The behaviour has had a substantial effect on you if it has caused you to change the way you live. For example, you may have changed the way you socialise, your physical or mental health may have deteriorated, you may have changed the way you do household chores or how you care for your children. If you have changed the way you live in order to keep you or your children safe from harm, it is possible that the behaviour you are experiencing is coercive control.
How will the court decide whether my abuser knew or ought to have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on me?
The court will decide based on whether a reasonable person who had all the information your abuser had would have known that the behaviour would have a serious effect on you.
Statistics on coercive control
- One study found that 95 out of 100 domestic abuse survivors reported experiencing coercive control.
- Another study found that women are far more likely than men to be the victims of coercive controlling behaviour abuse that involves ongoing degradation and frightening threats.
- HMIC found that 62% of professionals working with survivors said there needs to be improved understanding of coercive and controlling behaviour among frontline officers.
If you think you might be in a relationship with coercive control, get help. I have listed a few resources below. Find the strength, talk to someone.