What is coercive control?
Coercive control has become a relatively well known term in recent times. A coercive control storyline had recently played out in popular British soap opera Coronation Street and was also the subject of a BBC 3 documentary Is this coercive control? (2020)
The term coercive control was coined by American Sociologist and founder of one of America's first women's shelter's, Evan Stark in 2007. Stark's book, named Coercive control was an absolute game changer in regards to how people viewed domestic violence and was cited as "one of the most important books ever written about domestic violence and one that should be widely read by advocates, policymakers, and academics" (2007).
Prior to Starks book, most people (including the law) viewed domestic violence as primarily physical; meaning that abuse victims were only really taken seriously if they had been physically assaulted. Using case studies and reports, Stark introduced the idea that domestic violence can also take form in a pattern of controlling behaviours, resulting in women feeling like prisoners in their own home.
This form of abuse is finally being recognized and taken seriously- Coercive control is now a criminal offence, that carries a maximum of 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. In September 2020 the UK government made learning about coercive control at school compulsory.
There were 24,856 offences of coercive control recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2020 (see Domestic abuse prevalence and victim characteristics – Appendix Tables, Table 20). This is an increase from 16,679 (excluding GMP) in the previous year (www.gov.co.uk)
Psychologist and Psychotherapist Dr. Fontes lists coercive behaviours in her book Invisible chains (2015):
Belittling and degrading
The controlling person makes himself feel better by making their partner feel worse. People who intentionally practice coercive control deliberately belittle and degrade their partners, leaving their self esteem damaged and feeling powerless. This is similar to gaslighting, however in the case of gaslighting the abuser would make the victim feel as if they have imagined the abuse, or are over reacting, making a fuss over nothing.
Areas abusers target
Often abusers will target their partners strengths. For example, they may have a good job that they enjoy, so the abuser then criticizes their choice of career, or their competency in their role.
Other times abuser will play on their partners insecurities. For example, if they feel insecure about their weight, they may hone in on this and criticise their appearance or tell them they need to go to the gym.
However coercive control is more than insults!
Dr. Fontes points out, importantly, that belittling of a coercive nature is more than the throwing of insults that can happen in relationships. When coercive control is taking place, the insults are one sided, more extreme, more constant.
An abuser may refuse to talk, listen or respond to his partner for long periods of time. This is an exercise of control that serves as a punishment for the victim. Having distance from your partner after a row is quite normal, however in coercive control, the abuser ignores their partner when they have done nothing wrong. This leaves the victim feeling powerless and confused.
If you feel you are in a coercive relationship, please seek help. You can contact the police about this- it is their job to take you seriously. If you don't feel ready to do this and are based in the UK, you can call the 24 hour domestic violence hotline on 08082000247 or visit their website nationaldahelpline.co.uk . Alternatively, if you feel you would like therapy to explore this, please see my website www.victoriajeffriestherapy.com and I would be happy to explore this with you, at your own pace.
Below is a link to an interesting article on BBC three, where a young woman describes her experience of coercive control:
Good books on coercive control
Invisible chains by Lisa Fontes, PHD
Look what you made me do - Helen Walmsley-Johnson
Coercive control- How men entrap women in personal life by Evan Stark