Domestic abuse is more than just physical violence: it is often an attempt to strip away the victim’s confidence, sense of self, and freedom. How may we understand it? Who are the experts?
Some of the experts are psychologists with PhDs. Here’s the Cedar Network, Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery. Note the delicacy of that title: human beings heal, and the healing process can be painful.
In Scotland, instead of using the term domestic violence, we use the phrase domestic abuse in order to emphasise that it is not about fights, that abuse is on-going and that it comprises much more than physical violence. This is not to say that verbal and/or physical fights do not take place between partners, but it is important to distinguish between these and the social concern that is domestic abuse. It is dangerous to dismiss on-going abuse as a fight or a one-off act of violence.
However, some confusion remains, and even when we acknowledge the emotional, psychological, financial and sexual elements of domestic abuse we still focus primarily on acts of violence in our discussions and responses to domestic abuse. Talking about coercive control means that it is not only another phrase for domestic abuse but it helps us to rethink what constitutes domestic abuse.
It 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 men entrap women in everyday life’.
To my educated eyes, this is simple language assuming no knowledge, yet it does use long words. No: it explains the concept to someone who might think of the crime as Normality- who might not notice it as particularly objectionable in a friend’s relationship, or even in her own. People need awakened to this. People are manipulative because others can be manipulated.
Violence is used (or not) alongside a range of other tactics – 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’.
Or we can break it down into particular types of behaviour. This pdf is a checklist of behaviours the controlling partner may use to isolate the other, and monitor and control her personal activities, education, work, money, health, body, intimacy, and relationship with authorities or with children, making her feel afraid, threatening harm, or harming her. Does he- ask you detailed questions about your activities? Make demands about sex? Block you from taking exercise? Remember that people may be unconscious of this. Bringing it into consciousness is painful and necessary.
It is now a crime under the Serious Crime Act 2015. There are clear safeguards here against prosecution, except in severe cases: This offence is constituted by behaviour on the part of the perpetrator which takes place “repeatedly or continuously” . The victim and alleged perpetrator must be “personally connected” at the time the behaviour takes place. The behaviour must have had a “serious effect” on the victim, meaning that it has caused the victim to fear violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, or it has had a “substantial adverse effect on the victims’ day to day activities”. The alleged perpetrator must have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim, or the behaviour must have been such that he or she “ought to have known” it would have that effect. As with rape, most victims will not see a prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service notes that perpetrators may be highly manipulative.
Victims may respond to abuse in a number of ways including consuming drugs or alcohol, and/or by showing signs of humiliation, detachment, anger, and retaliation. Victims may also interpret abuse very differently including expressing feelings of guilt; this might depend on their social or cultural context.
Oh, God. Guilt.
Or we can know it through stories. I heard of a woman whose controlling partner objected to her being more educated than he, and using long words he did not understand. By the time she killed him she was monosyllabic, hesitant about saying anything. I met a woman who had been charged and acquitted of murder, after her former partner had broken into her house and attempted to rape her while she slept.
The first successful conviction in South Yorkshire was of Mohammed Anwaar, who abused Gemma Docherty. He told Miss Doherty who she could see, what she was allowed to wear and what not to eat. He forced her to use a treadmill every day, showing her pictures of other women’s bodies and telling her she did not look as good as they did… Abuse can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation, or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps or dictating what they wear.
The paper also gives a voice to the woman. In part, anyway: Miss Doherty described how she no longer had any self confidence and was worried because Anwaar had a large family and she didn’t want to go out in case she saw them. “He ruined my daily life,” she said. Superintendent Natalie Shaw, force lead on domestic violence, said, “I would also like to praise the bravery of the woman involved in this case as well as the work of the officers, which combined has helped to bring about this successful conviction”.
These are the voices I want to hear. What is it like? How may we escape, or protect ourselves? How may we celebrate overcoming it? You can only hear the reality of the experience through the woman’s words. The Family Court Matters blog says, ANYHOW, so when someone male with a Ph.D. or who is published seems to “get” what “coercive control” IS, my mind is curious, say, who IS that dude? She knows he is an ally, and that he is helpful; and yet-
Or, it seems that such control is built gradually, insidiously. The victim is not to blame. Er, is that patronising-?
UK Government pdf on crime. Crown Prosecution Service guidelines. Report on Gemma Docherty.
Family Court Matters blog.