Look beyond the violence: coercive control

A couple of week ago I was able to experience a lecture by Evan Stark, author of ‘Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life’. I say “experience” as oppose to listened to, because a lecture by Evan Stark is a performance, which touches the part of your brain where inspiration lives. Everything Evan said got me thinking, “Yes! That’s exactly right!” and left me wanting to work even harder for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I want to share some of those “light bulb” moments with you, so you may also feel inspired to help make a difference and force some change for the better.

Evan asked us to “look beyond the violence”. He explained that in our law system, crimes are punished based upon their seriousness. In terms of violence, the level of harm to the victim determines the level of punishment. He told us that typically, day-to-day domestic abuse incidents do not result in criminal offences that are punishable at a very high level. The persistent and unrelenting day-to-day assaults upon a woman, in her own home, dished out by the person who she should be able to trust, do not reach a level of seriousness which would constitute a heavy prison sentence, unless they are recognised in context. Unless they are recognised as a “course of conduct,” intended to erode any sense of self of the victim, intended to imprison the victim within the relationship, intended to remove any liberties that the rest of society are able to enjoy, and ultimately, intended to coercively control every single aspect of the victim’s life.

This is coercive control and coercive control is now a criminal offence.

Coercive control is the reality of day-to-day life for many women.

Imagine not having a choice about any aspect of your life: what to wear, what to eat, what time to get up, what time to go to bed. Imagine waking every-day, making a promise to yourself that you will do whatever is needed to stay out of the firing line of your husband/partner. Imagine then finding out that the rules of the game have changed, and that you don’t know what to do to stay out of his firing line because he has moved the goal posts. Everything you do is wrong.

Imagine that you are also trying to protect your children from experiencing this abuse – and it’s not enough to say they are ‘witnessing’ the abuse – they live within this environment, so they too are experiencing the abuse that their mother is subjected to– even if they are not physically harmed or directly targeted.

Imagine that you have professionals telling you that you are failing to protect your children by staying in this relationship, that you are not putting their needs before your own because you are choosing to stay with your abuser. They tell you that if you were a good mother you would be going into a refuge, away from your home, from your friends (if you have any left – chances are your abuser has worked his magic and got rid of them already), away from your community and the only sense of control you feel you have over your life.

Imagine, that you do manage to end the relationship, only to be told by the family courts that your husband has rights of contact with your children, and if you don’t uphold the court order for contact you will be punished. They say in court that you are the problem, he is only violent to you, so if you aren’t there the children will be fine. They take into account the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you have been left with following the years of beatings and mind games and they wonder if the children might be better off with their dad, who has a good job and no mental health problems….

This is the reality for the women SATEDA supports.

This is not about violence alone, this is about the systematic erosion of a person’s sense of self. This is “intimate terrorism,” a human rights crime of liberty, which every single agency, and every single professional who works with victims of abuse and their families needs to “get”. Whether your focus is the children, the crime, the housing situation, the mother, the family law, YOU have a duty to understand the complexities and the nuances of what women who are coercively controlled are living with. Otherwise the victim will be re-victimised by the system that is meant to be in place to support her.

Spare four minutes and watch Evan Stark explain this himself.

Please share this with others.

Take care of yourself and each other




If you would like further training to help you understand the complexities of coercive control and domestic abuse, then get in touch with SATEDA by emailing admin@sateda.org

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