Jail-break stories seem to have a timeless appeal. Whether it’s The Great Escape, Shawshank Redemption, Chicken Run or Prison Break – something in us loves to root for people as they break free from their cells. No matter whether their incarceration was justified or not, we always believe in the inmate’s fight for freedom. Despite the fact they are just doing their job and keeping civilians safe, we always hate the guards who keep the inmate captive and work against their escape.
This article is continuing our ‘Dominator’ series on the various aspects of domestic abuse by looking at the persona of ‘The Jailer’. Abusers who assume this persona are like the corrupt prison officers we love to hate in films – they are power mad, destructive, manipulative and hell-bent on taking away their prisoners liberty. The main difference is their ‘prisoner’ is not a convicted criminal enduring just punishment, but an innocent victim of abuse.
How does a jailer gain and maintain power and control over their victim?
A jailer uses isolation to control their victim. A jailer will be vigilant in checking mileage on cars, bank statements and your phone. They will tell lies, manipulate and deliberately sabotage things to keep you isolated. Some of the tactics a jailer may use are:
- Stops you from working and seeing friends: having a job and relationships with people promotes independence. You don’t have to rely on someone financially or relationally if you have other options. Working and having friends maintains confidence, self-esteem and individuality as well as broadening your horizons. Interaction with and exposure to others enables you to measure your own experiences against the norm in order to see the truth of them. All of these things work against the Jailer’s objective of keeping their victim wholly dependent and submissive to them. The last thing they want is for you to have your own money or for you to have friends to turn to or who encourage you in your worth as a human being. It’s better for your jailer for you to have nowhere to turn and no belief in your ability to survive without them. The Jailer may prevent you from working by convincing you to let him take care of you, by wearing down your self-esteem or by causing you to loose your job. They may prevent you from seeing friends by outright banning it, or more subtly by causing division, manufacturing conflict or being so unpleasant that no-one wants to come round.
- Tells you what to wear. One Jailer might insist his victim stays in tracksuit bottoms and baggy jumpers – stating he doesn’t trust his victim to not have sex with other men if they look attractive, or even that they simply aren’t attractive so they don’t deserve to wear nice clothes. Another Jailer might insist his victim wears provocative or revealing clothes, to make them exposed, vulnerable and only good for one thing. Whatever the clothing requirements, this tactic is used as another way to take away the freedom and liberty of the victim. Just as prison inmates have to wear standard-issue clothing to remind them that they are at the bottom of the chain and have no access to rights and individuality, the Jailer enforces their own dress code to the same affect.
- Keeps you in the house. This is quite literally imprisonment, which could be enforced both physically or psychologically. A Jailor may lock their victims in the house or hide car keys to physically keep someone in the house. Or they may make their victim so afraid that they stay put when told to do so, or they may make them feel that the only place they are safe is in the house. Or they may refuse to look after your children so you have to stay at home with them. A Jailer knows that their jurisdiction can’t extend everywhere, so they make their victim stay in the place where they wield the most power.
- Seduces your friends/family. To everyone else the Jailer can appear to be Mr Charming. He is friendly, funny and familiar. He wins your friends and family’s affection as well as (subtly) their loyalty. So when he turns off the charm behind closed doors, you doubt that anyone will believe you when you try to confide in them. No one gets suspicious when communication begins to flow through him, or when he tells them that you’ve stayed at home with a ‘headache’.
What to do if you’re living with a jailer
If you’re living with a jailer then please know there is a way for you to break free. You do not have to continue living in captivity. As we state in each of these articles, each abusive relationship is so unique it would be irresponsible to write our ‘top tips for dealing with jailers’ in this article. Instead our advice is to please visit one of our One Stop Shop or Drop In services where one of our experienced and friendly team members will listen to your story and work with you to stay safe and, if you want to, become free from the abusive relationship. In the mean time, here are a few tips for staying safe with a jailer:
- Until you have worked with a professional to create a plan for how to leave the relationship safely, avoid letting them know you are thinking of doing this. Any signs of you taking back control may cause the abuser to escalate their methods of power and control.
- Try to maintain contact with people outside of your relationship. Don’t trust everything your abuser says about them – including what he says they have said about you or done to him. If it’s possible and safe to do so, consider getting a second mobile phone that he doesn’t know about.
- If possible make copies of important documentation such as passports, bank documents, rental/mortgage agreements etc and hide them somewhere so that if you leave you have copies of all these.
- Do what you can to maintain independence, even if it’s only small things. This is important to help you maintain your individuality, to have a support network and to maintain your self-esteem.
- Confide in someone you trust.
- If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, call 999.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of relief when a prisoner escapes the guards and breaks free. If you’re living with a Jailer then you could enjoy that feeling of relief for real. Remember you haven’t done anything wrong, there is no possible crime you could have committed which would justify your being imprisoned by a partner. Please contact us so that we can help you begin your journey towards freedom today.
In our next article in the Dominator series, we will looking at the persona of The Headworker.