If you are anything like me, it might have taken you years to figure out you were in an abusive relationship because it didn’t involve physical violence. That is the most overt form of abuse, but even physical violence is part of a pattern of coercive control and typically not an isolated incident. As it turns out, someone can be greatly harmed with words, actions, manipulations, lying, gaslighting, jealousy and possessiveness, financial control or refusing to work, multiple affairs, chronic irresponsibility, and physical and sexual intimidation. As I’ve said before, one adult can control another adult, there are myriad examples outside of interpersonal abuse between intimate partners, such as clergy abuse, a boss over an employee, controlling family members, professors over students, self-help gurus, even clinicians over patients. However, when it comes to intimate partner abuse, we seem to hold womxn to a higher (double) standard than the above cases, and expect them to just leave even when their safety, or their children’s safety, or their financial survival may be at play. This mentality abuses survivors further as it holds them, not the abuser, accountable for what happened to them.
What if I told you that the pattern of behavior listed above is actually a crime, punishable by law? It absolutely is in the United Kingdom, partially due to the efforts of criminal analyst Laura Richards http://www.laurarichards.co.uk. This lady has a long law enforcement and advocacy résumé, including being one of the foremost experts on stalking and coercive control. You can currently access her work on the Wondery podcast “Real Crime Profile” (note: trigger warning).
From Laura Richards’ website:
Coercive control is a strategic pattern of behaviour designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate. The victim’s every day existence is micro managed and her space for action as well as potential as a human being is limited and controlled by the abuser.
Initially lovebombing and charm may occur to get the victim into the relationship. Gaslighting, isolation, economic control and financial abuse and rules and regulations are gradually introduced over time once the victim is emotionally invested as well as a consequence if they are broken. The rules apply to the victim rather the perpetrator creating a double standard and the victim fears the consequence if she breaks a rule.
Over time, coercively controlling behaviour erodes the victim’s sense of self, their confidence and self-esteem, agency and autonomy.
The abuser creates an unreal world of contradiction, confusion and fear. Moreover 51% of victims do not even know that they are being abused, manipulated and controlled.
Coercive control correlates significantly to serious harm and homicide.
Could coercive control become a crime in the United States and around the world? I certainly hope so, as it would begin to hold abusers accountable for the immense harm they do to their victims, even years after survivors leave. Some don’t leave with their lives. But none of this will change without awareness or advocacy. Currently in the U.S., unless you are physically assaulted, you can prove financial fraud, or your property is destroyed, you have absolutely no recourse to hold your abuser accountable. Watching them continually get away with their repeated abuse of womxn is excruciating to live with, and I can tell you that from lived experience.