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A Conversation on Coercive Control

Do we understand the subtle and insidiousness of this behavior?

This past week on Instagram Live we opened the discussion of coercive control. In this week’s blog post, we’ll unpack this with more depth to really understand the behavior and how it can be seen in the greater understanding of domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse Laws

What makes the issue of redress for victims of particular concern is that for years the understanding of domestic abuse interventions has a basis in the “violent incident model” (Stark,2007) and not on what should be viewed as a continuous, ongoing pattern of oppression that has forms of psychological, emotional, patriarchal, and intimate terrorism – or what should be referred to as “Coercive Control.”

Coercive control is subjugation of one individual by way of power over another. There are multiple layers of action that can be viewed in this category. What is unfortunate, is most legal and clinical people helpers are not trained to see the difference in these two arenas or the connection between them.

Without accurate law, we are at the mercy of the social justice system of the public square for acceptable human behavior. This is very dangerous as evidenced by decades of clients who have been inhumanely treated by their husband and the micro-systems around these victims that have protected the perpetrator.

Morality Cannot be Legislated

“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless” (King).

My position on this issue at hand is that in large measure, the way human beings treat other human beings is as much a moral issue as it is a social issue. What we permit among ourselves as human beings play greatly into what people can get away with and even what laws can be developed to protect innocent individuals.  

The interactions between a married or partnered couple are often seen as private matters. There are many human behaviors that we do not regulate or legislate legally. There is some wisdom to this. The error, if one exists, and I believe it does, is in minimizing the many types of interactions that do not fit the “violent incident model” as presently constructed.

Coercive Control – Explained

Though there is no agreed definition in the literature. Coercive Control can be viewed as a pattern of domination, or an exercise of power used by one human over the will and well-being of another human. What is deployed in the actual behaviors of coercive control take on multiple and variable forms, which can include the following. 

Please note – this is not an exhaustive list. It is meant to give a brief view of the insidiousness.

  • Fear producing act/threats
  • Degrading the character of the targeted individual
  • Isolating the character of the target individual
  • Exploiting the targeted individual
  • Sexual threats, demands, abuse, known and unknown
  • Deprivation of the targeted individual 
  • Stalking, voyeuring, hostage taking
  • Deception to the point that one’s true character and intentions are not revealed to create a place for the other party to make a choice about consent to any type of engagement
  • Any control by threat, force, intimidation, or other means of the targeted individual

What must be seen in this is the close connection to domestic abuse. 

*Again, please note – this term “domestic” though widely used in our current taxonomy, at Center for Peace the use of “domestic” has an implication of there being two parties mutually involved. We hold to the model that all abuse is unilateral and known behaviors deployed by the perpetrator and targeted to his wife/intimate partner.

It is Rarely a Single Event

What is important to understand is that the deployment of coercive control is never a single event. It is a pattern of behavior that is ongoing, often exacerbatory in nature as the power to control increases. 

In some instances, there is physical violence, but in many there is no physical contact of one human to another – this does not reduce the violence of this pattern of behavior and the depth of harm felt by the victim.

Any type of abuse or coercive control can be violent and damaging and these experiences can be long lingering even when the victim is no longer with the perpetrator. This is a main reason Center for Peace continues to speak out on these issues to increase awareness of the need for updates to the education of these behaviors in the legal system and mental health arena as well as impacts on the victims.

Invisible in Plain Sight

The historical nature of gender roles and social scripts create the perfect forum for serious inhumane behaviors to hide in plain sight. For many years, gender-specific roles, patriarchal-pattern thinking, privilege prerogatives that are heavily male-weighted, and many societal structural areas that are hierarchical and not equitable to both men and women have set the stage for a type of mind-blindness to this human ill of abuse and coercive control.

The simple truth that when a woman seeks help from clergy when her husband is verbally or emotionally abusing her and is told to go home and ensure he’s well-fed, received plenty of sexual relations and that she not nag him when he comes home at the end of an exhaustive workday, is indicative of a myopia of the most egregious kind. 

These conditions stated above are not facetious. They have been experienced by this author and related to me by countless women over the decades of my work in this field.

Violence – Abuse – Coercive Control – is a Men’s Issue

The statement, “Violence against women is a men’s issue” (Katz, 2015) is a platform that we continue to promote at Center for Peace. It is our position that men have the ability to make pro-social, pro-human choices in their marital relationships. Alongside their life partner, they can co-create a life-giving world for the family that is brought into that union. 

Until men take this partnering position seriously, respecting the unique nature of women, agentically choosing a partnering process of living, letting go of all hegemonic narratives or behavioral patterns, it remains more often untenable for women to maintain inequitable and unprofitable relationships where they are powered over.

Human Harmony

It has been said multiple times, we’ll state it again here for the record. At Center for Peace, we recognize that there are instances of women exercising an inequitable dynamic of control. However, the literature does not statistically show this to be equal in number to both sides of the gender aisle. Abuse of women by men is exponentially higher statistically. 

The objective at Center for Peace is to support human harmony, to teach and educate men and women in this population that this is an achievable outcome when both parties work to create that harmony. 

Safety and dignity must first be restored to the victims. If you are experiencing coercive control, or you have exercised coercive control over your partner, please schedule an individual session with Center for Peace to put a plan together to correct the abuse and to restore dignity and safety.

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