Domestic Abuse: Coercive Controlling Violence
Domestic abuse is ongoing, purposeful behavior that is aimed at dominating one’s partner, and often one’s children as well.3 It is also referred to as coercive controlling violence4 or simply, coercive control.5
Social norms and unequal distribution of resources (income, education, employment political power, etc.) lead some individuals to feel entitled to control their partner. In heterosexual relationships, the norms and inequality are largely, but not entirely, gender-related.
Domestic abuse involves repeated, ongoing, intentional control tactics used by one partner against the other. Those tactics may be physical, sexual, economic, psychological, legal, institutional, or all of the above. They often include:
- Unreasonable and non-negotiable demands.
- Stalking – surveillance and unwanted contact.
- Destroying the partner’s other relationships and isolating her/him from friends, family members, co-workers and others.
- Restricting daily activities.
- Coercion – a combination of demands, threats of negative consequences for noncompliance, and surveillance.6
- Manipulation through minimization, denial, lies, promises, etc.
- Threats and intimidation.
- Excuses, rationalizations and blame.
- Stifling the partner’s independence.
- Controlling partner’s access to information and services.
- Sexual abuse and violence; reproductive coercion.7
- Economic control and exploitation.
- Identity abuse.
- Physical violence – which can range from minor to lethal. The physical violence typical of abuse is more frequent and severe than that typical of situational violence.8,9
- Deprivation of liberty, equality and personhood;10 treating their partner and children as objects.11
- Extreme jealousy, possessiveness and ridiculous accusations of infidelity. (Abusers often imagine that their partner is cheating, and jealousy and suspicion are the usual motivations of men who murder a current or former partner.12,13)
- Punishing the partner and children for infractions (and imaginary infractions) of their rules.
- Ignoring their partner’s needs, opinions and feelings, and the harm that their behavior does to her/him.
- Separation violence.
Domestic abuse is unlikely to end just because the victim ends the relationship. It often continues or escalates at separation, as a continuation of coercive control. In fact, many murders of abused women occur during or after separation, when the abuser feels the victim is escaping his/her control, and tries to re-establish it. But domestic abuse is not caused by separation,14 and thinking that it is can lead us to grossly underestimate the danger to the victim. Unlike people who abuse their partners, those who engage only in separation-related violence are typically ashamed of what they have done, and stop after one or two episodes.
Consequences to victims:
- Injuries – minor to severe – are highly likely.
- Stress-related illnesses; long-term disabilities.
- Unwanted pregnancies.
- Lost work time, unemployment, poverty.
- Loss of children, harm to children, parenting difficulties.
- PTSD, depression, substance abuse.
- Death. About 1/3 of female murder victims each year are killed by an intimate partner, compared to 3- 4% of male victims.15
Implications for intervention:Victims need domestic violence services, safety planning, orders of protection, and support. Victims should not have to deal with their partner’s domestic abuse all by themselves.
AbusersHow we understand domestic violence shapes how we intervene.
- If we see domestic abuse as simply problematic individual behavior, driven by mental health problems or substance abuse, we look for ways to respond therapeutically to the individual.
- If we see it as attitude-driven and socially reinforced, we look for social changes that make it less likely.
- If we see it as essentially a crime, we look for criminal justice solutions.
- And if we are not clear about why abusers act as they do, we are likely to take potshots at the problem – and risk doing more harm than good.
Strategies for various professionals can be found in What Can I Do To Help Hold Abusers Accountable
- Does he minimize and excuse his violence and exaggerate yours?
- Does she express attitudes of entitlement?
- Does he exaggerate his injuries and minimize yours?
- Does he seem to intentionally choose where and when he gets violent, and what part of your body he attacks?
- Is how he acts in public different from how he acts at home?
- Does she only destroy your property when she’s “out of control” – not her own?
- Does he try to make himself appear to be a victim?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions…
- Seeing your partner’s behavior accurately could help you stop blaming yourself for it.
- You may want to talk over your situation with an advocate at a local domestic violence program, or with your counselor, if you have one.
Next Page:Why Would Anyone Abuse Their Partner?
- Johnson, M.P. (2008). A Typology of Domestic Violence: Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
- Kelly & Johnson, (2008).
- Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, Oxford University Press, refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
- Dutton, M.A., Goodman, L. & Schmidt, R.J. (2006). Development and Validation of a Coercive Control Measure for Intimate Partner Violence: Final Technical Report. National Institute of Justice.
- Moore, A.M., Frohwirth, L. & Miller, E. (2010). Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States, Guttmacher Institute.
- Kelly & Johnson (2008).
- “[N]onviolent control tactics may be effective without the use of violence (especially if there has been a history of violence in the past)…. Johnson (2008) has recently argued for the recognition of “incipient” Coercive Controlling Violence (cases in which there is a clear pattern of power and control but not yet any physical violence), and Stark (2007) contends…that the focus in the law should shift from the violence itself to the coercive control as a “liberty crime.” Ibid., p 481-482.
- Stark (2007), refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
- Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J.G. (2002a). The Batterer as a Parent. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1993). Spousal homicide risk & estrangement. Violence & Victims, 8(1), 3-16.
- Kimmel, M. (2001). Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review - a report to The Equality Committee of the Department of Education and Science.
- Ibid. True separation-related violence is unexpected violence by a previously nonviolent partner – usually the one who is being left.
- Fox, J.A. & Zawitz, M.W. (2007). Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Intimate Homicide, Bureau of Justice Statistics.