Coercion and control are the very heart of how an abuser operates: they’re not an added extra.
Viewing coercive control as just one more manifestation of domestic abuse is to utterly misunderstand what is happening in a victim’s life, says Jane Monckton-Smith, senior lecturer in criminology and an expert in coercive control at the university of Gloucestershire. She argues that coercion and control are the very heart of how an abuser operates: they’re not an added extra. “The abuser exerts control, but violence is just one method of control,” she explains. “It’s a subheading. Lots of homicides happen without prior violence.”
Getting people to understand the dynamics of coercive control is “a big hill to climb” says Monckton-Smith, a former police officer who now sits on the [UK] Home Office College of Policing scrutiny panel for domestic abuse. “Nobody can get past ‘why doesn’t she just leave’. They don’t get that coercive control means she doesn’t have that choice….”
Frank Mullane, chief executive of AAFA (Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse) [says] … “Some – maybe more than we care to admit – of those who help victims are actually perpetrating coercive control and being coercively controlled. That is a direct result of its prevalence. Professionals may find this uncomfortable because it further blurs the line between them and victims.”
The tactics of coercive control are extreme, yet can be effectively hidden without skillful questioning. It manifests as a pattern of behaviour that “includes intimidation, constant put downs, mind games, isolation from family and friends… the victim being forced to perform sexual favours in exchange for small basic items or liberties, such as access to sanitary towels”, recounts Elisabeth Doherty-Astle, lecturer in law and criminology at the University of Derby. “These are just a few examples, the list is endless.”
…Monckton-Smith gives an example of how it might, virtually unnoticeably, begin. “A girl starts going out with a fella. She decides she wants to go out one night. That seems to be fine with him. But he then turns up at the door with a bunch of flowers. He’s ‘forgotten’. She cancels her night out, stays in. She’s already being controlled.”
Helping professionals recognise coercive control is a key reason that Monckton-Smith has created a new diagnostic system called Dart (domestic abuse reference tool). … Dart offers a list of questions to ask. “If you say to a woman ‘does he sexually assault you?’ she might say no, but if you ask ‘do you have sex with him when you don’t want to’ and it’ll be ‘all the time’,” says Monckton-Smith. …
It is extremely difficult for a victim of coercive control to explain what their perpetrator has done to them, says Doherty-Astle. “They cannot vocalise their abuse because their capacity to think about, recognise and communicate these behaviours has been destroyed through continuous abuse. This new law speaks for them and it also sends out a message to all victims that they aren’t just “imagining it”, they aren’t oversensitive, and this issue is serious enough that the government have finally legislated against it.”
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This post is an abridged version of There’s a new domestic abuse crime – but how will people stop it? by Louise Tickle (15 June 2015) courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd under their Open License Terms.