Coercive Control

Coercive Control

What is your first thought when you hear the words domestic violence? Most people imagine an abuser beating, kicking, choking, using a weapon on their victim, etc. But beyond physical violence, there are other methods of abuse used on victims such as financial, sexual and emotional abuse. Coercive control, a concept developed by Dr. Evan Stark, is an act or a pattern of acts or tactics consisting of threats, humiliation, and intimidation which, in Stark’s own words, demonstrate “how men entrap women in everyday life.”

It’s not a one-time event. It is a pattern of behavior used to take away the victim’s freedom and sense of self. It’s a violation of a victim’s autonomy and human rights. Over time, the abuser strips the victim of their civil liberties and establishes control. Victims are isolated, degraded, gaslighted through mind-games and micromanagement of their lives. Their whereabouts, phone calls, and social activity are constantly monitored and condemned. The abuser maintains a perpetual watch on their victim and the rules are always changing, which leaves the victim guessing what’s deemed acceptable.

The abuser establishes his rules based on his own idea of how the victim should behave. This includes financial control, expectations of her domestic duties, parenting, sexual performance, work and social life. The victim of coercive control becomes a hostage in an existence dictated by their abuser. The constant monitoring and punishment for not living up to extreme standards leave victims confused and afraid. The omnipotence of the abuser and their ever-changing expectations erode the victim’s sense of stability and every day is spent walking on eggshells.

Coercive control is a sort of brainwashing where a victim internalizes the expectations and tries to adapt in order to survive. It’s always lurking in the background of her everyday life; enduring and ever-threatening.  Coercive control eats away at a victim’s strength to function daily and to survive.

If you suspect coercive control is happening to you, then chances are it is. The good news is that there are people who can and want to help you. There are local domestic violence centers available nationwide. Or you can call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for assistance. You don’t have to live like this.

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