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Coercive Control of Women

Where we are now and why we need to go further.

I’ve been a facilitator of Recovery Groups for Women with Controlling Partners since 1993. In that time, I've observed over 1,000 women address their relationships, identify similar coercive tactics, and recover from the subsequent psychological effects. They take empowering steps to make a better life for themselves, for their children, and, with hope, their partner. During this recovery process, a familiar question arises: “Are we all talking about the same man?”

Coercive Control and Physical Violence

Coercive tactics are not unique but are shared by many controlling men. History is full of male violence toward women and male domination of women. The belief systems embedded in history get passed from generation to generation. Despite the many positive cultural and political develop­ments for women since 1970, we still live in a patriarchy. Men have more authority and empowerment than women. Today, we still see the effects of sexual harassment in the workplace; women receive less pay for the same work as men and there are greater expectations for women to handle chores in the home.

We do need to keep in mind that not all men seek to control women. Those who do may have other conditions such as mental illness or depression. They may have charac­ter disorders such as narcissistic, antisocial, sociopathic, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid, or borderline personalities.

Brief History of Domestic Violence

In the 1700s, existing laws mandated men to batter their wives and children as a means to keep them in line. This was an unfortunate, longtime practice in Western culture. In later years, this practice was recognized as domestic violence and was eventually criminalized. Following are a few highlights:

  • In 1992, the U.S. Surgeon General ranks physical abuse by husbands to be the Number One cause of injuries to women aged 15 to 44.
  • In 1994, Congress passes the Violence Against Women Act that supports community responses to prevent intimate partner violence.
  • During 1994, all fifty states have a restraining or protective order for individuals to legally safeguard themselves from their abusers.
  • In 2005, the Violence Against Women Act is reauthorized, improving the criminal justice response to violence against women.
  • In 2011, U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women engages men in projects to help prevent sexual assault and domestic violence as well as form respectful relationships.
  • In 2012, No More, a movement to end violence against women galvanizes change and awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • In 2013, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act gets renewed for five years with added protections for college students, female immigrants, tribal women, and members of the LGBT community.

Between 1993 and 2010, fewer people experienced physical violence and the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67 percent. However, in the realm of coercive control or psychological abuse, many men still misuse power to control women without legal repercussions.

Coercive Control Undermines Successful Relationships

Western culture’s patriarchal influence on social norms and prac­tices has played an important role in creating power differences between men and women--giving rise for coercive control to thrive. Research shows that when a partner dominates through the abuse of power, it is a prime deterrent to a successful relationship. This isn’t surprising since abuse causes health issues and disempowerment in the targeted person. With an expanding body of research, we’ve learned that when a couple has equal or shared power in their relationship, they are in the best position for success.

When society denies coercive control exists in intimate relationships, we are continuing to sanction the hurtful control of one partner over another. People need to declare this behavior is unacceptable and has no place in relationships or environments where individuals and families look to thrive.


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