Film: "Jennifer, 42"

Did you know that some amazing filmmakers are currently working on developing an animated documentary about coercive control? According to the website, the film tells the true story of a woman and her three children as they survive a "brutally abusive marriage" that ended in tragedy, the family's eventual escape, and their battle to escape from the violence and coercive control of the family patriarch. The film explores this through multi-voice narrative featuring Jennifer's three children, her best friend and experts involved directly with the case. The filmmakers believe that this approach, coupled with animation, "allows a wider audience to experience and understand the most private and common kind of violence against women and children and the obstacles they face in bringing the violence to light and setting themselves free."

This looks to be a powerful film and we cannot wait to see it (release date has not been announced yet)! If you have the time, we also encourage you to check out the film's blog, which currently features a general welcome to website readers and a write-up of the filmmaker's takeaways from an interview with Dr. Evan Stark. The writer is able to distill the most important aspects of Dr. Stark's argument about the need for a coercive control framework and the true nature of domestic violence into a very easy to read and short post. It's worth a read!

Written by Abigail Hazlett

 

In the News: "Victims of Sexual Violence Often Stay in Touch With Their Abusers. Here’s Why."

This past Friday, the New York Times explored why victims might stay in touch with their abusers and why many often struggle to leave abusive relationships. We are grateful to see they also mentioned some of the challenges victims face in the US court system, where men are believed more than women. Coercive control, of course, is often at the center of the answer to the "why?" question and the two experts interviewed for this piece do a great job of highlighting coercive control dynamics, even without using the actual term.

The piece features quotes from Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes, whose writings we have highlighted before on this blog, and Qudsia Raja, who is the policy director of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their feedback is particularly important and this article is worth a read.

Our Local Efforts to Address Coercive Control

Austin, Texas. August 30, 2018. We did not get a picture in Representative Howard’s office, but we took one together before we left the Texas Capitol!

Austin, Texas. August 30, 2018. We did not get a picture in Representative Howard’s office, but we took one together before we left the Texas Capitol!

We are excited to share that last week, we were able to meet with the Chief of Staff Jacob Cottingham and the Director of Constituent Services Cristina Masters, for our state representative in Texas, Texas State Representative Donna Howard. Representative Howard has been a model, and she is a prominent figure in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. We are fortunate to have her as our area’s representative.

In our long-term plan to work on policy, we decided to take the opportunity to start with our own public official to introduce the concept. We are grateful that this meeting was fruitful and will be a good starting off point for us as we begin to gain the policy perspective of actual policymakers in the United States.

In our meeting, we introduced the concept of coercive control, including the precedents set in the United Kingdom’s legal framework, but also how many of the concept’s thought leaders are based in our own country (particularly found in the work of Dr. Evan Stark and other academics highlighted on our People to Know page). As we discussed the concept, we found them to be extremely knowledgeable on these issues and quickly develop an understanding of the topic.

The district staff were able to see why coercive control is a high-risk behavior, and how policy could be smarter in how it addresses the highest risk for victims. We are sure that they would be a great partner if the opportunity arises. In Texas, the legislature meets every two years for only six months (called “in session”), so the possibility for action may be a narrow time window. We hope to continue to engage them as we explore ways to address coercive control in domestic abuse legislation in our own state.

Written by Chelsea Brass

Increasing Institutional Awareness of Manipulation

We are excited to see recent efforts to increase awareness around how abusers manipulate court systems to either further traumatize their victims or evade responsibility for their actions. These are necessary efforts for holding institutions accountable to better meet the needs of victims and, by educating themselves on abuser strategies and dynamics, minimizing their own participation in the failure to provide justice to victims.

DEFENDANTS 'GAMING SYSTEM' TO GET DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES DROPPED

A recent UK report commissioned by the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Dame Vera Baird QC, explored how accused abusers "continued to exert coercive control over their victims through the mechanism of the courts system." The Guardian explores the outcomes of this research, highlighting the consequences of inadequate education around coercive control within special courts (specifically for domestic violence cases) and the general court system. Recommendations of the report include "further training for court staff, ensuring that domestic abuse trials are always heard by specialist courts, providing more support to enable victims to go to court and not assuming non-attendance by complainants is grounds for dropping a case."

EN(GENDER)ED PODCAST: FAMILY COURTS SERIES

We've talked before about the En(gender)ed Podcast and series creator, Teri Yuan, has recently completed a series of podcasts that explore varying aspects of the family court system in the United States. The series is particularly helpful in better understanding how coercive and controlling partners and parents manipulate family courts. Multiple experts with a variety of backgrounds and experience within the system are interviewed, allowing for a complex and multi-faceted exploration of the current crisis in the family court system.

  • Episode Seven explores "custody evaluations, laws regarding custody in cases where there has been domestic violence, and the use of parental alienation theories against parents who are attempting to protect their children or themselves from abuse" with Nancy S. Erickson, (J.D. Brooklyn Law School, LL.M. Yale Law School, M.A. Forensic Psychology John Jay College of Criminal Justice).
  • Episode Nine features Joan Meier, Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School, and the Founder and Legal Director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP). Professor Meier discusses her research findings from a 4-year empirical study of family court outcomes in cases involving “parental alienation” and child abuse, the intersection of domestic violence and child abuse, and new policy reforms such as H. Con. Res. 72, a child safety resolution which she co-authored.
  • Episode Ten features Barry Goldstein, Research Director for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Co-Chair of the Child Custody Task Force for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. The episode explores his work in the courts, gender bias, the Stop Abuse Campaign, and the Safe Child Act, a comprehensive legislative solution to the child custody crisis.
  • Episode 11 features Kathleen Russell, Executive Director of the Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE), a non-profit based out of California whose mission is to protect vulnerable children in the family court system and to strengthen the integrity of all courts by creating judicial accountability. The episode explores her work with CJE and retaliation by the courts against what she calls the “protective parent”–a parent, usually a mother, who makes allegations of abuse, child abuse, and/or child sexual abuse against the other parent and is not believed. In such situations, the courts may respond by giving custody to the abuser and limiting the time or access the protective parent has with the abused child.
  • Episode 16 reflects on the previous episodes of the series. 

 Written by Abigail Hazlett & Chelsea Brass

Announcing: Coercive Control Collective Newsletter

We are excited to share with you the release of our first newsletter. The purpose of this monthly mailing is to keep you abreast of our work, as well as provide an alternative format to our blog and other social media accounts.

In general, these monthly newsletters will provide: recent blog postings in one monthly digest, what we are reading or a chosen book of the month, new developments in our work, what we are excited about, and/or important information you should know.

Public awareness is a critical piece of creating a comprehensive policy and education agenda for the field of coercive control, especially here in the United States. This newsletter could also serve as an introduction to the Coercive Control Collective - so we would like to encourage you to forward these emails - and the other ways of plugging in - far and wide. 

Thank you! We are excited about this new development. For those of you who have been with us up to this point, we really appreciate your sustained encouragement and support. If you'd like to sign up for the newsletter, you can do so here.

Resource: NJ Safe & Sound

We are excited to share the important work of NJ Safe & Sound, an organization that works to protect individuals and families from predatory alienation and undue influence. Predatory alienation is defined as "extreme undue influence on, or coercive persuasion or psychologically damaging manipulation of another person that results in physical or emotional harm, or the loss of finical assets, disrupts a parent-child relationship, leads to a deceptive or exploitative relationship, or isolates the person from family and friends."

PREVENTION

The organization provides a number of great prevention resources, but our favorite is their "The Spectrum of Influence" bookmark, with healthy forms of social influence on the left an increasingly dangerous forms of social influence to the right. The bookmark is available "to remind high school and college-bound students about the various degrees of social influence and how to protect themselves from the coercive control exerted by gangs, sexual predators, swindlers, destructive cults, and other dangerous individuals and groups that target school campuses and other places where teenagers and young adults gather." 

Requests for free copies of "The Spectrum of Influence" bookmarks can be made by emailing info@njsafeandsound.org. You can also download a copy of the bookmark here and is also available in French and Spanish.

LEGISLATION

The organization has been on the forefront of legislation to address the problem of predatory alienation. In May 2017, Senate Bill 2562 was successfully passed, which stated "the Departments of Children and Families and Human Services shall conduct a joint study and make recommendations concerning predatory alienation and its effects on young adults and senior citizens."

As a result, a research team from the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) of the Rutgers University School of Social Work conducted a study of predatory alienation and its effects on young adults and senior citizens and presented their findings to the governor and legislature. The results of that report can be found here:

Unsurprisingly, the study found that "there is presently no mechanism for a family to safeguard its members over age 16 from predatory alienation and undue influence." In response to this, the organization has created a letter-writing campaign for those residing in New Jersey, urging state representatives to introduce legislation to protect against undue influence and predatory alienation, regardless of the age of the victim. If you live in the area, we encourage you to participate in this campaign and support the important work of this organization.

Written by Abigail Hazlett

Resource: Invisible Bars: Adapting the Crime of False Imprisonment to Better Address Coercive Control and Domestic Violence in Tennessee

We are excited to share this important legal resource, created by recent Vanderbilt Law School graduate Alexandra Michelle Ortiz. Invisible Bars: Adapting the Crime of False Imprisonment to Better Address Coercive Control and Domestic Violence in Tennessee was published in Vanderbilt Law Review and outlines a proposed adaptation to the preexisting law of false imprisonment to create a comprehensive coercive control statute in the United States. The Note examines what advocates can learn from the UK Law and why the United States Constitution requires American advocates take a different approach.

The abstract states: 

On average, three or more women are murdered by their intimate partners in the United States every day. Despite the now well-known correlation between coercive control—the strategic use of oppressive behavior to control primarily female partners—and intimate partner homicide, most states continue to focus their criminal domestic violence laws solely on physical violence. As a result, state laws often fail to protect victims from future and escalating violence. Focusing on Tennessee law and drawing from the work of Evan Stark as well as the United Kingdom’s Serious Crime Act of 2015, this Note proposes adapting the preexisting crime of false imprisonment to create the first comprehensive criminal coercive control statute in the United States.

This is an important resource for anyone interested in exploring possible legal remedies to better protect victims of coercive control in the United States. While it focuses primarily on coercive control in intimate relationships, it is a helpful place to start that could also impact victims of coercive control in other types of relationships (gangs, human trafficking, political and religious cults, etc.).

Written by Abigail Hazlett

Resource: UK Sentencing Guidelines

Two weeks ago, the UK released sentencing guidelines for "intimidatory offenses" including those convicted under the 2015 law criminalizing controlling or coercive behavior in an intimate or family relationship. The press release announcing the new guidelines indicates they were created after a public consultation and intended to "provide judges and magistrates in England and Wales with consistent and comprehensive guidance when sentencing these related offences." The guidelines provide direction on analyzing the seriousness of the offense committed and consideration for aggravating factors.

Beyond Intimate Partner Relationships: Abusive Groups

We have stated before that a core assumption of our work is the belief that coercive control in abusive groups functions similarly to coercive control in intimate partnerships of two people (dyads). Because groups are made up of many dyadic relationships (as opposed to intimate relationships that contain only one dyad), the coercive control dynamic members of abusive groups experience may appear, or in at times actually be, less severe than what victims in intimate, dyadic relationships experience. This may obscure the ability of those who have not personally experienced the dynamic in this setting from being able to recognize the coercive control dynamic of abusive groups and the accompanying behaviors (e.g. policing, censoring, intimidating).

Additionally, abusive group structures are characterized by dyadic and familial-style interactions. Like relationships characterized by intimate partner violence, cultic (or other forms of abusive group) relationships involve a reciprocal relationship between the target ("group member") and the controller/oppressor (“group leader”). These relationships are, in essence, an extension of the one-on-one or one-on-a few dynamic we see in IPV, but they are expanded to include all members of the group (a multitude of dyads). For example, in a religious or political cult, relationships between members of the group may mirror the abusive leader-follower dynamic (as members mimic the abusive leader), however these relationships are always under the ultimate control of the group leader, even if for a moment, a group member is able to exercise power and control over another group member who has less power within the group. This dynamic can also be seen in abusive families (i.e. the older sibling who participates in abuse of a younger sibling even as they themselves are abused by a parent).

As we explore these dynamics, we believe it is important to examine how culture, systems, societies, institutions, groups, and families can all function as their own sub-systems or groups that can reinforce, and at times function as an interwoven system of abusive dynamics.

We have seen this come up with gangs and extremist/terrorist organizations where gang members or extremist group members may be perpetrating crimes, however at the same time they may also be a victim of abusive group dynamics that would make it dangerous or impossible to leave, forcing their participation. In this case, the realities of harms inflicted by the group are often ignored and the group member is maligned and viewed only as a perpetrator. Those who understand abusive groups have a lot to teach us here, as they recognize the way coercive control functions to keep group members from leaving, and the chaotic dysfunction of the group works to make members unable to think critically and therefore deployable to do the leader's bidding.

These topics are complex, but vitally important to understanding how coercive control functions beyond intimate partner relationships. A proper understanding is necessary for a number of reasons, including prevention, successful interventions and treatment for those who are capable of leaving. In the next few weeks, we plan to explore this idea further, looking to the wealth of research available in the field of cultic studies and other forms of abusive groups.

Written by Abigail Hazlett & Chelsea Brass

ICSA Conference Presentation

This past week, we travelled to Philadelphia for the annual International Cultic Studies Association conference, where we had the privilege of seeing some incredible presentations and presenting our own work. We'll be sharing some of the resources we discovered there over the course of the next few weeks.

Our conference presentation centered on explaining our adapted model of the Power and Control Wheel. Our adaptation explains the victim experience within abusive groups (gangs, terrorist organizations, political and religious cults, highly abusive families, etc.), with group leaders utilizing their individual relationships with followers, as well as control over followers' relationships with each other, to maintain power and control over group members. We have discussed the original Power and Control Wheel previously and believe that because it is a helpful teaching tool for understanding victim's experiences in abusive and controlling intimate relationships (between two people), it serves as a beneficial foundation for exploring how this dynamic functions within groups. We received a lot of wonderful feedback and are excited to see how this tool may be utilized in a clinical setting and in court rooms where these dynamics are often misunderstood, but vital to comprehend.

For those interested, the abstract for our presentation can be found here. Details about the content, as well as information about available 1.5 hour CE credits for mental health professionals, are provided. We are told the presentation will be available at a future date for any who weren't able to attend in person, but are interested in watching and receiving credits (if applicable). When that link becomes available, we will be sure to share.

Our presentation slides can be downloaded here. We will publish a full explanation of the model in the coming weeks, but for those who attended and would like a copy for use immediately, a copy can be found here.

If you have any questions or you're interested in connecting with us about how this tool can be utilized in your own work, please feel free to reach out.

Written by Abigail Hazlett