In the News: Cults and Coercive Control

Last week, we highlighted the important work of Dr. Alexandra Stein, author of the book Terror, Love, and BrainwashingThis past week, she was interviewed in a story on cults at the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper. Her interview succinctly explains the underlying dynamic of coercive control that is found in abusive groups and relationships:

This [submission] is done, she says, with the use of the fourth ingredient: coercive control. It is defined as ‘a strategic course of behaviour’ (aka brainwashing), often involving manipulation and humiliation, in order to persuade others to do your bidding.

‘The aim is to isolate you and trap you in that isolation,’ says Stein. ‘They create chronic stress, which causes trauma. Trauma leads to dissociation, a state in which you cannot think about your own feelings. In that gap, the cult can insert its ideology and tell you what you are feeling.’ This is all done, she says, by wearing members down. ‘You don’t have any resources left to step away from it and to have a good think about your involvement. When people do get that space, they often get out.’

In the interview, Stein also highlights the strong link between cults and domestic violence, which informed her efforts to lobby for extending the new UK law on coercive and controlling behavior beyond just domestic and intimate relationships, but to include groups as well. We would hope to see any future U.S. law that criminalizes coercive control be made applicable in this way also.

As cults have become a topic of interest in the news in recent years, Stein's work has been featured in a variety of places. We look forward to hearing more from her and seeing what impact she will have on coercive control policy in the U.K.

Written by Chelsea Brass