Resources

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.

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

Resource: Technology Facilitated Coercive Control

An article recently published in the Feminist Media Studies journal highlights the role technology plays in coercive control. The article's authors, Drs. Molly DragiewiczAriadna Matamoros-FernandezMichael Salter, Nicolas P. SuzorDelanie Woodlock, and Bridget Harris, are based out of Australia, but their research and insights on this issue are applicable across the globe. One of the article's authors recently shared "Technology Facilitated Coercive Control: Domestic Violence and the Competing Roles of Digital Media Platforms" online and we thought it was a particularly useful resource to share. The journal article is helpful for understanding the role of online misogyny "within the broader context of domestic violence" and explores how abusers utilize digital technologies to "exacerbate" and "to mediate and coordinate violence" against their victims. The article itself can be requested from the authors here, but below are some highlights.

To begin, the authors define technology facilitated coercive control (TFCC) as "the technological and relational aspects of abuse in the specific context of coercive and controlling intimate relationships. TFCC refers to violence and abuse by current or former intimate partners, facilitated by digital media. It includes such behaviours as harassment on social media,  stalking using GPS data, clandestine and suspicious audio and visual recording, threats via SMS, monitoring email, accessing accounts without permission, impersonating a partner, and publishing private information (doxxing) or sexualized content without consent." [1]

The article explores current research on TFCC, including the role platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) can play to "engender counter-misogynistic discourse" and act to protect victims through "regulation and governance of online abuse." [2] Long before widespread use of digital platforms existed, coercive control was utilized by abusers to entrap and dominate their victims, even at times when they were not physically present. With technological advancements and the near ubiquitous use of smartphones and platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc., opportunities for abusers to access information and/or "persistently intrude on their targets regardless of location" have only increased. [3]

For technology creators, addressing this problem will be vitally important. This article may be particularly helpful for its discussion of challenges for platform governance and complications digital platforms face in protecting users against those who utilize their products to coordinate abuse. The authors propose four key issues which must be addressed to tackle the problem of  TFCC [4]:

  • lack of clarity on what platforms are currently doing to combat abuse
  • develop a shared understanding of what platforms ought to be doing to combat abuse
  • regulators must decide the extent to which responsibility is delegated to platform providers to combat abuse and develop effective laws where necessary
  • international consensus must be established regarding regulation of and expectations for transnational platforms

If you have an interest in the role of technology in coercive control, this is a must-read!

Written by Abigail Hazlett

[1] Dragiewicz, M., Burgess, J., Matamoros-Fernández, A., Salter, M., Suzor, N. P., Woodlock, D., & Harris, B. (2018). Technology facilitated coercive control: domestic violence and the competing roles of digital media platforms. Feminist Media Studies, 3.
[2] p. 4
[3] p. 5
[4] p. 20-21

A Must Listen: Engendered Podcast

This past week, Engendered, a new podcast highlighting "stories that explore the systems, practices, and policies that enable gender-based violence and oppression and the solutions to end it" launched. This podcast had us from day one, with host Teri Yuan interviewing Dr. Evan Stark on coercive control on the very first full-length episode. The episode runs a bit over an hour and is an engaging listen all the way through. Dr. Stark talks about his work in domestic violence over the years and how it led him to an understanding of the role of coercive control in women's lives, why coercive control impacts women differently than men, how the United States can tackle the problem of coercive control and the role of systemic inequality. 

You should listen to the entire episode, but these gems stood out:

  • Inequality as enabler of coercive control: "It is because of persistent inequalities that coercive control is possible. It is also, I believe... because women have gained so much that coercive control is necessary if men want to protect their privileges today. You see, the essential reason why men use coercive control today is because domestic violence is often ineffective. Domestic violence is illegal. Women can escape domestic violence."
  • How abusers utilize special knowledge of their partner's concerns and weaknesses to threaten and control them: Often when we ask women, "what does he do when he really wants to frighten you," the things they tell us are things that you wouldn't think about, because they are things that only he knows because of the privileged knowledge he has gained due to his intimacy with you. The knowledge he has of your brother's death, so that when he really wants to hurt you, he points to the baseball cap that you have from your brother... the one thing that you have and he threatens to destroy that. He just has to point to it and you're devastated and you'll do whatever he commands."
  • An example of when threats look like love: "Darling, you're cold, here is your sweatshirt. ...and only he knows and only you know... that the threat is that you'll have to cover up tonight because he'll hit you. And if he never lays his hands on you in that way, the simple offer of the sweatshirt is enough to let you know that you have done something to offend to him..."
  • On the gendered dimension of coercive control: "Right now, women are being told that they should dress as they should, clean as they should, cook as they should, care for their children as they should solely because that is the expectation of them as women."
  • Discussing how the United States can tackle the problem of coercive control: "Law alone is not gonna do it. ...You cannot distinguish the justice agenda for women from the equality agenda for women. ...You can't expect that you're going to have justice in personal life until you have equality in social life."

We are particularly excited that the show's first full-length episode focused on coercive control, as well as the systemic approach it takes to exploring gender-based violence. While I haven't had a chance to listen to all of the available episodes yet, the next few episodes look to be just as good (and important):

  • Episode 3Phyllis Frank, the Senior Director of VCS, a mental health counseling and family service agency located in Rockland County, with an anti-racist, social justice mission.  Phyllis started the first NY Model for Batterer Programs and will discuss effectiveness of batterer intervention programs.
  • Episode 4: Ruth M. Glenn, the CEO and President of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), speaking about the work she does at the NCADV and to debunk commonly held myths of survivors and abusers and how survivors and advocates like herself can play a vital role in the crafting of a national narrative in this work that is inclusive, empowering and impactful. The episode will also highlight gun prevention efforts and the NCADV’s role in the creation of the DisarmDV website.

If the first episode is any indication of the value of this podcast, we can't wait to see what's next! There are already three full-length episodes you can listen to on the Engendered website or you can subscribe anywhere podcasts can be found.

Written by Abigail Hazlett

New Resource: Invisible Chains Blog

Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes' book Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship has been included on our Recommended Reading page. It is a wonderful resource for those who have experienced coercive control. Dr. Fontes has a doctorate in counseling psychology and has worked in the areas of child abuse, violence against women, and challenging family issues for over 25 years. She teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has presented on the topic of coercive control many times. 

Recently, we discovered that Dr. Fontes also has a blog, hosted through the Psychology Today website, where she writes regularly about coercive control. This blog is a great, digestible resource for those wanting to understand more about how coercive control functions within intimate relationships. We highly recommend checking it out!

A few recommended reads:

"Coercive control can be difficult to recognize. Many abusive people act charming and kind in public, while controlling, degrading, and intimidating their partners at home. A prenuptial agreement can reinforce their domination. "

"...All too often, abusers interfere with the lives of their former partners for months, years, or even decades after services and systems have moved on. People often treat domestic violence survivors who talk about what they are experiencing as if they are crazy, exaggerating, or making up stories. It is difficult for people to believe that the formal end of a relationship (such as moving out or a divorce) does not always mean the end of the abusive or controlling behavior. All too often, the abuse just takes on new forms."

"Away from family and childhood friends for the first time and with easy access to alcohol and drugs, college students may be especially vulnerable to the emotional manipulations of Coercive Control. The first step in helping young people avoid and escape from these stealth forms of abuse is to identify the problem."

New Resource: Judicial Guidance on Coercive Control in Custody Cases

Atlanta, Georgia-based My Advocate Center recently shared a resource created by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges that outlines coercive control in custody cases. According to the organization, "coercive control is one of the key terms identifying the methods used by a parent who is willing to use children to harm the other parent and/or for financial gain. Being a compelling liar often goes hand-in-hand with the ability to effectively coerce a child or parent into complying with demands. Another sign that coercive control is being used is that the controlling parent and counsel are indifferent to the trauma caused to the children and the targeted or victimized parent."

The Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody attempts to help judges and child advocates recognize a coercive control dynamic in cases concerning child custody and safety. This guide would also be helpful for law enforcement, child protective services and all first responders, especially pediatricians and emergency room staff and doctors.  We encourage you to take a look at this wonderful resource and share it widely!

The Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel is a tool utilized in the domestic violence/interpersonal violence field to understand the tactics abusers use to gain power and control over their victims. The wheel is instrumental to our understanding of how abusers operate. The wheel was created by the Domestic Abuser Intervention Programs as part of “The Duluth Model”, which focuses on training and education that teaches how communities can work together to shift blame to abusers and better support survivors. To date, it is the most common batterer intervention program in the United States.

As a precursor to the coercive control framework developed by Dr. Evan Stark, the wheel is rooted in feminist theory that recognizes that men utilize violence and other means of abuse to exercise power and control over women and children and that “because of their unequal social, economic, and political status in society,” women and children are particularly vulnerable. [1]

Since its creation in the 1980’s, the model has been criticized for focusing on women as victims, but not perpetrators, and failing to accurately represent the motivations of some men who batter. Additionally, there are several complaints quite explicitly calling out the section of “using male privilege”, as some believe this diminishes the fact that men are abused too.

These challenges are important to consider, as they point to important distinctions and research has addressed in recent years. We plan to explore the research related to these challenges in the future, as they could also be utilized to challenge a coercive control framework, but for now, we are going to focus on understanding the basics of the model, as we have found it to be incredibly useful.

THE WHEEL

The wheel is a heuristic tool that focuses on how eight different types of abuser tactics partner with physical and sexual violence (or the threat of physical and sexual violence) to dominate a victim. The wheel is made up of these component parts:

  • Physical and Sexual Violence (outer ring)
  • Using Intimidation
  • Using Emotional Abuse
  • Using Isolation
  • Minimizing, Denying and Blaming
  • Using Children
  • Using Male Privilege
  • Using Economic Abuse
  • Using Coercion  and Threats

You can check out DAIP’s website for videos explaining each portion of the wheel.

Power_And_Control.png

Many experts in the field have utilized the wheel to explain varying aspects of abuse, including specifics of certain cultures and groups. These adaptations build upon the wheel’s framework to provide further insight in varying contexts. We like how Dr. Clare Murphy explains the wheel, as well as the adaptation she created to explain how “wider culture breeds, reinforces and supports the male imperative; the notion that men have rights over women.” Check out her website, Speak Out Loud (a website to “Learn About Coercive Control And Psychological Abuse") for her thoughts on the wheel’s impact and a description of her adaptation.

We hope that this model serves to be validating for those who have experienced this type of abuse. In the future, we also hope to make the connection for those who may have experienced this abuse in another environment, which we will continue to explore on this journey to understanding.

Written by Chelsea Brass & Abigail Hazlett

More on the UK Law Criminalizing "Coercive, Controlling" Behavior

We highlighted the 2015 UK law criminalizing "coercive, controlling" behavior last week. Thankfully, because legal documents pertaining to the law are all in English (as opposed to the law in France), we have been able to access some of the information that's been utilized to assist victims, direct service providers, police officers, hospital staff and legal professionals navigate cases where coercive control may be utilized by an abuser.

We have found the legal guidance, as well as the guidelines for police investigation, to have very useful and practical information as to how the coercive control pattern is translated into tangible pieces to use as evidence in an investigation. Additionally, those tangible parts (text messages, bank statements, etc.) may be practices or investigative methods that could be utilized to strengthen current policies and practices in the United States, regardless of the lack of a law that explicitly criminalizes coercive control.

Below are guidelines created by the College of Policing to teach officers how to investigate domestic violence cases with the new law in place, encouraging officers to "focus on identifying a pattern of behaviour across different types of evidence. Much of it will be evidence of the victim and perpetrator’s day to day living and their interaction."

[Note: we have included hyperlinks to those UK gov pages in the titles of the sections below.]

COLLECTING EVIDENCE

Examples of evidence utilized in successful cases include:

-  Records of communication between the victim and perpetrator (emails, phone records, text messages, social media)
-  Audio or visual recordings of interaction between the victim and perpetrator, demonstrating body language and tone (including 999 recordings, which is the UK equivalent of a 911 call in the United States, Closed Circuit TV, Body Worn Video footage)
-  Local inquiries (neighbors, regular deliveries, postal services, window cleaner)
-  Witness testimony (from family and friends, as to observed behavior by both parties and its effect and impact)
-  Diaries kept by the victim and/or children
-  Records of lifestyle and household, including photographic evidence of the scene
-  Evidence of isolation (lack of contact with family and friends, withdrawal from social activities and clubs)
-  Records of interaction with services which show the perpetrator adopting a dominant role (always accompanying the victim to banking or medical appointments)
-  Bank records showing financial control
-  Medical records
-  GPS tracking devices installed on mobile phones, tablets, vehicles
-  Care plan, where the perpetrator has caring responsibilities

The guidelines indicate this list is not exhaustive and any evidence which shows a pattern of control or coercion is relevant and to be recorded.

See Home Office (2015) Statutory Guidance Framework and Crown Prosecution Service (2015) Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship for further information.

CONDUCTING THE VICTIM INTERVIEW

When interviewing victims, investigators are instructed to elicit information on the current event to which they are present, general information about the victim and their families, as well as relationship context, depending on the individual circumstances of each case. Related specifically to the presence of coercive or controlling behavior, investigators are tasked with determining the following:

-  Victim’s view of how they feel the suspect controls their life and, if so, how (this can be difficult to explain and describe to an outsider as the small controlling behaviors on their own can sound trivial)
-  Victim’s views on the rules or expected behaviors set by the suspect in the relationship (what the victim must and must not do)
-  Victim’s account of any threats used to maintain control (to ‘out’ their sexual orientation, medical condition, immigration status, other personal information or criminal activity, or to use intimate photos on social media to cause upset and risk of exclusion or dishonor from wider family members or community)
-  Victim’s account of the use of threats relating to children (to limit child contact, to take the children, or to have them taken away)
-  Whether other persons are involved in planning and/or executing the abuse

Any of this activity that came before the law was enacted (December 29th, 2015) may not be used as evidence, but some forms of it may be able to be used as evidence of “bad character evidence” as explained here.

Hopefully, you found this information helpful. There are several resource available online that provide direction for those wanting to understand how the UK law is being implemented, some of which we have made available on our Take Action page. If you have any resources you'd like to share with us, please feel free to leave any in the comments.

Written by Abigail Hazlett & Chelsea Brass