Evan Stark

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

Beyond Intimate Partner Relationships: Human Trafficking

We want to begin by exploring how coercive control can be employed within human trafficking for a variety of reasons, primarily because human trafficking cases can begin as intimate partner relationships and because they may involve dyadic dynamics (two people), which is most similar to the dynamics within intimate partner relationships.

To begin, we want to clarify what we mean by human trafficking. Legally speaking, human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation or commercial trade of human beings by means of threat, force or coercion, for the purpose of exploitation” [1]. It has also been dubbed “modern day slavery” and Polaris Project, a non-profit that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking, estimates that the total number of victims in the United States “reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.” [2]

Many organizations have researched the intersections and similarities between human trafficking and domestic violence. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence created a helpful worksheet on the topic. The Center for Court Innovation created a factsheet for jurisdictions to utilize as they plan or enhance their court responses to trafficking. UNICEF has also created a webpage that examines the shared dynamics between the two forms of abuse. Drawing from these sources, we want to review the following similarities between domestic violence and human trafficking:

Similarities: Gendered Dimensions

  • Like domestic violence, women comprise the majority of victims of human trafficking. “According to worldwide data from the United Nations, between 2007 and 2010, approximately 55% to 60% of the total number of detected victims of human trafficking were women.” [3]

  • According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “the majority of traffickers are male.” [4]

Similarities: The Abuser Tactics Employed

  • “Both batterers and traffickers use power and control to dominate their victims, and the range of tactics used by traffickers resembles that of domestic violence perpetrators.” [5]

  • Specific tactics may include “isolation, physical and emotional violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, financial abuse, threats to family members, use of children to manipulate and control their victims, withholding of food, sleep, and medical care, among others.” [6]

While it is important to know these similarities exist, the underlying power dynamics and structural inequality experienced by victims of human trafficking are what so closely mirrors the coercive control dynamic.

Similarities: The Power Dynamics Involved

  • “Individuals engaged in prostitution may be in an intimate relationship and have children with their pimp/trafficker, who may have threatened to or may have already used physical abuse, often as a mechanism to control and coerce the victim and to enforce silence when the victim comes into contact with the justice system.” [7]

  • “Human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, often involves the same dynamics of power and control present in patterns of domestic violence and sexual assault.” [8]

  • “When a trafficker is exploiting an intimate partner or family member, the familial relationship itself may be used to perpetuate an exploitative power imbalance. Sex traffickers may also utilize language that mimics familial relationships, such as insisting that a victim refers to him as ‘Daddy’ or other individuals he is exploiting as the victim's ‘family.’ Use of this language is meant to reinforce loyalty and strengthen the psychological ties between a trafficker and victim. When paired with other forms of or threats of abuse, leaving an exploitative situation becomes incredibly difficult.” [9]

Similarities: The Role of Structural Inequality

  • The most common victims of human trafficking are from already vulnerable populations [10]:

    • 25% of human trafficking victims are children

    • 75% of human trafficking victims are women and girls

  • In a study over calendar year 2016, The Polaris Project worked with 10, 615 victims of human trafficking. Amongst those:

    • 93% were minorities

    • The top five risk factors were:

      1. Recent migration/relocation

      2. Substance use

      3. Runaway/homeless youth

      4. Mental health concern

      5. Involvement in the child welfare system

The power and control dynamic between abuser and victim may also serve to prevent victims from having access to resources: “the dynamics of force and coercion may affect victims’ ability to use system resources. As in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault, the fact that an individual was coerced does not necessarily lessen the real or perceived blaming and stigma associated with trafficking. This, in turn, makes victims even more vulnerable to further trauma and less likely to seek help, especially from justice system stakeholders whom they do not know nor trust.” [11]

Coercive Control: Total Domination & Entrapment

Like victims of coercive control in relationships, victims of human trafficking can experience total entrapment and domination by their traffickers. The coercion, fraud, and threats of traffickers creates a real sense of imprisonment and makes victims (quite literally in many cases) another’s property. Because trafficking often involves multiple actors, rather than just an abuser and a victim, and because the abuse may occur within groups or organizations, it may be difficult for most to recognize that many of the dyadic and intimate dynamics utilized by abusive partners are utilized in trafficking cases to recruit and maintain compliance, as well as to threaten the victim if the person attempts to assert their independence or desire to leave.

That said, many victims do not know that this is occurring, and have to believe that they are free to leave and are choosing to stay. Advocates have drawn parallels between victims of trafficking who escape but return and victims of domestic violence who do not leave their abusers. Human trafficking advocates widely recognize this powerful pull toward the abuser as the “trauma bond.” Trauma bonds are created when “the victim must perceive a real threat of death and an inability to escape; they must be isolated; and there must be some perception of kindness.” [12] This bond is also utilized to benefit abusers in intimate partner relationships.

Dr. Evan Stark recently did an interview in which he explained the unique aim of coercive control:

"In coercive control abuse, you have a range of acts over time, a broad range of non-consensual and non-reciprocal tactics — isolation, intimidation, sexual abuse, stalking. And they’re not just used to hurt someone or to hurt their feelings, but to subjugate them in ways that make them unable or unwilling to escape, or to effectively resist a partner’s demands. The aim of emotional abuse is to hurt someone’s feelings so badly that they feel ashamed of themselves, and the aim of [physical] domestic violence is to hurt someone physically and make them afraid to resist in that situation, but the aim of coercive control goes beyond that. It uses a range of tactics to subjugate them, to make them dependent. The aim is total domination, rather than simply to win compliance on a particular issue." [13]

Seeing the ultimate goal of coercive control as total domination, we believe it is relatively straightforward to understand human trafficking as a commercialized extension via the ultimate exploitation of a woman’s body, viewed not just as property, but as an object seized upon for economic benefit.

This economic benefit is also seized upon by gangs, terrorist organizations like ISIS using women as prostitutes, and even religious cults like Children of God who pressure women to have sex with men as a recruitment tool. Cults and gangs may use branding to mark their female property, as seen recently with the sex trafficking cult, Nxivm. We will go into these topics near the end of our series when we tie these various fields together with more examples.

Trafficking laws and prevention programs, like the laws and prevention programs targeting domestic violence, must utilize a coercive control framework that goes beyond just criminalizing the end product (physical violence, kidnapping or stalking), but actually addresses the process that produces this sort of imprisonment and creates total domination over victims.  From a legal and policy standpoint, there have been many efforts recently to include coercion as a recognized part of the abuse victims of human trafficking face. Like coercive control in intimate partner relationships, trafficking policy and laws must recognize human trafficking as a "liberty crime" in which abusers strip their victims of their freedoms.

From a public safety perspective, we should attempt to obviate the abusive process by educating the public about how this sort of abuse works, that their labor is their own to employ as they see fit, and to be wary of anyone who attempts to assert that their own body is anyone's but their own.

Written by Chelsea Brass & Abigail Hazlett

[1] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2012). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012. Vienna, Austria. https://nrcdv.org/dvam/sites/default/files2/HumanTrafficking%26DV-TalkingPointsForm.pdf
[2] https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/facts
[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2012). Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012. Vienna, Austria. https://nrcdv.org/dvam/sites/default/files2/HumanTrafficking%26DV-TalkingPointsForm.pdf
[4] https://www.unodc.org/documents/human-trafficking/UNVTF_fs_HT_EN.pdf
[5] Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2004). Domestic & Sexual Assault Advocate Handbook on Human Trafficking. Tallahassee, FL. https://nrcdv.org/dvam/sites/default/files2/HumanTrafficking%26DV-TalkingPointsForm.pdf
[6] ibid
[8] ibid
[9] https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/domestic-violence-and-human-trafficking/33601
[10] http://polarisproject.org/sites/default/files/2017NHTHStats%20%281%29.pdf
[12] https://nypost.com/2018/04/17/how-sex-traffickers-hunt-for-victims-and-brainwash-them/  
[13] https://www.yahoo.com/news/domestic-violence-expert-eric-schneiderman-214621191.html

Beyond Intimate Partner Relationships: The Role of Structural Inequality

We have already provided a brief overview of the similarities we see in abuser tactics and victim experience across several different types of abuse where isolation, captivity and fear are utilized to establish power and control over victims. That post was pretty dense already, so we thought it would be good to separately address one important area of the coercive control framework that is often left out of the conversation: the role of structural inequality.

Evan Stark’s work outlining the coercive control framework we explore on this site argues that coercive control is uniquely different from other forms of abuse because of the distinct role gender inequality plays in further entrapping victims. In fact, he argues that gender inequality (or an attempt to uphold it) is behind why men take on the challenge of attempting to exert absolute control over their victims in the first place:

Men take up these challenges for three compelling reasons: because women’s gains threaten the privileges they believe are their due simply because they are men, because women’s gains increase the potential rewards if abuse is successful, and because they can think of no equally effective way to secure these privileges and benefits. [1]

We love Stark’s take on this and believe it to be an important aspect of understanding why men abuse women in this way. Power and control is not just central to the dynamic between intimate abusers and their victims, it is central to the structures and institutions that govern our society. These structures and institutions are creations of those with the most privilege and power and thus, often serve to reflect and uphold the dynamics that put their creators in power. Abuse does not occur in a vacuum and abusers and victims alike are influenced, guided and either restricted or empowered by these structures and institutions.

Theoretically, we see coercive control as coercive and controlling abuse further intensified and guided by the victim’s vulnerability to systemic oppression, particularly in the context of gendered oppression. We believe this dynamic is compounded by the following:

  1. In environments characterized by high levels of authoritarian control (communities living under authoritarian regimes like North Korea, political and religious cults, certain types of highly abusive families, etc.)

  2. Where group psychological abuse tactics are utilized to mirror dyadic abuse (between leader and follower, parent and child, etc.)

  3. Where victims encounter other forms of structural inequality (eg. a poor, trans black woman’s experience navigating the justice system versus a wealthy, white, cis-gender woman’s experience)

Dr. Judith Herman highlights the role of an abuser’s privilege (in relation to their victim’s lack thereof) within the context of various types of abusive relationships: “the more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.” [2] In many cases, the abuser’s ability to prevail over their victim occurs not just in the context of their individual interactions, but also beyond the dynamic to a victim’s interactions with the world around them, even when they are reaching out with the goal of escape or seeking assistance. The victim’s experience of entrapment is compounded by the various structural inequalities that contextualize their abuse. Further, abusers in these various contexts will utilize tactics that capitalize on the power differential that structural inequality provides them.

As we continue to dig into this concept, we will delve into how structural inequality makes victims intrinsically vulnerable and further entraps them after they have been recruited or ensnared. We believe this applies across various contexts, from commercial human trafficking and forced sex work, political and religious cults, abusive families and in some terrorist organizations (eg. the ISIS brides).

Written by Abigail Hazlett

[1] Stark, E. (2009). Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. Oxford University Press. p. 131.
[2] Herman, J. (2004). From trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence–from domestic abuse to political terror. p. 8.


In the News: A Domestic-Violence Expert on Eric Schneiderman and ‘Coercive Control’

If you've been watching the news, you have seen the recent New Yorker expose on former New York Attorney General Eric Scheiderman, where multiple women accused him of a broad range of abusive behaviors. Dr. Evan Stark recently gave an interview in which he discussed that story and offered his own description for Scheiderman's behavior. It's an excellent read that highlights some important concepts for understanding what makes coercive control different from other forms of violence and abuse, as well as learning the warning signs for coercive control.

Some important takeaways (our emphasis added):

  • On the difference between coercive control and other forms of abuse: "In coercive control abuse, you have a range of acts over time, a broad range of non-consensual and non-reciprocal tactics — isolation, intimidation, sexual abuse, stalking. And they’re not just used to hurt someone or to hurt their feelings, but to subjugate them in ways that make them unable or unwilling to escape, or to effectively resist a partner’s demands. The aim of emotional abuse is to hurt someone’s feelings so badly that they feel ashamed of themselves, and the aim of [physical] domestic violence is to hurt someone physically and make them afraid to resist in that situation, but the aim of coercive control goes beyond that. It uses a range of tactics to subjugate them, to make them dependent. The aim is total domination, rather than simply to win compliance on a particular issue."
  • On recognizing coercive control early: "Much of what we define as love in the U.S. looks like coercive control. We think when somebody wants to do everything for us, or wants to know the answers to questions we haven’t even asked yet, we think that’s a sign of love. But it may also be a sign of someone who doesn’t want to allow us to have our own sense of dignity and autonomy and respect. When someone feels uncomfortable that they’re not able to express their differences, or when they find their partner so overreacting to differences that they catch themselves before they say something, they’re in the presence of coercive control."

It's a short read and we definitely recommend checking it out!

Written by Abigail Hazlett

Person to Know: Evan Stark

Dr. Evan Stark is a recognized expert in the domestic violence (DV)/intimate partner violence (IPV) field and author of Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. His work on coercive control represents "one of the most important books ever written about domestic violence and one that should be widely read by advocates, policymakers, and academics". [1] 

We have already highlighted Evan Stark's concept of coercive control, as well as its importance, but for a better understanding, we STRONGLY encourage readers interested in the subject to read the entire Coercive Control book. In this work, Stark delves into the intricacies of patriarchal control, explaining how as women’s liberation progressed, institutional (public) control of women, becoming more socially unacceptable, transformed into dominance over women within their homes, decentralized and hidden from the public eye.

Stark's work also acknowledges the many who came before him and laid the groundwork for his coining the term coercive control. Because the dynamics of coercive control mirror dynamics found in some other abusive contexts, including religious cults and prisoners of war (POWs), he discusses the work of former POW Robert Jay Lifton and the critical works of Judith Herman (who we have highlighted already on our blog) and Lenore Walker on complex PTSD.

The work of Lifton, Herman, and Walker are foundational to an understanding of coercive control, but Evan Stark's efforts have changed the way advocates understand the experiences of victims and create policy to better protect them. His ideas became the basis of domestic violence policy in the United Kingdom. Now UK policy recognizes a broader interpretation of abuse, which they have termed “controlling and coercive behavior”. The authors here hope that this will eventually inspire policy in the United States that could strengthen policies such as stalking laws and impact how abusers are sentenced.

Written by Chelsea Brass

[1] Domestic Violence Report in Stark, E. (2009). Coercive control: The entrapment of women in personal life. Oxford University Press. Back cover.

Why Is a Coercive Control Framework So Important?

This seems to be the question we get the most. Thankfully, Evan Stark, the man who first coined the term “coercive control” wrote an entire book that more than adequately addresses this question (amongst lots of other great information). We’d encourage you to check out Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, but until you have time to read the entire thing, we thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of some of his important arguments, drawn from a shorter academic article you can find in its entirety here


In most parts of the world, law, policy and prevention work addressing domestic violence is created based on a “violence model,” which “equates partner abuse with discrete assaults or threats.” [1] This model, Stark argues, is faulty because it assumes the severity of the domestic violence can be accurately measured based on evaluations of psychological and physical harm done to the victim in a specific episode or instance of physical violence. The “violence model” treats abuse as episodic, occurring only at the time of a specific instance of physical assault. 

This approach fails to take into account the “well-documented fact that physical abuse almost never consists of an isolated incident” and that almost half of all reported cases involve serial abuse in which victims reported daily assaults over the lifespan of the relationship [2]. As a result, laws and policy target only physical violence, but ignore and minimize the tactics abusers use to subjugate their victims. Abusers, if arrested, will often receive minimal punishment and victims are stigmatized and receive little to no relief because police, service providers and the general public inaccurately assume there is “time ‘between’ assaultive episodes” where victims can make decisions to leave the relationship if they have been harmed [3].

Because the “violence model” fails to recognize the damage of the coercive and controlling behaviors abusers utilize to subjugate their victims, it ignores the type of abuse that causes victims the most harm and leads most women to seek outside help (i.e. women report seeking help because they felt controlled in every aspect of their life or felt in danger, not necessarily because they had been hit).

Interventions that are not informed by these dynamics are at risk of being ineffective for several reasons. First, when resources are funnelled based on degree of injury, the vast majority of domestic violence cases are left entirely out of the equation. Additionally, battering interventions end up focusing on a symptom, rather than the source of the problem. Physical safety of a victim is absolutely the priority in these cases, but focusing only (or primarily) on the battering means programs are unable to address the patriarchal views at the heart of the problem.

Finally, when victims seek aid (often repeatedly as these instances occur over an extended period of time), they will fail to receive the assistance they need. Research has shown that “between 60 and 80% of the victims who seek outside assistance are experiencing multiple tactics to frighten, isolate, degrade and subordinate them as well as assaults and threats” [4]. Unfortunately, the “violence model” has led to laws that do not recognize most of these tactics as crimes and “almost none are included in current domestic violence laws, assessments or charges” [5]. This means that when a victim is not in the midst of a violent episode where their life is in imminent danger, they may not be taken seriously, even though they may be in great danger.


Stark argues assessments ought to identify the level of coercive control an abuser utilizes over a victim, rather than the level of physical injury. This, he argues, would represent a more accurate determination of “the victim’s vulnerability to serious injury or psychological trauma” [6]. The evidence backs this assertion up, too. Recent studies have shown that the level of control in an abusive relationship, not the presence of prior assaults, is a “better predictor… of future sexual assaults and of severe and fatal violence” [7]. As such, knowing how much control an abuser exacts over a victim would be far more beneficial to both service providers and victims. 

Additionally, rather than assuming victims have time between abusive episodes of physical violence to assess their relationships and make decisions to protect themselves if necessary, the coercive control framework recognizes that the “primary outcome of coercive control is a condition of entrapment that can be hostage-like in the harms it inflicts on dignity, liberty, autonomy and personhood as well as to physical and psychological integrity” [8]. This perspective allows abuse to be reframed so that police and service providers begin to expect and welcome repeated attempts by a victim to seek help or to leave. A coercive control framework recognizes that victims may fear ‘staying’ in the relationship but feel unable to leave due to the entrapment they experience, even when they report no physical violence. [9] This will shift the conversation away from questioning why victims stay to long-term strategies for limiting abusers' access to victims and programs that emphasize meeting the full range of victim’s needs, including empowering victims, restoring their sense of “freedom,  autonomy, dignity and equality” and helping them to build support networks so that they can leave [10].

Written by Abigail Hazlett

[1] Stark, E. (2012). Re-presenting battered women: Coercive control and the defense of liberty. In conference Violence Against Women: Complex Realities and New Issues in a Changing World, Les Presses de l’Université du Québec, Québec, Canada. 3.
[2] p. 6
[3] p. 6
[4] p. 7
[5] p. 7
[6] p. 5
[7] p. 4
[8] p. 7
[9] p. 14
[10] p. 15

U.S. Advocates Have a Lot to Learn from French & UK Laws

One of the primary goals of this website is to advocate for policy change in the United States that recognizes the harms of coercive control. Currently, only physical violence against a victim is recognized as a crime, meaning that until bodily harm or injury occurs, victims have no legal protection. In fact, Dr. Evan Stark, whose book Coercive Control introduced the concept, argued "the primary outcome of coercive control is a condition of entrapment that can be hostage-like in the harms it inflicts on dignity, liberty, autonomy and personhood as well as to physical and psychological integrity." In short, Stark argued coercive control represents a human rights violation and a "liberty crime" against the victim. Other countries have created laws intended to protect victims from not just the physical harm they may (or may not) experience, but the emotional and psychological patterns of abuse utilized by many abusers.

A January 2018 article in the Huffington Post provides an overview of places where psychological abuse is outlawed. We think of psychological abuse as a prime tactic used in any coercive control pattern and are excited to see how laws meant to address this form of abuse are utilized in court systems. While there may be limitations to a bill that explicitly addresses coercive control, the implementation of these laws may be very informative as we work to strengthen current policy here in the United States. Below, we have included an introduction to relevant legislation in both France and the United Kingdom. We will continue to review the framework, implementation and analyses of these laws, which we hope to share with you in the near future.


In 2010, France banned “psychological violence within marriage”, becoming the first country to officially criminalize psychological abuse. The Library of Congress summarizes the Law on Violence Against Women, which among other protections for victims, includes psychological violence: 

“The Law also contains several criminal provisions aimed at reinforcing the fight against familial violence, including psychological violence. Harassing one's spouse, partner, or co-habitant by repeated acts that “degrade one's quality of life and cause a change in one's physical or mental state of health” is punishable by a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a €45,000 fine (about US$57,000), if that harassment resulted in an incapacity to work for eight days or less or does not result in any work incapacity. The penalty is increased to five years and a fine of €75,000 (about US$95,000) if the resulting incapacity to work is over eight days.”

At its introduction, an NPR story reported critics viewed the legislation as unnecessary and “would allow couples to be hauled in for having an argument.” One of the bill’s creators, Martine Billard, disagreed, arguing the law addressed a legitimate concern and would require a victim to prove “that the abuse is repeated and done with the intention of destroying the victim's dignity.”

Additional articles on the introduction of the French law:
French Bid to Ban Marital Abuse That's Psychological in Time Magazine
France Makes ‘Psychological Violence’ a Crime in The New York Times


In 2017, the United Kingdom passed The Serious Crime Act 2015, criminalizing the use of controlling or coercive behavior in intimate or familial relationships. Carol A Lambert, MSW, reports in the Huffington Post that “the UK’s new law recognized a gap in the existing law and now includes patterns of coercive control by an intimate partner while still living together that can carry a maximum sentence of five years of imprisonment or a fine, or both.”

The UK's Independent highlighted changes to the law in a December 2015 article, shortly after the bill was passed. The article provides specific examples of behavior classified as "controlling, coercive" and an explanation that the law is only applicable in circumstances in which repeated, continuous and ongoing treatment produces a "serious effect" on the victim. Additionally, it lays out some of the initial responses to the law by those working with victims:

In opposition, Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, said she did not believe that criminalizing coercive control was the right solution. “We already have enough laws – the problem is that they are not being implemented properly,” she said. “The police don’t even arrest when there is evidence of serious physical violence, so how are police and juries ever going to understand complex concepts like coercive control?
“Controlling behaviour can be incredibly subtle, and isn’t always coercive. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness, for example, can be dressed up to look like care or concern. Providing evidence of such behaviours to satisfy criminal standards is likely to be extremely difficult.” 

However, Polly Neate, of Women’s Aid, strongly supported the new criminal offense, saying it was a significant step in protecting women experiencing domestic violence: “We welcome the home secretary’s announcement that the government will criminalise the patterns of coercive, controlling and psychologically abusive behaviour which lie at the heart of the abuse so many women experience,” she said. “We hope this new law will lead to a real culture change, so that every woman experiencing control can get the support she needs to break free safely.”

The implementation of these laws are an exciting development and represent an opportunity for advocates in the United States to learn how to be most effective in meeting victim's needs and best practices for direct service providers, police officers, hospital staff and legal professionals.

Written by Abigail Hazlett & Chelsea Brass