Coercive control - what does it look like and what can you do about it if you are worried about yourself or a friend.
There are many problems with this question, not least the fact that the question itself should, surely, be ‘why doesn’t he stop abusing her?’
So here are my six headline facts about domestic abuse:
I have lost count of the number of women who have told me ‘looking back, I could see that he was starting to control me’. But abusive men are very often charming partners, and camouflage their abusive behaviour with concern, love and attentiveness. They weave a web of mind games so that their victim starts to think that the control is a manageable part of his character and that she can’t manage without him. Until the abuse escalates.
Women who are abused tell the same story of abuse, apology, quiet period. Followed by worse abuse, bigger apology, quiet period. Apologies can take the form of gifts, promises never to abuse again, and are often interwoven with loving commitments and assurances. The quiet periods can be a terrifying period of walking on eggshells, a fear of provoking further abuse, and a terrifying anticipation of the fact that it’s only a matter of time. Abuse often starts with coercive and controlling behaviour, and can escalate through economic abuse, mind games, physical abuse, rape and, twice a week in Britain, murder. Abusive men are dangerous.
When your self-esteem has been slowly drained away, if you are told you are worthless, when you have been prevented from getting a job, if you don’t have access to money, when you are told that he will get the kids and you’ll never see them again, when you are told you are unlovable. If you have been slowly isolated from your family, friends and supportive networks and you can’t go anywhere on your own. When he has threatened to kill or strangle you if you try to go. With all of that, how can you possibly leave? Pulling together the wherewithal to seek support and leave is a herculean feat and is the bravest thing I have ever seen any woman do.
The perpetrator of abuse is abusive. People often say ‘she was in an abusive relationship’, which suggests that both parties were abusing each other. Whilst this is not an impossibility, it is uncommon. To suggest that both parties are abusing each other is a dangerous misrepresentation of the relationship, and it victim blames the abused woman.
A huge question, but one without an answer. Domestic abuse is about power and control which are in the abuser’s grasp and he is abusing her because he can. Domestic abuse is not an anger-management issue – the abuser is normally very much in control of his temper and his behaviour at work and around his friends. The abuser is controlling his victim and this is often incredibly calculated.
Abused women have often had their social networks stripped away. By the time they want to ask someone for help, there isn’t anyone to ask. However, you can throw a lifeline by being constant and reliable, signposting to domestic abuse services, offering to accompany her to meetings, and, most importantly, believing her when she tells you that her charming partner is making her life a misery. Don’t underestimate the power of believing her when she’s been told that no-one ever will. It could save her life.
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