Domestic violence comprises a range of behaviors beyond physical and emotional abuse. Abusers often use violence, intimidation, degradation and isolation to deprive victims of their rights to physical security, dignity and respect. Evan Stark has been encouraging the use of “coercive control” to describe a course of oppressive behavior grounded in gender-based privilege. While all forms of abuse are about power and control, coercive control is a strategic form of ongoing oppression and terrorism that invades all arenas of women’s activity by limiting access to money and other basic resources. In addition, few elements of coercive control are currently considered criminal, or are only crimes when committed against strangers, which further complicates this issue within the context of domestic violence.
This Q and A was conducted with Evan Stark, Ph.D. MSW, a forensic social worker and Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University.
Q: What is Coercive Control?
A: Coercive control is a strategic course of oppressive behavior designed to secure and expand gender-based privilege by depriving women of their rights and liberties and establishing a regime of domination in personal life. This definition reminds us that women are often targets of violence. I wrote Coercive Control (Oxford, 2007) to examine the oppressive tactics some males used to dominate women.
Coercive control refers to abuse as a “strategic course of oppressive behavior,” meaning that battering is:
- rational, instrumental behavior and not a loss of control
- “ongoing” rather than episodic
- based on multiple tactics like violence, intimidation, degradation, isolation and control.
Sixty to 80% of abused women experience coercive control beyond physical and emotional abuse.