But in general, the abused are female and their tormenters, men. The abused are usually not outwardly passive. Many are successful professionals who’ve lost personal autonomy even as their careers soar, and who may be too ashamed to seek help.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy |
When does psychological menacing cross into domestic abuse?
“Coercive control” is used to instill fear and compliance in a partner, says Evan Stark, PhD, the sociologist and forensic expert who coined the term. This type of mistreatment follows regular patterns of behavior, and, according to him, “in the vast majority of cases” is employed “by men of women” who are involved in abusive romantic relationships.
“I’m not talking about the somewhat controlling boyfriend or husband here,” says Stark, author of Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. “Compliance is fear-based. If there’s no fear, there’s no coercive control. And that fear is very real.”
How Common Is It?
According to Stark, coercive control is found in 86% of all reported domestic abuse cases. Only 14% of cases are now considered to be classic “battered women’s syndrome,” where the abused person has an obvious, serious injury such as a black eye or broken bone. And Stark says that while low-level physical abuse “isn’t likely to excite arrest or triage surgery in the ER,” it is relentless.
“In 40% of reported cases we see serial abuse, where a woman is subjected to physical assault several times each week,” Stark says. “These relationships last, on average, 5 1/2 years. That means the woman has endured being harmed with low-level violence dozens, if not hundreds, of times before it’s over.”
Spot the Red Flags
Could you be a target of coercive control? According to Stark, these are recognizable signs that your relationship is an abusive one and it’s time to seek help.
Obsessive monitoring. If your partner demands you exercise daily to stay slim, controls your wardrobe and diet, installs spyware into your digital devices, keeps you from other loved ones, and stalks your every move, move on.
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.