Sunday, October 07, 2007

Coercive Control : 5

Despite these inroads, coercive control remains marginal to mainstream thinking. It is rarely acknowledged in policy circles, has had almost no impact on domestic violence policing or criminal law, and commands no special funding. Although providers and advocates may ask about elements of coercive control, I know of no programs or interventions that address it. Everyone acknowledges that domestic violence is about power and control. But we have yet to incorporate this truism into our understanding of abuse or our response.

The major source for the model of coercive control are the victims and perpetrators of abuse with whom I and others have worked. The women in my practice have repeatedly made clear that the most serious harms they have suffered involve how their partners have kept them from fulfilling their life projects by appropriating their resources; undermining their social support; subverting their rights to privacy, self-respect, and autonomy; and depriving them of substantive equality. This is the evidence on which I base my claim that coercive control is a liberty crime. Preventing a substantial group of women from freely applying their agency in economic and political life obstructs overall social development .

The new model is rooted in the same tenets that gave birth to the battered women’s movement—that the abuse of women in personal life is inextricably bound up with their standing in the larger society and therefore that women’s entrapment in their personal lives can be significantly reduced only if sexual discrimination is addressed simultaneously. In the early shelters, the interrelatedness of these tenets was grounded in the practice of empowerment, whereby the suffering of individual victims was mollified by mobilizing their collective power to help one another and change the institutional structures that caused and perpetuated women’s second-class status, an example of women doing for themselves. Our challenge is to resurrect this collective practice and broaden its political focus to the sources of coercive control.

Coercive Control by Evan Stark [Word Document] HTML

This paper helps to differentiate between physical violence and coercive control. A relationship can be violent due to alcohol and substance abuse and other reasons without coercive control. A relationship can be coercive without violence. In some relationships, coercion is accompanied by violence.

Coercive control is typically control by the male partner over the female. Very few men are in a situation where they can only leave the house with the permission of their wives. However, patriarchy puts women in this situation all the time. The wife is there to meet the husbands needs and must submit to his choices for her.

For example, if she wants to join an exercise program, it must not interfere with his preferred meal time, it must not be in a facility where men attend, it must not be too expensive, it must not promote dance and rock music, and so on. Each activity is controlled by the husband's sense of what is right, although he does not have to actually set up the activity himself. He simply dictates what is appropriate and if nothing meets his requirements the activity is suspended.

I have a hard time understanding how patriarchy does not contribute to this kind of mess. Patriarchy is not necessarily going to correlate with greater violence, but we do know it does not correlate with less violence. However, it correlates with denial of decision-making power for the woman.

Stark writes,

What is taken from the women whose stories I hear almost daily—and what some victims use violence to restore—is the capacity for independent decision making in the areas by which we distinguish adults from children and free citizens from indentured servants. Coercive control entails a malevolent course of conduct that subordinates women to an alien will by violating their physical integrity (domestic violence), denying them respect and autonomy (intimidation), depriving them of social connectedness (isolation), and appropriating or denying them access to the resources required for personhood and citizenship (control). Nothing men experience in the normal course of their everyday lives resembles this conspicuous form of subjugation.

I don't know if it is possible to ever get someone who has not experienced this to imagine it. Do some think that women have a completely different constitution and will find fulfillment in subordination? Teaching the subordination of women ensures that some women will suffer this total deprivation of human dignity. It will ensure this. When a preacher preaches subordination some will be subordinated.

I would like to see a law which makes it illegal to put "obey" in the marriage ceremony, and a law which forbids teaching the "subordination of women" in the pulpit. The suffering is vastly greater than having someone steal a concrete physical belonging from you. Having someone rob you of your dignity is a crime more heinous than having your wallet stolen, your home ravaged and your body bruised.

The subordination of women should be criminalized.


Kevin Knox said...

My respect for your careful research and evident passion is unbounded.

> The subordination of women should be criminalized.

And then you issue the correct call to action. To action is exactly where scholarly pursuit should lead. If, at any point, you have a course of action in mind, and if there's anything I can do to help, consider me at your service.

Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I am finding this series interesting and revealing. It seems to me that women suffering from coercive control are in effect slaves, and their reluctance to leave is similar to that of many slaves, who have become dependent on their masters and lack the emotional security to risk leaving, of course compounded by fear of violence.

But I can't accept your closing suggestions "a law which makes it illegal to put "obey" in the marriage ceremony, and a law which forbids teaching the "subordination of women" in the pulpit." This goes against the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion. (I write this to be consistent with having just written to my MP objecting to a proposed law to forbid "stirring up hate" against gay people.) It is not right to defend the rights of women by overturning the rights of others. Anyway it is likely only to push these matters underground and be generally ineffective. We should overcome evil not by imposing laws but with good, Romans 12:21.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

It seems to me that women suffering from coercive control are in effect slaves,.

Oddly enough, women in this situation are usually only controlled in certain ways. They may work in professional jobs, be responsible for the family finances and make many decisions. However, there are some aspects of their life where they are controlled down to the most minute detail. So in this sector or domain, they are completely deprived of autonomy. However, they may appear to lead a normal life to others because segments of life are normal. This is why it is hidden. This is also why it is called patriarchal terrorism. The control is deliberate and intended to create a certain effect.

Regarding the law, I respectfully disagree with you. After all, laws interfere with the ability to advocate slavery. Surely one cannot get up and preach that in public. I could not care less about protecting the freedom of expression against homosexuals. Why should people be able to preach against what other people do if it is not against the law.

I do not believe that any church should have to hire women as pastors, that would not be right. However, the vow of obedience should be outlawed - it infringes on basic human rights. I feel strongly about this.

Preaching is not a human right but autonomy of person is.

Kevin Knox said...


> I write this to be consistent with having just written to my MP objecting to a proposed law to forbid "stirring up hate" against gay people

Your consistency stirs me to deeper thought. Thank you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Against the stirring of hate, there is a law. You cite freedom of religion, but that's only shorthand. The actual law is freedom from imposition of religion. The state should be allowed to enforce those laws that ensure a civil society. Where Christianity is rightly practiced, it will never be constrained.

The usual canard brought up in answer is what Christians will do when Christianity is outlawed as essentially uncivil. When we get to that point, no law will save us.

When Christianity, falsely pressed into the service of slavery, creates an intolerable life for half its most faithful followers something must be done. It ought to be done through the church, but maybe when that fails, doing it through the government becomes a necessary shame.

Paul doesn't just say to suffer being defrauded. He says, "I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?" In this matter the answer is obviously, "No, there is not a wise man among you."

Going to law is shameful, but it deserves to be considered.