What Is Coercive Control? A Forensic Psychology and Criminal Psychology Podcast Episode.
After coming across a woman’s domestic violence survival story and her wish to raise awareness about domestic violence and Coercive Control. I really wanted to help honour her survival in a way so I wanted us to look on the podcast at this critical topic. So we can understand the psychology behind this outrageous behaviour, and in future episodes hopefully focus on helping ourselves avoid Coercive control.
This forensic psychology episode has been sponsored by Forensic Psychology Collection. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Why Psychology Needs To Look At Coercive Control And Abusive Relationships?
I always think it’s important to highlight why these are important topics to discuss on the podcast because that way I know I tend to focus on them, and you might enjoy them more because of their importance. I don’t know why I like to lay down a psychological foundation too before we dive into the meat of the topic.
In terms of Coercive Control and abusive relationships, many people simply ask questions: why don’t victims simply leave the relationship?
And of course that is a reasonable question, I think when I was younger I wondered that too.
Yet from social psychology and the Need To Belong Theory, humans are resistant to breaking any relationship even ones that are bad for us.
In addition, as we are all hopefully outside the abusive relationship the answer seems so simple to the abuse. Just report it and leave the relationship. But this is where the reality is different from the ideal and it was a lot, lot more complicated than this.
As well as whilst there are many different reasons why victims don’t leave the relationship. One of the most common reasons is fear, and whilst the exact definition of fear is hard to pin down. A good definition is something along the lines of a very unpleasant strong emotion caused by a person’s anticipation and/ or awareness of danger.
Due to like most emotions, fear can range from minor to severe, and the fear could be real or perceived to be real. And what’s critical to understand here is that the victim’s perception and whether the danger is real or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that fear can be psychological or physical and it can be rather incapacitating and debilitating. Making leaving the relationship quite impossible.
And I want to mention that the reason why I’m not mentioning gender here is because whilst women are the victims in the vast majority of cases. They are not in every single case and men can be and are still abused in some cases, so I don’t want to put a gender here instead of the word victim and help to reinforce a damaging stereotype.
Additionally, to help show the importance of this topic some more, here are some numbers from the United States’ National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For example, 1 in 9 men and 1 in 4 women experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact, sexual violence, intimate partner stalking with impacts. These impacts include fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, injury and more.
Furthermore, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some kind of physical violence in the past by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviour, like slapping, pushing and shoving, and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence” when it actually is.
1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence. For example, beating, strangling and burning by an intimate partner in their lifetime. As well as 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.
Therefore, as you can clearly see (or hear) regardless of the situation (except maybe the last one) regardless of gender a sadly high number of both have experienced domestic violence. And this only highlights why it’s critical to increase awareness of the topic.
What Is Coercive Control?
Moving onto the next section of the episode, one of the leading authorities on this area is a person called Dr Evan Stark and he defines Coercive Control as the following:
“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.”
As well as one of the problems with the literature on Coercive Control is that there is no, or no easy to find studies that have men as the victims. Now it would be great to imagine that meant no men fall under this area, but given how the myth of men being domestically abused is false. I personally doubt this and think this is a massive gap in the literature. You cannot seriously imagine that out of every single man on the planet, not a single one of them is being Coercively Controlled.
Moreover, Stark adds in his work that 60% to 80% of all abused women experience Coercive Control beyond the use of physical abuse. Meaning the physical abuse might have stopped but the Coercive Control continues.
And Coercive Control can have deadly consequences as Stark argues Coercive Control is strongly correlated with murder. For example, for the sake of illustration only, between the years 2000 and 2006 3200 American soldiers were killed in combat, but during the same time three times as many women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. As well as 1 woman is murdered every 16 hours in the United State either by a current or former male partner.
With the victims most at risk of being murdered are the people in which domestic violence, stalking and Coercive Control happen at the same time. And domestic violence and stalking is common.
The Role of Narcissistic Personality Disorder:
Interesting, there is some evidence that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is involved in Coercive Control alongside antisocial personality disorder, as all three of them are common among perpetrators of domestic violence. With people having Narcissistic Personality Disorder being described as manipulative, demanding, arrogant and self-centred. And they exhibit at least 5 of the following traits:
· Exploitation of others
· A lack of empathy
· Envy of others
· Have a need for excessive admiration
· A grandiose sense of self-importance
· Busy with fantasies of unlimited power, beauty, ideal love, success and brilliance.
· A belief about themselves being special and can only be understood by or associated with special people and institutions.
· Arrogant, condescending attitudes or behaviours
· Sense of entitlement
How Is Coercive Control Criminalised?
Moving onto the last section of the episode, we need to address the very harsh topic of Coercive Control and the legal system. Due to very few elements of Coercive Control are technically a crime and criminal and psychological abuse is always harder to get evidence for and prosecute compared to physical abuse. And yes, I know physical abuse getting prosecuted is hard enough.
This sadly results in the identification, criminally charging and prosecution of the Coercive Control cases is very much beyond challenging.
To make matters worse, successfully prosecuting Coercive Control cases are incredibly rare.
Yet there is a bit of hope because if a case does move forward to trial then the case will most likely be plea-bargained.
In addition, if you live in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and France. Then you’re in luck because those countries have criminalised Coercive Control but the United States does not. New York State has become the first state in the entire country to start introducing criminalising legalisation for Coercive Control as a class E felony. Which for myself and our non-US audience, it means that Coercive Control is punishable by a maximum fine of $250,000 dollars and/ or a maximum of 5 years imprisonment but more than 1 year.
And I just checked the New York State Senate Website for the bill and it says it is currently in committee. So it has another 4 stages to pass until it is signed or vetoed by the New York governor.
Forensic Psychology Conclusion:
At the end of this episode, I want to say that Coercive Control isn’t just another facet of abuse to look at it. It is very serious that we need to address and I truly hope that none of you listening or reading this will ever experience it. And whilst we didn’t look at how to avoid it and recognise the signs in this episode, I do want to do that in the future just to help protect all of us a little more.
But until then, Coercive Control and abuse might be a dark topic to look at. But it is fascinating and very much worth investigating, because you never know when it might be useful.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s forensic psychology episode.
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