Domestic abuse is more than just assault

Domestic Abuse Is More Than Just Assault

It’s more than assault!

In September, California passed a law that allows coercive control behaviours, such as isolating partners, to be introduced as evidence of domestic violence in family court. The same month, Hawaii became the first state to enact anti-coercive control legislation. The New York and Connecticut legislatures introduced similar laws.

“Domestic violence is a complex issue, but at the heart of it is the need for power and control”

– May Lee

Inclusion of coercive control is an effort to address a widely held myth that an abusive relationship is only a partner throwing a punch, rather than an incremental constriction of someone’s life, to dominate them.

Lynn Rosenthal, the first White House adviser on violence against women says, “By the time you see a broken bone, the person has experienced a lot of other damaging behaviors.”

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, in the United States, one in four women and one in seven men experience severe violence in their relationships in their lifetimes, and it’s the leading cause of homicides for women.

In the United States, one in four women and one in seven men experience severe violence in their relationships in their lifetimes

– National Domestic Hotline

What the survivors of domestic abuse have to say?

With the onset of the #MeToo movement more women and therefore more survivors became vocal about their traumas. They explained how much more complicated the calculus of abuse can be and the ardent need for its address.

The musician FKA twigs, 33, who filed a lawsuit last month accusing her former boyfriend, the actor Shia LaBeouf, of sexual battery, assault and inflicting emotional distress, said in the suit that his constant “belittling and berating” shrank her self-esteem and made her easier to control. A year later, she said in an interview, she was still suffering the repercussions: “I have panic attacks almost every single night.”

For most survivors, it is mental and emotional abuse that makes the trauma last.

In Hawaii, coercive control in the form of name-calling and degradation was also included as a definition of domestic violence. The law was shaped in part by a researcher, Barbara Gerbert, and a local police officer, May Lee. “Domestic violence is a complex issue, but at the heart of it is the need for power and control,” Ms. Lee wrote to the legislature.

The term coercive control is used to describe the dynamics of abuse because it encompasses acts like creeping isolation, entrapment, denigration, financial restrictions and threats of emotional and physical harm, including to pets or children, that are used to strip victims of power. Mild but frequent bodily aggression — pushing and grabbing, or increasing roughness during sex in a way the partner does not like — is another hallmark, researchers said.

About 88 percent of survivors surveyed by the ACLU said the police did not believe them or blamed them for the abuse.

As destructive as those behaviours may be, they are not often treated by law enforcement or courts as improper on their own, sharpening the belief that victims must be battered and hospitalized before their accounts might be taken seriously. Doubt about how the justice system would treat them is not unfounded: About 88 percent of survivors surveyed by the ACLU said the police did not believe them or blamed them for the abuse.

The law Ms. Susan Rubio proposed, the state senator from California who headed the effort to adopt new legislation there which allows coercive control to be used as evidence of domestic violence in family court, went into effect this month. It defined those behaviours as instances in which one party deprived, threatened or intimidated another, or controlled, regulated or monitored their “movements, communications, daily behaviour, finances, economic resources or access to services.”

“Every time we see that someone died at the hands of their partners, that’s something we could’ve stopped, as a society.”

Cori Bush

Congresswoman Cori Bush, and a survivor of domestic abuse said she thinks of combating domestic violence as building a social movement to save lives. “Every time we see that someone died at the hands of their partners,” she said, “that’s something we could’ve stopped, as a society.”


Featured image: Mika Baumeister

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