24th September 2014
This content originally appeared in our newsletter between November and December 2013 and reflected our views at the time.
Physical abuse is rarely the full picture, says expert on coercive control, Professor Evan Stark. Speaking at a special event held by CAADA and Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Event (AAFDA) in October, Professor Stark reflected on the need to ‘reframe' domestic abuse to place greater emphasis on the dynamics of power and control present in the majority of abusive relationships. Coercive control was added to the cross-government definition of domestic abuse earlier this year.
Discussing his research on the issue, Professor Stark – an author, academic and forensic social worker – explained: “We were coming to understand what women have been telling us for years: namely that the violence wasn't the worst part… What was significant about the violence women were experiencing was not its severity, but its frequency and its duration, and the cumulative effect that frequent violence extended over a significant period of time had on its victims.”
High risk domestic abuse is often underpinned by coercive control: in CAADA's 2012 report, A place of greater safety, 79% of victims experienced jealous and controlling behaviour, with three quarters experiencing multiple types of abuse. Jo Morrish, CAADA's Learning and Quality Service Manager, says: “While immediate physical risk must always be prioritised, it's clear that extreme levels of coercion and control are also directly associated with the risk of homicide or serious harm. Indeed, a number of homicide cases have been characterised mainly by the extent of coercion, rather than previous physical violence.
"We believe that emotional abuse is what causes lasting psychological damage for victims of domestic abuse. The impact on their self-esteem and self-worth also makes them vulnerable to entering into other abusive relationships in future. We have always argued that practitioners should recognise the significance of coercion and control and welcomed the change in the definition of domestic abuse to include this.”