What is Coercive Control?

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Introduction


Coercive control is like being trapped in an invisible cage. Imagine someone constantly telling you what to do, who you can see, where you can go, and even controlling your money.

It's not just about being bossy; it's a way of keeping someone under control without using physical force.

This kind of behavior can make someone feel scared, alone, and confused, thinking they have no way out.

It's really important to understand what coercive control is because it helps us see that not all harmful actions leave bruises, but they can still hurt deeply and take away a person's freedom to make their own choices. 


Domestic Violence Therapists in Colorado

Seth Boughton, SWC

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Tracey Lundy, LCSW

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Jackie Erwin, LPC

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Colorado
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Heather Comensky, LPC

Heather Comensky, LPC

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Mallory Heise, LPC, LAC

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Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
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Deb Corbitt, LPC

Deb Corbitt, LPC

Colorado
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The Nature of Coercive Control


The historical context and evolution of the concept of coercive control reveal its roots in the broader struggle for recognition of the psychological aspects of domestic violence.

For decades, the focus was primarily on visible, physical forms of abuse, with less attention given to the insidious, yet equally damaging, psychological tactics used by abusers to exert control over their victims.

It wasn't until the late 20th century that scholars, led by pioneering work in the feminist movement, began to articulate coercive control as a distinct phenomenon—highlighting the pattern of behavior that restricts a victim's freedom and sense of autonomy.

Coercive control distinguishes itself from other forms of abuse through its emphasis on the strategic application of control over virtually every aspect of the victim's life, including social isolation, financial restriction, constant surveillance, and manipulation.

Unlike physical abuse, which can be episodic, coercive control is characterized by its ongoing nature, aiming to entrench the victim in a state of dependency and fear.

The psychological and societal impact of coercive control is profound, as it not only inflicts long-term psychological trauma on victims but also perpetuates a cycle of abuse that can span generations.

Victims may suffer from a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, significantly impacting their ability to lead fulfilling lives.

Societally, coercive control undermines the principles of equality and respect that are fundamental to healthy relationships and communities. 


Identifying Signs of Coercive Control


Identifying signs of coercive control can be challenging, as many tactics are subtle and insidious, designed to slowly undermine the victim's autonomy and confidence.


  • Isolation from Family and Friends - The abuser restricts the victim's interactions with others, making it difficult to maintain outside relationships or seek support.

  • Monitoring Movements and Communications - Constant surveillance, including checking phone calls, texts, emails, and social media activity, as well as tracking physical whereabouts.

  • Control Over Daily Decisions - Dictating what the victim can wear, eat, or how they spend their time, often under the guise of concern or love.

  • Financial Control - Restricting access to money, controlling all financial decisions, or forcing the victim to be financially dependent on the abuser.

  • Degradation and Humiliation - Regularly belittling, criticizing, or embarrassing the victim, either privately or in front of others, to erode self-esteem.

  • Threats and Intimidation - Making threats towards the victim, their loved ones, or even pets to instill fear and compliance.

  • Gaslighting - Manipulating the victim into questioning their reality, memory, or perceptions, leading them to doubt themselves.

  • Forced Dependency - Deliberately making the victim dependent on the abuser for emotional, financial, or physical needs.

  • Unreasonable Rules and Restrictions - Imposing strict or arbitrary rules that limit the victim's freedom, with severe repercussions for perceived breaches.

  • Withholding Affection as Punishment - Using emotional withdrawal or silent treatment as a form of punishment or control.

  • Excessive Jealousy and Possessiveness - Displaying irrational jealousy or claiming ownership over the victim, often justified as love or concern.

  • Manipulation of Children - Using children as a means of exerting control, whether through threats of taking them away or using them to relay messages.

  • Denial of Abuse - Dismissing or minimizing the abusive behavior when confronted, often blaming the victim for the abuser's actions.

  • Limiting Access to Support Services - Preventing the victim from accessing medical, legal, or welfare services that could help them escape the situation.



While the concept of coercive control has been recognized and criminalized in several countries worldwide, the U.S. has seen a more piecemeal approach, with only a few states enacting laws that specifically address this form of abuse.

For example, California's SB-1141, enacted in 2020, expanded the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control, marking a significant step forward in legal recognition.

However, the overall adoption across the U.S. remains inconsistent, reflecting a broader challenge in codifying behaviors that are often psychological and non-physical into criminal statutes.

The challenges in prosecuting cases of coercive control are significant, stemming from the difficulty in providing tangible evidence of psychological and emotional abuse compared to physical abuse.

The subtlety and private nature of coercive behaviors can make legal proof elusive, often relying on the victim's testimony, which can be undermined by the manipulative tactics of the abuser, such as gaslighting.

Additionally, the societal and judicial misunderstanding or minimization of psychological abuse further complicates prosecution efforts.

Despite these hurdles, the rights of victims and the support systems available are expanding, with advocacy groups pushing for greater awareness and legal reforms.

Support services, including counseling, legal aid, and safe shelters, play an essential role in assisting victims through the complexities of escaping coercive control and navigating the legal system.


Preventing Coercive Control


Preventing coercive control requires a multifaceted approach that emphasizes education, awareness, and systemic change.

Education and awareness strategies are pivotal in shifting societal attitudes toward recognizing and understanding the nuances of coercive control.

Comprehensive educational programs targeting schools, universities, workplaces, and community organizations can play a crucial role in raising awareness about the signs of coercive control, the importance of consent and respect in relationships, and the availability of support for those affected.

These programs should aim to dismantle myths surrounding domestic abuse, highlight the psychological aspects of coercive control, and promote gender equality.

Public awareness campaigns, leveraging media and social platforms, can further disseminate information, challenge stereotypes, and encourage community support for victims.

Building healthy relationships is fundamental to preventing coercive control, and this begins with recognizing red flags such as excessive jealousy, attempts to isolate an individual from their support network, financial control, and disrespecting boundaries.

Encouraging open discussions about the characteristics of healthy versus unhealthy relationships in educational settings can equip individuals with the knowledge to identify early warning signs and seek help


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Conclusion


The imperative to understand coercive control within the landscape of domestic abuse cannot be overstated, as it encompasses a range of manipulative behaviors that erode an individual's autonomy and sense of self without necessarily leaving physical marks.

Recognizing the signs of coercive control is a crucial step in intervening and providing support to those trapped in such dynamics.

It calls for a concerted community and societal action where education, legal frameworks, and support systems align to protect and empower victims.

By fostering a culture of awareness and zero tolerance for all forms of abuse, communities can pave the way for meaningful change.

This collective effort not only aids in the immediate support and recovery of victims but also contributes to the long-term goal of eradicating coercive control and domestic violence at large, ensuring safer environments for future generations. 



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July 14th, 2024

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