Is This Coercive Control? on BBC Three

woman covering her face with her hand

A new documentary that focuses on coercive control will air on BBC Three on October 27, 2020. “Is This Coercive Control?” brings together twenty people between the ages of 18-30 together for a social experiment.

Hosted by journalist Ellie Flynn, the group of young people view the story of Alex and Rachel over two days. The story unfolds in 6 parts and ends with an accusation of coercive control.

What is coercive control?

Coercive control describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

Coercive control was criminalized in England in 2015.

Over the last 18 months, coercive control has hit the headlines following the re-trial of Sally Challen over the killing of her husband.

In Hawaii the definition of domestic violence was expanded to include coercive control and on September 15, 2020 and in California coercive control was added to the Family Code on September 29, 2020.

During the coronavirus pandemic, called to the UK’s National Domestic Violence helpline rose by 49% percent and incidents of intimate partner homicide rose by 50%.

Different perceptions of coercive control

After viewing the story of Alex and Rachel, the group are asked if they can identify any signs of coercive control and vote on whether the behavior they are watching fits the crimes.

To some members of the group, the behavior the witness in the story of Alex and Rachel seems typical of any relationship but other participants think it crosses the line.

Do any members of the group have a good enough grasp on what coercive control is that they can to spot criminal behavior?

The program found that 70% of participants weren’t able to spot the red flags of coercive control.

After viewing and discussing each segment of Alex and Rachel’s story, barrister Clare Ciborowska, analyses the film the group has viewed and explains what coercive control is according to the law. She also answers questions from the participants.

Watch Is This Coercive Control? on BBC Three.

Watch the Trailer

Resources

Coercive Control Bill Signed Into Law in Hawaii

Hawaii Signs Coercive Control Bill Into Law | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

On September 15, 2020, Hawaii became the first US state to adopt legislation against Coercive Control. Governor David Ige signed into law a historic amendment expanding the definition of domestic abuse to include “Coercive Control between family or household members for the purposes of insurance and protective orders.” 

The bills were supported by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women as well as the Hawaii’s Women’s Legislative Caucus.

Among those present for the signing of the historic bill via Zoom was Hawaii State Senators Laura H. Thielen and Rosalyn Baker, and Members of the Hawaii House of Representatives Linda IchiyamaDavid Tarnas, and Linda Cheape Matsumoto.

Domestic abuse costs the USA 3.3% of its annual gross domestic product 

Research shows that Coercive Control legislation makes fiscal sense for the United States.

According to the World Health Organization, the annual cost of domestic abuse in the USA is an average of 3.3% of the gross domestic product in the form of direct and indirect costs. 

According to the National Violence Against Women Survey published by the Center for Disease Control, domestic abuse causes a loss of 32,114 jobs and 8 million hours of paid labor every year.

In addition to this, every year there are 486,151 emergency room visits by people seeking treatment for rape and physical assault.

By expanding the definition of domestic abuse to include Coercive Control in every state, the USA stands to save billions of dollars as shown by the 1994 Violence Against Women Act sponsored by Joe Biden, which led to an estimated net benefit of $16.4 billion, including $14.8 billion in averted victims’ costs

Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence

Rep. David A. Tarnas introduced House Bill 2425, which expands the concept of domestic violence to include Coercive Control.

HB2425 adds Coercive Control to the definition of domestic abuse. It is a useful term to help strengthen our statutory basis for preventing domestic violence”, Rep. Tarnas said at the bill signing. “We need to address domestic violence because it is pervasive in our community. It is even worse now because of the economic impact fo the COVID pandemic.”

Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence. If we can identify it and stop it there, we can save lives.

Rep. David A. Tarnas

Rep. Tarnas described how he learned about Coercive Control through the advocacy of two constituents. “Officer May Lee in Waimea, first introduced me to this whole concept and educated me about how Coercive Control is the first step in domestic violence. If we can identify it and stop it there, we can save lives.”

Hawaii Coercive Control Law | Rep. David Tarnas

The bill was inspired by Scotland’s domestic abuse prevention program, widely praised as the most cutting edge in the world.

“I want to acknowledge another constituent, Barbara Gerbert, [professor emeritus and chair of the Division of Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco] who has been working in domestic violence prevention research for years”, said Rep. Tarnas. “She was the first person to tell me about Scotland, where they incorporated Coercive Control into their statutes. It has shown to be very effective over time at reducing the incidence of domestic [abuse] cases that escalated into violence. They feel that it did prevent homicides from happening in an area where they had significant problems.”

Superintendent Gordon McCreadie, the former national lead for domestic abuse for Police Scotland, was delighted by news of Hawaii’s new Coercive Control Bill.

“When appointed in 2017, I never imagined that Police Scotland and partners including Medics Against Violence would influence legislative change in Hawaii on coercive control.”

Under the leadership of Superintendent McCreadie, 25,000 police officers were educated about domestic violence and coercive control in Scotland.

Superintendent Gordon McCreadie | Coercive Control Bill Hawaii

The groundwork for Hawaii’s Coercive Control bill

Through her extensive domestic abuse research, Professor Gerbert is a key figure in the advancement of the understanding Coercive Control in Scotland today. 

Professor Gerbert explains, “In my research at the University of California, San Francisco, I developed a model of steps people could use to reduce domestic violence. AVDR: Ask Validate Document and Refer. My goal was to support and simplify what law enforcement, health care professionals, veterinarians, etc., could do.”

Her model laid the foundation for Scotland’s Ask Support Care training on domestic abuse from Medics Against Violence and the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. Through this program, over 2000 professionals were taught to spot the signs of domestic abuse in patients and clients.

“In 2009, the newly formed Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland asked me if they could use my AVDR model,” says Professor Gerbert, “Scotland had a very high rate of all types of violence. In 10 years violence rates have decreased dramatically.”

In 2017, the short film Harder was produced as part of the training program. The clip illustrated some of the red flags of domestic abuse, specifically the omnipotence aspect of Coercive Control and what professionals can do when they spot it.

After many years of tireless research and advocacy, a broader understanding of non-physical abuse was achieved, pinpointing coercive and controlling behavior as well as ways that members of the community and law enforcement could intervene.

In summary

If you would like to see the definition of domestic abuse expanded to include Coercive Control in your state, reach out to your local representative. Write and tell them about the historic Coercive Control Bill in Hawaii and how you think it could benefit your state.

Coercive Control FAQ

What is criminal coercive behavior?

Coercive behavior is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

What is criminal controlling behavior?

Controlling behavior is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.

Are there coercive control laws in the United States?

Yes. In Hawaii and California.

Resources

Lee, C., Takumi, R.M. (2020, September 15) “HB2425: A Bill for an Act Relating to Domestic Abuse”. Committees on Consumer Protection & Commerce and Judiciary. Retrieved October 3, 2020.

Tarnas, Brower, Creagan, Lee, C., McKelvey, Mizuno, Nakamura, Nakashima, Perruso, Takayama, Ward, Yamane, Lowen, San Buenaventura, Say. (2020, September 15). Hawaii House Bill 2425 relating to Domestic Violence: Coercive Control. Retrieved October 08, 2020.

Tarnas, Brower, Creagan, Lee, C., McKelvey, Mizuno, Nakamura, Nakashima, Perruso, Takayama, Ward, Yamane, Lowen, San Buenaventura, Say. (2020, September 15) “HB 2425 HD1 SD1: Relating to Domestic Abuse”. Hawaii State Legislature. Retrieved October 3, 2020.

Ige, D., Thielen, L.H., Baker, R.H., Tarnas, D.A., Ichiyama, L., Cheape Matsumoto, L. (2020, September 15). “Bill signing ceremony for the Women’s Legislative Caucus Bills.” Zoom. Retrieved October 3, 2020.

Max, W., Rice, D. P., Finkelstein, E., Bardwell, R. A., & Leadbetter, S. (2004, June 19). The economic toll of intimate partner violence against women in the United States. Retrieved October 05, 2020.

Cassidy, P., Thomson, J., Mitchell, J., Media, P., & STV News. (2020, September 17). Hawaii’s new domestic abuse law influenced by Scotland. Retrieved October 05, 2020.

Medics Against Violence. (2017, June 25). Harder. YouTube. Retrieved October 5, 2020.

Children are targets for Coercive Control

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN TARGETS for Coercive Control as part of a wider campaign of intimate partner abuse.

In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse. 

Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The impact of Coercive Control on children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.

Dr. Evan Stark

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.