Jennifer’s Law Could Bring Coercive Control Legislation to Connecticut

Jennifer's Law | Coercive Control | Domestic Abuse

Connecticut State Senator Alex Kasser is sponsoring Jennifer’s Law in honor of Jennifer Dulos in the 2021 Legislative session. The new bill will widen the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive control.

“When women are the victims of abuse, they seek safety for themselves and their children. Often that means staying with the abuser because the danger of leaving is too great,” Sen. Kasser said in a statement about the bill, “But when victims do summon the courage to leave, we have a responsibility to believe and protect them. Too many women have lost their lives just trying to get free. And too many children have become collateral damage in this struggle. It’s time for us to shine a light on DV in all its forms and protect those who need protecting. Women often feel shame and fear when they’re with their abuser and when they leave they are re-traumatized by a society that doesn’t believe them. DV is a public health crisis that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. And oftentimes the signs are invisible.”

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is a pattern of acts used by one person to secure emotional, psychological, and financial dominance over another person. It is a distinct form of psycho-emotional abuse that is used as a tool to frighten the recipient into submission. Coercive control starts with occasional incidents of strategic aggression that escalate over time to full-scale campaigns of intimate terrorism.

Coercive control was conceptualized by Evan Stark, Ph.D., MSW, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University in his book Coercive Control (2007). Perpetrators of coercive control often harm children as part of a wider campaign to isolate the primary recipient of the abuse.

Signs of Coercive Control

GaslightingThe perpetrator deliberately distorts the victim-survivors’ reality.
IsolationThe perpetrator isolates the victim-survivor from family and friends. 
Control of Daily LifeThe perpetrator dictates where the victim-survivor can go, see, wear, and eat.
Monitoring timeThe perpetrator oversees where the victim-survivor is, where they are going, and what they are doing at all times
Put-DownsThe perpetrator may repeatedly tell the victim-survivor that they are worthless or useless, they may publically humiliate the victim-survivor by calling them degrading names or by criticizing their appearance, intelligence, etc.
Monitoring CommunicationThe perpetrator may use spyware to track the victim-survivors’ digital communication.
Rules and Regulations The perpetrator creates a set of ever changing rules which they enforce by humiliating, degrading, or dehumanizing the victim-survivor.
ThreatsThe perpetrator may threaten to hurt or kill the victim-survivor, their child, family members, friends, or pets; they may threaten to take away their child; they may threaten to reveal private information such as intimate photos or revelations about your sexuality.
Deprivation of Basic NeedsThe perpetrator restricts the victim-survivors’ access to healthcare and food.
Obstruction of EmploymentThe perpetrator may stop the victim-survivor from obtaining employment, going to work, and earning their own money.
Financial AbuseThe perpetrator takes control of the victim-survivors’ finances, making sure they have little access to money so that the victim-survivor is dependent on them.
Criminal DamageThe perpetrator may damage or destroy the victim-survivors’ personal property.
Assault or RapeThe perpetrator may physically abuse, sexually assault, or rape the victim-survivor.

How Will Jennifer’s Law Help?

Jennifer’s Law will expand and modernize the definition of domestic violence to include Coercive Control in Connecticut state law.

  • The bill will also require coercive control training by professionals with firsthand experience working with domestic abuse survivors.
  • It also seeks to give precedence to child safety when determining custody in family court by making domestic violence assessments a priority.
  • It seeks to furnish victim-survivors seeking a protective order from the Court with legal support.
  • The bill would require judges to recognize victims of domestic abuse and child abuse and provide them with adequate safety and protection.

Jennifer’s Law and Interpersonal Femicide in Connecticut

Jennifer’s Law was created in honor of  Jennifer Dulos, a mother from New Canaan, Connecticut, who is missing and believed to have been murdered by her husband while appealing for protection for herself and her children in family court.

According to Connecticut Protective Moms interpersonal femicide sees approximately 28 cases of femicide and filicide committed every year by perpetrators of coercive control.

Some coercive control murders in Connecticut over the last few years include:

So far, two states in the US have expanded the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control: Hawaii and California. Find out more about which states have coercive control legislation.

References

Photo by Jackson David.


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse.
In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org.
In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


NAR’s Journalistic Standards and Practices
About NARReport Typo or Error

Ireland’s First Coercive Control Conviction

Ireland's first coercive control conviction

Ireland’s first coercive control conviction highlights the importance of active bystanders. Judge Elma Sheahan sentenced 52-year-old Daniel Kane to 10.5 years in prison for coercive control, intimidation, and repeated assaults on his 43-year-old ex-partner. Kane’s campaign of domestic abuse took place over twenty months between 2018 and 2020.

Coercive control is a pattern of acts used by one person to secure emotional, psychological, and financial dominance over another person. It is the most extreme form of domestic abuse in existence. It was criminalized in Ireland in 2018. 

Neighbors feared for victim’s life

Kane is the first person in Ireland to receive a coercive control conviction after a trial. Judge Sheahan found that his aggression was unprovoked and motivated by his contempt for the 43-year-old victim.

His daily alcohol-fueled attacks on his partner caused neighbors to  fear for her life. Consequently, the police were called to the premises on five different occasions.

One  neighbor recalls, “There were genuinely times I thought he was going to kill her — that’s how bad it was. The level of violence and aggression heard inside those walls was very distressing at times, at all hours of the day and night.

“And it wasn’t just normal rows. It was frightening what you would hear, between his aggression and her screams.  I called the gardai and reported it to the ­management company, that’s all you can really do.”

The extent of Kane’s control over his partner terrified her to such an extent that she initially refused to make a complaint leaving the police unable to intervene.

In 2019, emergency medicine consultant Dr. Niamh Collins contacted investigators and expressed fear of  a “real and substantial” threat to her life. Armed with medical evidence, police were able to charge Kane.

From victim to survivor

After Kane was charged, the victim felt safe and found the courage to tell her story. Moreover, she was able to provide a detailed victim impact statement about the intimate terrorism he inflicted on her. Yet he continued to threaten her from behind bars. Between March and July 2020, he told her he would send nude videos of her to her family and friends and publish them online if she didn’t withdraw her statement.

In a display of remarkable courage, she went ahead with the case, testifying to the court that she “might be dead or in a vegetative state” if not for the intervention of the  doctor and police. She encouraged other victim-survivors to reach out to services like Woman’s Aid and the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support.

Orla O’Connor, the chief executive of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Chief Superintendent Finbar Murphy at Blanchardstown Garda Station praised the survivor.

Chief Superintendent Murphy said, “This brave woman’s evidence in this investigation was vital.

“This case shows that any victim of domestic abuse shouldn’t suffer in silence — the abuser will convince them the [police] won’t listen but this is wrong.

“We will listen, we will investigate and the fault always lies with the aggressor. The Garda are skilled and experienced to deal with these types of investigations.”

“There are other tools at our disposal such as barring orders and we will continue to use those. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from — it’s against the law for anyone to behave in this appalling fashion. Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect.”

For more information visit Ireland’s National Police and Security Service.

Cruelty of the most vicious nature

The court found that Kane’s coercive and controlling behavior began in earnest once he had isolated his partner from her family and friends. 

Judge Sheahan said Kane showed disdain for the victim with totally unprovoked and unpredictable acts of “cruelty of the most vicious nature”, including:

  • Financial abuse
  • Punching
  • Burning her foot with a cigarette
  • Cutting her face and neck with a pizza slicer
  • Stomping on and fracturing her arm
  • Head-butting when she was recovering from nasal surgery, and
  • Strangling her, leaving bruises on her throat

He subjected her to humiliation by forcing her to sit naked on a sofa while he ranted verbal abuse at her. Because Kane took all of the victim’s money she could not escape.

A contributing factor to this lengthy coercive control conviction was Judge Sheahan’s disconcerting observation of Kane’s refusal to accept responsibility for the pain he caused – behavior that is typical of dark triad personalities high in narcissistic and anti-social traits.

In addition to his coercive control conviction, Kane was charged with intending to pervert justice for trying to intimate his ex-partner into withdrawing her statement. He pled guilty.

Domestic abuse occurs in the context of coercive control

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women’s Aid, underscores the role coercive control plays in domestic abuse relationships. She describes the pattern of abuse as “tactics designed to isolate someone, erode their self-esteem and their sense of self-worth.”

Signs of coercive control include but are not limited to:

  • Isolation
  • Obstruction of employment
  • Monitoring time
  • Deprivation of basic needs
  • Monitoring communication
  • Taking control of daily life
  • Put-downs
  • Rules and regulations
  • Financial abuse
  • Threats
  • Criminal damage
  • Assault or rape

“It would be true to say that the vast majority of domestic violence and domestic abuse relationships occur in the context of coercive control.” said Ms. Benson, “Criminalizing coercive control is an incredibly important piece of legislation because that is how domestic violence and abuse manifests itself, in a pattern of behavior. To see that recognized and vindicated by a jury is excellent progress.”

A landmark coercive control case

Ireland’s first coercive control conviction demonstrates a departure  from the culture of silence in which domestic abuse thrives. It also shows  the vital role played by informed bystanders in preventing domestic abuse.

With the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Ireland is now  the only country in Europe with definitive coercive control legislation.

“This is a landmark case in Ireland and we hope that it will encourage many other women living with the terrorizing pattern of coercive control to come forward and to know that they will be believed and understood,” Catríona Gleeson, a spokeswoman for Safe Ireland said, “This case also sends a strong message to abusive men that if they think that it is acceptable to control, isolate, intimidate or degrade a woman, as this man did on a prolonged basis, they will have to stop this behavior or they will be convicted of a very serious crime.”

A gendered crime

While holding space for male survivors and recognizing that it happens to some men, it is important to understand that coercive control is a gendered crime. In other words, the extreme levels of violence and domestic homicide associated are more likely to happen to women.

Forensic social worker Dr. Evan Stark of Rutgers University who first coined the term, explains, “coercive control is 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.”

He characterizes coercive control as:

  • Rational, instrumental behavior and not a loss of control
  • Ongoing rather than episodic, and
  • It is based on multiple tactics i.e. violence, intimidation, degradation, isolation, and control.

Global Incidence of Domestic Homicide

The systemic nature of coercive control is such that every year 50 000 women are killed by intimate partners or family members.

Men20%
Women80%

Source: UNDOC Homicide Statistics. Page 18.

Resources


Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse. In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org. In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.


NAR’s Journalistic Standards and Practices • About NAR • Report Typo or Error.


Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Essential Guide

Psycho-Emotional Abuse | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

PSYCHO-EMOTIONAL ABUSE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE was made to provide you with greater knowledge of this fundamental component of narcissistic abuse.

This information will give you a clear understanding of:

Let’s get started.

What is psycho-emotional abuse?

Psycho-emotional abuse describes any non-physical pattern of behavior that intentionally harms an individual’s mental state and undermines their ability to reach their full potential. It is a portmanteau of psychological and emotional abuse.

This kind of abuse can occur within a variety of contexts. For example, it can take place in intimate partner relationships, in family relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, etcetera.

Above all it is used to manipulate and control another person or people.

Neglect, hostility, sabotage, indifference, false concern

Other definitions of psycho-emotional abuse

Dr. Marti Tamm Loring defines psycho-emotional abuse as, “An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another.”

Professor Dorota Iwaniec describes it as hostile or indifferent behavior which:

  • Damages the individual’s self-esteem,
  • Debases their sense of achievement,
  • Diminishes their sense of belonging,
  • Prevents their healthy and vigorous development, and 
  • Takes away the individual’s well-being.
Dorota Iwaniec

Characteristics of psycho-emotional abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is subtle and can be tricky to spot – even by the person experiencing it!

Abusers often disguise their malice as good intentions, which confuses the person they target and deceives most bystanders.

At times, the aggression is overt and takes place in front of witnesses. However, in these instances most people do not understand the nature of this kind of aggression and so they fail to recognize that abuse is taking place. 

Some of its characteristics are:

  1. It is a pattern of behavior.
  2. The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
  3. The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
  4. The abuse may be overt or covert.
  5. It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
  6. It may not immediately seem aggressive.
  7. The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
  8. The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
  9. It may manifest as neglect.
  10. The abuse causes harm to the targeted individual’s well-being.

Abusers are cunning enough to understand that psychological abuse is a bloodless crime which usually enables them to escape accountability for the harm and devastation they cause.

This is because the theatre of the abuser’s aggression is not visible to the naked eye.

While the recipient of the abuse has no physical symptoms, the emotional wounds may be catastrophic.

Pattern of behavior, malicious, deliberate, exploitative, camouflage

What causes psycho-emotional abuse?

There are many reasons why psycho-emotional abuse may occur. The abuser’s behavior is often rooted in envy, fragility, and aggression.

A common occurrence is when an aggressive and/or narcissistic person feels intimidated by the presence of someone who they believe has qualities or privileges they do not. They may seek to resolve these painful feelings by asserting dominance over the person they regard as a threat. 

In some instances, the abuser is externalizing their toxic shame and placing their burden on the victim. In this way, the abuse strips away the authentic identity of the target and assigns to them a new one that encompasses the parts of the abuser’s persona which they despise and reject.

What are the effects of psycho-emotional abuse?

The cumulative effect of psycho-emotional abuse is the erosion of the recipient’s self-worth and trust in their judgment.

Some of the specific consequences may include:

  • Confusion
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Self-sabotage

Abusers often compound the damage they do by refusing to recognize the right of the targeted person to feel hurt, wronged, or angry.

They use a variety of tactics to convince the person they target that they brought the abuser’s aggression on themselves.

They defend their aggression and escape accountability through the process of scapegoating. This is done by using the targeted individual’s vulnerability to excuse the abuse. By blaming the person they victimize, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.

Abusers often silence targets by using threats and intimidation. They enlist agents to gang up on the target. The result is that the targeted individual may experience fearanxietydread, and panic

Prolonged psycho-emotional abuse can lead to adverse health outcomes. It may cause chronic anxiety which can impact the targeted person’s physical and psychological well-being. Over time, this may cause depressioncomplex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

Comparisons to Coercive Control

Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse are both power- and control tactics.

Psycho-emotional abuse may refer to harm inflicted on men, women, and children by abusive men, women, and children.

Coercive Control originated as a descriptor, Dr. Evan Stark, used to describe the entrapment and subjugation of women. It points to a specific kind of gender-based violence, namely how abusive men prevent women from “freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship.”

Coercive Control may include isolation, monitoring, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and bodily harm.

Dr.Stark underscores that Coercive Control is more akin to hostage-taking and kidnapping.

“We must stop characterising Coercive Control as only psychological abuse,” Forensic criminologist Dr.Jane Monckton Smith of Gloucestershire University explains, “Psychological abuse is a method used by controlling people to exert and maintain control. Coercive Control is a campaign made up of any or all of these things which then trap people in a relationship, and make it impossible or dangerous to leave.”

Gaslighting is the distortion of another person’s reality. It’s purpose is to undermine their sense of self-mastery. It is a feature of Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse.

Psycho-emotional abuse has legal status in France and Canada as harcèlement moral and harcèlement psychologique ou sexuel. It was criminalized in 2010.

The United Kingdom recognizes Coercive Control as criminal behavior. Laws prohibiting coercive and controlling behavior came in to force in 2015. The legislation is gender-neutral and applies to anyone experiencing entrapment and domination.

The Kingdom of Sweden recognizes Coercive Control as the crime våld i nära relationer.

Relationship to narcissistic abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is one of the two fundamental components of narcissistic abuse. The other is Coercive Control.

Now It’s Your Turn 

That wraps up Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Definitive Guide.

Now, it’s your turn to have your to say:

What part of this guide resonated with your lived experience?

Do you think you have a better understanding of this kind of abuse after reading this guide?

Do you understand how it works in the context of narcissistic abuse?

Share your insight by leaving a comment below.

Bibliography

Loring, Marti Tamm. “Emotional Abuse: the Trauma and Treatment.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Iwaniec, Dorota. “The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child Identification, Assessment and Intervention; a Practice Handbook. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.

Strecker, Peter John. “I Wish That He Hit Me: The Experiences of People Who Have Been Psychoemotionally Abused and Have Psychoemotionally Abused Others.” Victoria University, March 2012.

Stark, Evan. “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Monkcton Smith, Jane. “Coercive Control is Not Just Psychological Abuse.” Forensic Criminology: Working in Homicide Prevention, 2020.

“C-PTSD Academic Research Material.” Out of the Storm. Accessed May 5, 2020.

* Editor’s Note: This is article is an except from the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.’ To download your FREE copy, subscribe to our Mailing List.

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.