Abuse by one partner towards another comes in various forms. It might be hits and slaps when arguments get out of hand, the violent expression of jealousy and insecurity, or in its worst form, a pattern of strategic acts designed to inflict maximal terror, subjugation and humiliation. This last form, a pattern of torture known as ‘coercive control’, gradually destroys its victims’ spirits. In our report, ‘Beyond Violence: breaking cycles of domestic abuse’, published next week for the Centre for Social Justice, myself and Dr Samantha Callan call for it to be made a serious criminal offence.
Perpetrators of coercive control deliberately target their victim’s ‘weakspots’ and vulnerabilities. They use tactics such as stalking, threatening and hurting children (to get at the victim), sexual humiliations such as insisting upon degrading ‘inspections’, locking up and isolating from friends and family, controlling money and possessions, playing mind games designed to make the victim think they are going mad, and threats and punishments to make them stay and comply.
In my clinical practice I have worked with both victims of coercive control and victims of more classic forms of torture (for example those inflicted by repressive regimes).
The similarities are striking, in fact the only major difference is that victims of coercive control have to deal with the added horror that their torturer was their partner - someone they once trusted and welcomed into their life. And contrary to popular belief these victims are not a one-in-a-million rarity. When asked, many traumatized victims in refuges for people who have been domestically abused recount the ways their partner or ex- used to control and terrorise them. The problem is they are not often asked.