Psychological abuse is an infraction of basic human rights.
Coercive control and the severe harm it causes to those targeted by an intimate partner gets much-needed attention by new laws making it illegal in a few U.S. states. It’s now recognized that the recipient of coercive control experiences serious limits that it places on their basic human rights, such as freedom of movement and independence. We also know that coercive control is far more detrimental than physical violence and carries a long-lasting impact on a person’s sense of wellbeing. Criminalizing coercive control helps raise awareness, provides validation, and offers protection.
I received an anonymous postcard from Alaska that showed a picture of a team of dogs with the headline: “If you are not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” The sender wrote:
Thank you very much for writing Women with Controlling Partners. I found it completely by accident…but it’s exactly what I needed to read. I’m a woman in my mid-thirties trying to leave a 10-year relationship that doesn’t quite fit the definition of abuse but is defined by very powerful, subtle control by my partner. The stories….helped me identify patterns of control and gaslighting…. I feel so much less crazy….much more on track and able to become my own ‘lead dog.’
For so many who experience coercive control and feel confused by their experience, the criminalizing of it helps us identify the behaviors, take them seriously, and recognize options for self-protection.
Defining Coercive Control
The National Domestic Hotline definition of domestic violence states that it’s a pattern of behavior used by one intimate partner to maintain power and control over the other partner in the relationship. Violence can be used to achieve control over another partner, but it’s not a necessary part–coercive control itself is sufficient to entrap someone.