Coercive control

1. What is coercive control?

Most people have heard something about coercive control but very few are aware of where the idea came from. The concept didn’t emerge from decades of criminology research. The whole thing was dreamt up in 2007 by Evan Stark, a feminist academic, who worked for decades on domestic violence and now is a women’s studies professor. In his book, Coercive Control: The Entrapment of Women in Personal Life, Stark argued domestic violence was running into problems because of mounting evidence that men and women are equally violent. 

But now that the evidence was in showing mutual violence he had to come up with something new. He took some ideas that had been floating around in domestic violence research about patterns of “patriarchal terrorism” to invent a brand-new form of domestic violence he called “coercive control” which he claimed men started to use to control their relationships after society moved on from the systematic, widespread “wife torture” of the past, due to women’s liberation eroding men’s sex-based patriarchal privilege. 

In what proved a brilliant career move, he made up this new idea of criminalizing this pattern of emotional abuse and control. Evan Stark quickly became the pinup boy for the feminist movement, travelling from country to country promoting this new weapon targeting men. 

Even though everyone knows that both men and women use the controlling behaviours Stark identified as coercive control, he simply declared that people should “take on faith” that “the pattern of intimidation, isolation, and control . . . is unique to men’s abuse of women and that it is critical to explaining why women become entrapped in abusive relationships in ways that men do not.”

Within a decade Stark’s ideas were incorporated into new laws criminalizing coercive control across the UK, and he was playing a key role in pushing for new laws in Canada, New Zealand, and here, in Queensland and NSW. Here he is describing the new NSW coercive control legislation as a “beautiful law.” 

He simply states this nonsense as a fact and expects everyone to believe him. But the real power in Stark’s idea is that he was promoting this as a new criminal offence, which make these laws a far more powerful weapon to use against men than the old violence protections orders used for domestic violence. On the basis of the flimsiest evidence describing behaviours that can’t even be properly defined, men would be able to be sent straight to prison. And that has huge appeal to the male-haters controlling so much of Western Society.  

How shameful that so many politicians and lawmakers have been hoodwinked into believing this hoax and allowing it to be weaponized to destroy men’s lives. 

Slippery definitions

Stark and his followers claim we’re talking not just about one particular act but rather a pattern of behaviour. The problem is no one agrees on what’s included in that pattern. Every journal article, every magazine story comes up with its own list. Here’s a typical example:

  • Isolating you from your friends and family.

  • Depriving you of your basic needs.

  • Monitoring your time.

  • Monitoring your online communication tools or using spyware.

  • Taking control over aspects of your everyday life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what to wear and when you can sleep.

  • Depriving you of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services.

  • Repeatedly putting you down such as telling you that you are worthless.

  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise you.

  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing you a punitive allowance.

One review of the coercive control literature found 22 quite distinct definitions. Here’s how the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA) sums up the problem: “There is no single agreed definition of coercive control and the behaviours and tactics associated with it can be subtle, difficult to identify and different in each relationship.”

Stark is wrong

Since Stark first made up coercive control, there’s been proper scientific research trying to pin down whether what he said is right – that’s apart from the usual ideological feminist tracts which simply applaud what he is doing.

It turns out he is wrong about many things, like:

  • Controlling behaviour isn’t associated with physical aggression.

  • Men aren’t are more likely than women to use controlling behavior and physical aggression, contrary to Stark’s assumptions.

  • Men’s aggression isn’t more likely than women’s to be controlling – in fact women are more likely to act as “intimate terrorists”. 

Plus, there are logical flaws in the whole idea that conveniently get ignored, like the fact that rates among LGBTIQ+ people are six times higher than the general community.

But the move was on to push these laws out across the Western World, and country after country fell into line. Given that coercive control is a total con job, the story of how this happened is very revealing – a tribute to the power of the sisterhood and the awe-inspiring control they now have over all our key institutions.