By Min Grob
Coercive control is complex. Of course it is. Abusers want to abuse and they don’t want to be caught doing it. Much of the abuse will be bespoke to the victim. The abuser knows the victim, their back story and as many details as they can find. Why? They will have done the ‘research’ so that anything they can use to exploit will be harnessed. Abusers look for vulnerabilities and how to press buttons.
They also know how to disguise it, so that it comes over as care or concern when really it is aimed to belittle and undermine, to disorient and subjugate.
Coercive control is abuse invisible in plain sight, because of the devious methods employed by the abuser to ensure they remain below the radar. It is also abuse invisible in plain sight BECAUSE of society’s inherent reluctance, maybe even unwillingness, to SEE what is happening right under our very noses.
Let’s start off with some examples:
Marital rape has been a crime since 1991 but what is society’s attitude to a wife reporting her husband of rape?
It is not uncommon for a wife to face immense pressure from family and friends to stay silent and not risk unbalancing the family dynamic.
Marital rape is illegal yet there is a huge and powerful cognitive dissonance if the rape is occurring in someone’s own family. Comments such as these are not unusual:
“You don’t want your child thinking their father is a rapist”
“But you’re married!”
“But you’ve had sex loads of times, surely not all of them are rape?”
“You’re going to break up the family”
“It’s your word against his”
“No one will believe you”
And so it goes on. Often the wife alleging rape is viewed as vengeful or mentally ill – not just by the rapist – but by the wider family and even friends and neighbours.
Bullying is wrong. We know it is wrong, or do we……?
Many schools have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying except, when a child or parent reports it, there are many examples where the school is more concerned with how it impacts on the school and how it is perceived by others than a sincere and concerted attempt at tackling antisocial behaviour. The priority seems to be on damage control which can, shockingly, manifest in the victim of bullying being encouraged to leave, rather than the bully being dealt with.
Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? Until you put it into context. Children who are bullies often have parents who are bullies. Parents who think nothing of threatening a school with legal action or vexatious complaints to Ofstead because they refuse to accept their child is culpable. In these situations the school will often cave in to the bullies and their parents, for fear of reprisals and reputational damage.
Bullies/abusers know how to frighten people. They know how to get individuals and organisations to back down.
They threaten legal action. They issue copious ‘Letters before Action’. They rely on the other party not fully knowing the law. They resort to misrepresentation and exaggeration to instill significant fear to force compliance.
In most cases the threat is just that, a threat. Something that can never be followed through because the requirements needed to fulfill any legal action, especially defamation, are simply not there. Or they cannot afford to fund an action.
Another tactic used to get the victim to back down is to complain. To be more accurate
TO COMPLAIN A LOT –
AND DO SO LOUDLY.
The idea is to not only frighten the victim into submission, but to create a distance between the victim and others, especially their customers, colleagues or clients as a means to threaten their livelihood or reputation. Many STILL believe that if someone is creating A LOT of noise, it must be true. The truth is nowhere near as simple. Abusers know that manufactured outrage will get them noticed. To an abuser, when it comes to discrediting their victim, there is no such thing as bad news. Abusers also know that if you shout something repeatedly, some of it will stick. Reference how many abusers accuse their exes of parental alienation and contact denial. It covers up the concerns the resident parent has over the abusive parent. Of course, each case needs to be taken on its merits as separation is a difficult time when emotions run high, and it is important to isolate and identify the abusers from the non-abusers without resorting to the easy catch all of claiming ‘toxic relationship’ in the first instance.
This is often linked to litigation and vexatious complaints and is of real concern in the digital age. Abusers will seek to destroy a person or an organisation’s reputation and will do so in a number of ways. For example, writing a blog or posting malicious and untrue comments on social media. This is often combined with threat of litigation where the abuser claims to have been wronged and is threatening to sue the victim. They will often also make numerous complaints to various bodies in order to smear the victim. Because there is a societal reluctance or unwillingness to address abuse directly, the victim will often feel there is no alternative but to concede to the abuser’s demands.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse. Victims have access to a wealth of information at the press of a button but abusers also know how to exploit that reach in order to wreak maximum havoc. This leaves a glaring conflict. How can we identify abuse hidden in plain sight when it is in a relationship, when we are effectively asked to ignore it when it is online?
For there to be a better understanding of the tactics used by perpetrators of coercive control, we need to ensure that the behaviour is held accountable regardless of where it takes place. Not doing so means we are effectively condoning some abuse whilst decrying others. No wonder people are confused and unsure and this cherry picking of what is or isn’t deemed worthy of intervention cannot be how we, as a society, function otherwise who gets to decide what is or isn’t acceptable and how do you police it?
Min Grob is the founder of Conference on Coercive Control – national conferences for everyone – as well as the editor of CCChat Magazine, a free monthly online publication on and around the subject of coercive control.
To subscribe to CCChat: http://eepurl.com/cGdJST
A national conference on coercive control, which is open to all is coming to Bristol this June. It was founded in 2015 by survivor and campaigner Min Grob, as a result of leaving an abusive relationship. Finding that many were unable to see how someone who was softly spoken and ‘always helpful’ could be an abuser behind closed doors, Min made the decision to start campaigning. Coercive control is not an anger issue, nor is it a ‘couples arguing’ issue, but has much more in common with being held hostage and it is this which is often misunderstood.
There have already been 3 national conferences, all of them held in Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, and this move out of the area is part of a plan to take the conference nationwide, with Liverpool being the location for the 2019 conference.
These conferences differ to others in that they are aimed at everyone and anyone. Whether you are a survivor, know someone who might be, are a lawyer, a teacher, a GP or a paramedic, a police officer or magistrate, a social worker, an academic or student, a designated safeguarding officer or a counsellor, this conference aims to increase anyone’s understanding of abuse that routinely falls below the radar, as individual acts can often look trivial or can be disguised as acts of love to someone not familiar with the abuse being a pattern of behaviour.
The theme of this conference is ‘MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE’ and will highlight tactics used by perpetrators to keep the abuse specific to the victim. Often it is difficult to identify abuse that is bespoke and although coercive and controlling behavior in an intimate or family relationship was made a criminal offence in 2015, coercive control can be seen everywhere, not least on social media where the taunting and mocking of abusers is often mistaken for trolling when it is, in fact, far more insidious and has many parallels with stalking. With the use of social media examples, Min is able to illustrate how behavior that is often mistaken as ‘tit for tat’, is actually a result of targeted belittling, degrading and humiliation to specifically elicit a response from the victim, and often there will be several people involved in a campaign of mobbing although this is often difficult to identify, this being the nature of coercive control which lurks below the radar.
The conference will take place at the University of Bristol on 11th June 2018 and promises to be a full day of learning and understanding. University of Bristol is the perfect venue, with its strong tradition of research and education in all aspects of domestic and sexual abuse. In fact, the very first conference held in October 2015 in Bury St Edmunds included two speakers from Bristol – Dr. Maggie Evans, who lectured at the University before retiring, and barrister Lucy Reed.
Speakers at this event include Dr. Karen Morgan, a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, Bristol based barrister, Sarah Phillimore, Dr. Emma Katz, who researches the effects of coercive control on children, John Trott, a retired Detective Chief Inspector, Domestic Homicide Review Chair with 18 years’ experience as a Hostage and Crisis Negotiator. Rachel Williams, a campaigner who survived 18 years of domestic abuse and being shot by her estranged husband who recently released a book, and Rebecca Sharpe and Sophie Mortimer both from the Revenge Porn Helpline, a charity which offers free support and advice.
Tickets can be purchased from EVENTBRITE. A limited number of concession tickets are available.
“Coercive Control is all around us, hidden in plain sight. We need to know where to look “
Min Grob Founder, Conference on Coercive Control