The Psychology of Trauma

Domestic Violence

What is Evan Stark’s model of coercive control?

In 2007, Evan Stark published a book entitled Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. Stark’s ideas about coercive control were not new; in fact, they dated back to the 1970s. But after thirty years of working with battered women, Stark felt that the field of domestic violence had abandoned its feminist roots for an overly narrow focus on physical violence. In his view, it is the psychological aspects of the battering relationship that are the most damaging. Coercive control refers to the systematic attempts to psychologically dominate the battered women. Stark felt that this is at the core of all battering relationships.

Batterers use a broad range of tactics, which can include: micromanaging of the most intimate details of the victim’s life (e.g., dress, personal appearance, diet), paranoid levels of possessiveness, suspiciousness and sexual jealousy, verbal abuse and name calling, unpredictable outbursts over minor or even imaginary infractions, isolating the battered woman from all sources of social support, and continuous low levels of physical aggression (e.g., hair pulling, arm grabbing, shoving, pushing). These tactics create a climate of fear and self-doubt which, in turn, serves to break down the victim’s self-esteem, sense of autonomy, and capacity to resist the batterer’s domination. The serious assaults, when they come, only reinforce the victims’ helplessness. The violence does not stand on its own; it is part of a larger program to break down the victim and to effectively hold her hostage.


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