• Sarah Rozmiarek

Intimate Partner Violence: What to Know

Originally published July 20, 2017

Can you stop intimate partner violence before it starts by recognizing signs of coercive control and psychological abuse? Evan Stark’s book, Coercive Control, defines coercive control as an abuser’s method of stripping a victim of their freedom, control of their body, as well as their human rights. These nonviolent manipulations hint at a partner willing to inflict, and capable of, physical abuse. If these signs go unnoticed, the abuser could wield their victim’s ongoing fear and commit violence. Emotional abuse happens over a period of time, where the abuser constantly controls their victim.

“When talking about domestic violence it’s not necessarily that one argument crosses the line and it becomes an abusive relationship,” explains Sharon*, a volunteer at SARC, the Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center. “It’s a pattern in the relationship, where one partner controls the other and there's a sense of fear. Abusers behave in a way that intimidates, frightens or coerces their victim's behavior,” says Sharon*.

Sharon* gives an example, where a man told his partner that she had to put groceries away in a specific way and if she did it wrong, he would scold her.

“He didn’t hit her, but she knew he would see it as a symbol that she didn’t love him and she was trying to wind him up. It seems like a minor thing, but it has a big impact to them.”

Gaslighting’ is when someone exhibits abusive behavior and then pretends it didn’t happen, or even switches blame on to the victim. It’s common among psychological abusers.

“It can be very confusing,” says Rebecca*, another SARC volunteer. “It can cause serious problems when a woman starts to doubt herself. It takes a long time to recognize that the nice behavior and abusive behavior are both a conscious decision on the behalf of the perpetrator.”

An abuser will never listen to why someone is unhappy and will often downplay the situation. All partners mess up sometimes. If a fearful partner feels like they have to sacrifice things that they value to please their partner and stop bad behavior, that’s a sign of coercive control.

Recognize the early signs of coercive control and carefully intervene and de-escalate it. Recognize these non-violent clues of a manipulative partner before it’s too late.

*Volunteers’ names have been changed for privacy.

Stark, E., & Buzawa, E. S. (2009). Violence against women in families and relationships. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.