What is Coercive Control in Domestic Violence

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“Coercive control is a form of domestic violence” often overlooked and misunderstood. This pattern of behavior involves using manipulation, intimidation, and control to dominate a domestic partner or family member. While it may not always involve physical violence, coercive control can be just as damaging to a victim’s mental and emotional well-being. In Washington State, recent legislative changes have addressed this issue and provided more protection for victims.

Coercive control can manifest in many ways, such as through intimidation or threats of harm toward the victim, loved ones, or pets. It can also involve damaging or threatening to destroy property, monitoring the victim’s online activity, distributing personal images, and taking control of their social media accounts. Additionally, an abuser may use firearms to intimidate, exploit the victim’s finances, file abusive lawsuits, and engage in other harassing behaviors. Coercive control is often not recognized or acknowledged despite being a prevalent form of domestic violence.

An example of non-recognition of coercive control is when a woman is in a relationship with a man who uses coercive control tactics against her. He isolates her from her friends and family, restricts her access to money, and monitors her every move. Despite having evidence of the coercive control behavior she experienced, the woman finds that the court system is not taking her claims seriously. The judge might ask her why she didn’t leave sooner or why she stayed in the relationship if she was being treated badly. The judge may not fully understand the concept of coercive control and how it can be just as damaging as physical violence.

In Washington State, recent legislative changes have addressed this issue and provided more protection for victims. Washington State House Bill 1901, which went into effect in 2020, provides a sweeping definition of coercive control. It is defined as “a pattern of behavior that unreasonably interferes with the victim’s free will and personal liberty and includes, but is not limited to, engaging in psychological aggression, including but not limited to: isolating the victim from friends, relatives, or other sources of support; depriving the victim of basic necessities; threatening physical harm to the victim, the victim’s children, or another person; or punishing the victim for engaging in conduct that the abuser does not approve of.” This definition recognizes the damaging effects that coercive control can have on victims and provides a legal framework to hold abusers accountable. It also acknowledges that coercive control is not just about physical violence but encompasses a wide range of behaviors that can be just as harmful.


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