What Defines Domestic Abuse? Survivors Say It’s More Than Assault


As destructive as these behaviors may be, they are not often viewed as inappropriate by law enforcement or the courts, adding to the belief that victims must be beaten and hospitalized before their accounts can be taken seriously. Doubts about how the judicial system would treat them are not unfounded: around 88 percent of the survivors surveyed by the ACLU said the police did not believe them or held them responsible for the abuse.

The new laws to combat compulsive behavior have raised some concerns from advocates who fear that – in trials that local lawyers claim are already piled up against survivors – the standard of evidence may be too high, especially when officials don’t have the Tools are in place to identify and prove patterns of risky behavior. “Researchers understand obsessional control as something that can help predict the outcome of a dangerous situation that will become fatal,” said Rachel Louise Snyder, author of “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us.” “But she added,” Law enforcement doesn’t necessarily recognize that. “

While coercive control has been illegal in England and Wales since 2015, 2018 saw the largest number of domestic violence-related homicides in five years, according to the BBC. The Center for Women’s Justice, a UK surveillance group, filed complaints in 2019 and 2020 alleging a “systematic failure” by the police to protect victims. “The officers on site do not understand the coercive control,” said Harriet Wistrich, the center’s director. Although some training was provided, she stressed that the police, social workers, and courts must have a common understanding of how emotional abuse can become criminal for the law to be most effective.

Others fear that the passing and enforcement of new laws in the United States could draw resources from urgent logistical needs of survivors or from other avenues to justice. A growing number of proponents say the best answer is not with the criminal courts, with their racial and economic inequalities, but with dialogue-based alternatives like restorative justice.

Judy Harris Kluger, a retired New York judge who is the executive director of the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, agreed that coercive control is important as a concept. As a judge, however, she said, “I would rather put energy into enforcing the laws we have,” she said, “but focus on other things besides litigation to combat domestic violence,” such as funding prevention, Housing and employment programs for survivors.

Proponents say, however, that legal recognition of the harmfulness of the problem will make the fight easier – and will help force a reckoning of its spread.

You point to Scotland as a potential model. Domestic abuse laws passed in 2019 focus on coercive control and include funding for training. Much of the police and support staff have taken compulsory courses to understand the problem, said Detective Superintendent Debbie Forrester, Police Scotland’s director of domestic violence. The judiciary also received lessons. In addition to a public campaign in which it was declared that the control of the behavior is illegal, the authorities made the perpetrators aware that they were being scrutinized: “We will talk to previous partners,” warned a police statement.