Power and coercive control in situations of intimate partner violence
Reading time : 5 min
Considering intimate partner violence (IPV) by only looking at the violent behaviours can be misleading, as it is but one aspect of the situation. It is also necessary to understand it from the perspective of power, control and the restriction of freedom.
Domination, power and coercive control
In a dynamic of IPV, violent behaviours are used to gain control and power over the victim. Essentially, the violent partner imposes their will, opinions, way of doing things and way of thinking, by using violent behaviours to force the other person to submit. The abuser thus deprives the victim of her freedom and her right to decide for herself, in comfort and respect.
A victim who doesn't «let it happen»
Contrary to popular belief, the victim will attempt to restore the balance of power. Several strategies may be present: rationalization (trying to explain, argue), negotiation (offering compromises), appealing to morality (trying to show the other person that their reactions are excessive or that their expectations are unreasonable), appealing to love (begging, imploring in the name of the relationship), etc. In a relationship where the other is not trying to impose their will, these strategies would be effective to restore balance, but in a relationship where the abuser wants to establish domination, the victim's attempts are doomed to failure, over and over and over again.
The victim's reactive violence
When what is at stake is important for the victim and that they are unable to influence the situation, their strategies may increase in intensity, to the point of using coercive or violent behaviours: shouting, insulting, physically defending themselves, etc. This is called reactive violence or violent resistance. It is important not to confuse the violent behaviours of the abuser (which aims to gain illegitimate power) and the reactive violence of the victim (which aims to regain legitimate power or to protect oneself).
From powerlessness to guilt
It is important to realize how much the continual failures a victim faces with her partner are detrimental to their self-esteem and self-confidence. They are left with a very strong sense of powerlessness that may spread to all areas of their lives. Moreover, since the violent partner increases the intensity of their violence as soon as the victim tries to regain power, and uses the reactive violence to show the victim that they are «not doing any better», the victim is likely to feel responsible for the situation.
Just before my office holiday party, he grabbed me by the shoulders and held me in front of the mirror. He told me that I had put on make-up like a «tramp». I begged him to stop. He said I wanted to impress someone. I told him that it wasn't true, I tried to reason with him, I told him that he was the one I wanted to look good for, but he just kept going. I felt like I was suffocating. I ended up shouting at him and I scratched his hand trying to get him off my back. He let go of me and called me a «crazy b*tch». Later, at the party, a colleague came up to me and told me that my partner was showing everyone his scratch and asking them how they felt about me at the office, because I was aggressive at home and he didn't know what to do with me anymore...
Survivor's testimonies clearly show how "getting out" of IPV is about gradually reclaiming power over their own lives. Most importantly, their stories make it obvious that liberation happens gradually rather than in a single pivotal moment. The process begins well before an eventual breakup, and continues for a long time afterwards before the person is truly safe. Each time a victim makes a choice for themselves, each time they regains a little more power, increase their safety or comfort, find understanding... it is a link that is broken, one less thread in the spider's web, one more step towards freedom.
- Is there a hold in your relationship ? Find your answer with this interactive tool
- Breaking the hold of intimate partner violence : reclaiming power over your life
- Unmasking intimate partner violence
- From bad to worse : the escalation of violence
- How did I not see it ? : the cycle of violence
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Bien que la violence conjugale touche majoritairement des femmes, elle peut aussi toucher les hommes et les personnes issues de la diversité sexuelle et de genre. Les services de SOS violence conjugale sont offerts à toutes les personnes touchées par la problématique.