Event Report: Understanding Coercive Control Webinar

Date: 3 February 2021 Time: 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM AEST Venue: YouTube Live via ZOOM Speaker: Jess Hill

About the Presenter:

Jess Hill is an investigative journalist who has been writing and researching about domestic abuse since 2014. She was a producer for ABC Radio, a Middle East correspondent for The Global Mail, and an investigative journalist for Background Briefing. Her book See What You Made Me Do combines forensic research with riveting story-telling and radically rethinks how to confront the national crisis of fear and abuse in our homes


Summary:

This webinar provided an overview of the findings and stories contained within Jess Hill’s prizewinning book, See What You Made Me Do.

Domestic abuse is a national emergency: one in four Australian women has experienced violence from a man she was intimate with. But too often we ask the wrong question: why didn’t she leave? We should be asking: why did he do it? Jess Hill puts perpetrators – and the systems that enable them – in the spotlight. See What You Made Me Do is a deep dive into the abuse so many women and children experience – abuse that is often reinforced by the justice system they trust to protect them. Critically, it shows that we can drastically reduce domestic violence – not in generations to come, but today. There was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions during the livestream of the webinar using the ‘chat’ function. This allowed for a lively Q & A discussion including the varying viewpoints of our viewership.


What is coercive control?

Coercive control is almost strictly perpetrated by men in heterosexual relationships. It is experienced by 60-80% of women who seek help for family violence. Women between 16 and 24 are the most at risk. The best protection victim survivors have against coercive control is knowing what it looks like.


Coercive control involves degradation, surveillance, loss of sense of self and feeling and knowing of entrapment. In the recent case of Hannah Clarke, Rowan Baxter isolated his wife, Hannah, from family and friends, deprived her of sleep/food, controlled her day, made rules and punished her, stalked her, followed her, spied on members of her family, threatened to kill himself as means to make Hannah stay with him, among other behaviours.


The media tends to misrepresent coercive control as the precursor for physical violence – this may be the case; however, it can encapsulate anything from horrific violence to no physical violence at all. Physical violence is just part of the system of entrapment and coercive control is still poorly understood by the media and public. In the UK, these behaviours are criminalised.


The victim’s boundaries are incrementally pushed, and their standards lowered. This type of abuse thrives off its invisibility, where isolation can also be masked as caregiving. Some people who are in fear of consequences because they are so acclimatised to that fear that they are in an ongoing state of confusion, or ‘walking on eggshells’. They run a double narrative run to survive entrapment: that their partner is unsafe, and that he needs help.


Techniques used by perpetrators:

1. Isolation

2. Monopolisation of perception

3. Enforcing trivial demands

4. Inducing debility and exhaustion

5. Demonstrating omnipotence, e.g. installing surveillance, invading private places

6. Alternative punishments with rewards

7. Degradation

8. Threats


What kind of man? Why does he do it?

There are 2 main patterns of behaviour:

1. The calculating abuser who knowingly manipulates partner

  • Indications of psychopathy/sociopathy

  • Most agitated when about to be abandoned

  • Likely to fool police to belief that the wife is hysterical


2. The co-dependent abuser who becomes more abusive over time because of fears that his partner will leave

  • Idealistic at beginning, constructing a fantasy

  • Paranoid and shame-obsessed

  • Dark side only surfaces in intimate relationships

  • Home life and partner is contained for their insecurity and paranoid

  • Expect partner to submit and obey

  • Large entitlement complex

  • Prone to converting the most unlikely cues to evidence of betrayal

  • More likely to stalk and continue to punish partners, remaining attached post-separation

What we see is ‘humiliated fury’ – where they blame others to regain sense of power and avoid unbearable feelings of shame. When abusive people are confronted with feelings of shame, instead of sitting with feelings of vulnerable, they increase their self-esteem at the expense of someone else.


Q&A:

1. How can we best present or map these matters to bring to police and courts to get them to take it seriously?

Jess suggests that presenting the way in which victims are being trapped in a good lens to look through. Victim survivors will find it difficult to articulate themselves. Some questions that police in the UK have been trained to ask are – 'Do you feel like you’re walking on egg shells?', 'What kind of behaviours did you change in fear of consequences if you didn’t?', 'What was the first thing thought of when you woke up in the morning?'. Ultimately, it ought to be criminalised in Australia. In 99% of homicides in NSW, coercive behaviours were evident beforehand.


2. What are your views on the training that judicial and court staff undertake?

There is no mandatory training for judges. Report writers are not mandated to undergo training. Jess believes that the problem with family law is the pro-contact culture that accepts that the child is better off having relationship with both parents, and domestic abuse may be minimised as a result. This is a cultural problem that is difficult to change.


3. What are the risks of criminalising coercive control?

Ensuring minority groups, particularly Indigenous women and children, are not persecuted.

  • Parental alienation should not be used as a form of coercive control and then misused in courts against victims. This is currently being contested in the UK.

  • Concern in Australian context about how police will respond – will they misidentify victims? The incident-based framework criminalises victims where they have acted in violent resistance and therefore have still committed an offence resulting in both parties being arrested, but this should not be relevant. Police ought to be trained to ask questions to establish if there is a coercive control dynamic to ask questions to establish if there is a coercive control dynamic.