Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tired. Yet hopeful.

I accidently came across this old article.

In reading it,  I cried, not only the agaonizingly rawness of my own wretched injustice, but those of two other mothers. I wonder, what ever became of them? Nationally, I have seen many mothers come and...... far to many go. Eventually, wiped out, and completely destroyed..

I think back to this article, what has changed in Kansas? It has gotten only far worst. Now, as is on a National and Global basis, the slaughter is not even silent any more.What has changed? The Positive??? Neither are we. (silent no more)

Never Give Up, never shup up, and NEVER go away!


Compelling stories from parents and grandparents about problems with placement and removal of children

By   /   December 4, 2009  /   12 Comments
Claudine Dombrowski 
Claudine Dombrowski:  An abused mom victimized again by the Kansas Courts
Claudine Dombrowski: An abused mom victimized again by the Kansas Courts
Claudine Dombrowski: An abused mom victimized again by the Kansas Courts
This is an truly incredible story that should never have happened in America. 
Parts of the Kansas Judicial system should be disciplined for how it has victimized Ms. Dombrowski, who was an abused mom.
Instead of quotes from the audio, please consult these pages that document Dombrowski’s long and difficult battle to protect her daughter:
As you view these photos keep in mind that the court awarded FULL CUSTODY of their daughter to the “man” who did this to Claudine.
State Rep Bill Otto: “No crime? You haven’t been guilty of anything? This is a court order that says you can’t go to any school functions?”
“I was under court order till 2004 to not even call the police after I was being beaten because … I was not ‘co-parenting’”
Dombrowski: “These friends of the court make recommendations to the judge. The parents … don’t have a right to see these documents. They do this behind closed doors.”
Otto: (To Secretary Jordan): “You have no rights as a parent …?”
Secretary Don Jordan: “This would be something extreme … I’m not familiar with the situation.”
Otto: “Can a judge do that? … Is that legal… ?”
Jordan: “Under the right circumstances … I hesitate to speculate.”
Sen. Roger Reitz: “This is something that only … the judicial system can really answer … It would be helpful … to have someone … representing the judicial system … to give us some ideas how this could happen.”
Dombrowski: “When you are a victim of domestic violence, and suddenly there’s a child involved, the typical …. power of control is that ‘I’ll take your children from you’. They will and they can the way the laws are setup.” …
“I was told that I’m not to talk to my daughter about the violence. That’s why I don’t see her. That’s why I see her supervised. He was criminally convicted. “
“When women try to get away from people who hurt them … I heard somebody say it’s really hard to believe you won’t call the police … I tell people not to contact the police, because as soon as you walk into court with a DV (domestic violence) and children, you’re already cutting your throat. You will lose your children. That’s the way it is right now.”
“… on the 16th of this month I’ll probably go to jail for breaking the gag order and talking about [being the victim of] violence as it relates to my case.”
Reitz: “… someone ought to be able to deal with this in a way that would address her problem. It doesn’t seem like we’ve done the right thing with regards to this little niche of the law.”
Dombrowski: “The criminal convictions are completely tossed aside and they don’t have any bearing on the family court … The eight criminal convictions that my ex had before getting custody of my daughter were completely dropped [in family court]“
Chair Kiegerl: “I cannot believe that abuse is totally ignored. I cannot believe you can prohibit a person from speaking about their own case.”
“The one thing [where] … I disagree with you is abuse should always be reported.”
State Rep Peggy Mast (R-Emporia): “Domestic violence is a control issue. Sexual abuse is a control issue. Is there any correlation between domestic violence and sexual abuse? Why is that not something that is considered when we take someone to [family] court that has a history of domestic violence?”
Dombrowski: “Yes. That is something I’ve asked myself for 16 years. … It comes back to the family court that has a veil of immunity. … They don’t fully understand the impact of the violence. What battered women have … if they report the abuse, then they’re failing to protect their child … if they don’t report the abuse, they’re still failing to protect their child. So, both ways, they’re going to lose their children …”
For anybody who abuses their wife … [from] a 1996 presidential task force … there is a 70% increase that those children will be abused and/or sexually abused after there’s been battery with the mother.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudea: “In 2004 …. I talked with the homicide department in Sedgwick County…. During that time there had been 21 homicides in Sedgwick County and 18 were due to domestic violence …”
“A lot of women do make those phone calls and unfortunately, sometimes it ends in their death.” …
“I want to apologize to you for being treated like a pedophile … not being able to go to a music concert.”
“I commend you for what you’re doing.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Domestic Slavery and why Equality is the Answer

How Men Coerce Women into Domestic Slavery and why Equality is the Answer

This is the fifteenth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel — Domestic Slavery.
Power & control wheel #15 Clare Murphy PhD

Rigid Gender Roles

Amongst heterosexual couples, many people believe the man should be the breadwinner (although being the sole breadwinner is really only possible for wealthy families). Alongside this, many people believe the woman should stay at home to care for the children, the house, the shopping and the cooking.  Or, if the woman does earn money, this is often viewed as supplementing the man’s income — and her duties are often thought of as “not real work”.  Socially speaking, the male breadwinner role has been assigned a high status that includes having power over their wife and children, the privilege to do what he wants when he wants, and our society has made this role the central way for men to express a masculine identity.
This social identity is rewarded with respect and therefore influences men’s self-esteem and self-worth. Hence men’s masculinity and status are threatened when men are unemployed or if their female partner earns more than he does. Of course this is not the case for all men, however, it is the case for many men who coercively control their female partners.
Before the industrial revolution most family members contributed to bringing in the family income and engaged in a variety of roles. The current male breadwinner/female home-maker roles were only created about the middle of the 19th century, yet in reality only a minority of families have ever fitted the stereotype.(1)  Firstly, because most people can’t afford to only have one breadwinner, and secondly, not everyone has ever agreed with this rigid division of roles.(2)  And, despite the stereotypes, the majority of wives have worked for money outside the home for decades.(3)  However, research shows that when men and women both work full time, the majority of housework and child care continues to be performed by the woman.(4)
Brendan, a man who abused his wife, said, “I think most blokes still would like the old traditional values, where, if they’re gonna get married and have kids, then most of the men I know would expect the woman to take on the traditional role of looking after the house, doing those sort of decisions, but allowing the man to have the final financial decision and, the final direction for the family.”
Likewise, David said, “Blokes like to control money, their money. When they get home from work they expect everything to be laid out for them, they want their dinner and want the kids to be quiet and everything.”
Alex had the same view, saying, “I always expected my wife to do the cooking coz she’s a woman, I expected my wife to clean the house coz she’s a woman, make the beds coz she’s a woman, little things like that and I used to say things like that to her so that the kids would hear me say that to her.  Like I come in from work and the house is in a mess I say, ‘What happened here today? What’ve you been doing all day?’ Little things like that. And I’m always doing that to my wife.”
Despite the huge increase in women participating in the workforce and many husbands and wives both earning money, the wider social attitudes still consider men should be the primary breadwinner.(5)  These beliefs place pressure on men to perform, and as women tell their stories below, it is apparent that, for some men who ‘fail’ to live up to the breadwinner role, they use coercive control as a way of achieving a sense of masculinity, power and control.

She is obliged to carry out her responsibilities, he is not obliged to carry out his

When Karen started living with Felix her “perceptions were initially that we should share everything, that none of us should take responsibility for the traditional gender places, but eventually it worked out that I was doing all the girlie jobs and he was doing the boy jobs —but then I was doing the girlie jobs and the boy jobs. I was really desperate for him to take responsibility. He drives me nuts, he won’t take responsibility and he’s got it down to an absolute fine art and he’s just got worse and worse and worse. When I met him he was working, he ran a household, it was clean, he cooked good meals. As soon as I turned up he saw it as an opportunity to just relinquish those responsibilities. He saw that he was able to just flick his wrists and just toss it off and I would be there to pick it up for him and I ended up working really hard, very hard. If I asked him to do anything he would immediately get his back up and refuse to do it.”
Sally said “I really thought Dylan had incredible potential, but his way of being in a marriage was so traditional, he would not cook, he wouldn’t do the dishes after we’d eaten. So for me to get him to do the dishes I had to let him do them in his time, which was maybe once a week, maybe every few days. I refused to do it for him so, I learned to live in a kitchen full of mess, hoping he would actually do something around the house.  He wouldn’t do the grocery shopping. I discussed it, I sat him down, I yelled at him, I yelled a lot at him.  I got him to make commitments. Sometimes he’d say, ‘Yes, I agree I will do these things, yes I will cook, yes I will do the groceries once a week, yes we’ll take turns cooking.’ But every time it was his turn to do something, he ended up not doing it, he’d have the mosttwisted subtle excuses.”
Sally explained the kind of excuses Dylan made for not carrying out responsibilities: “He said he couldn’t cook elaborate dishes like I did, so he wasn’t going to cook. But I’d say, ‘cook whatever you like, I don’t care if you make me a piece of toast.’  Sometimes he would do that, but then he’d stop and revert to the same excuse. Then he said his ex-wife always interfered with him in the kitchen telling him what to do and how to do it so he was put off cooking for life. I told him that I was not into telling him how to do it or what to do in the kitchen and that he could do whatever he liked in whatever way he liked. I tried to prove to him that he could trust me. I thought he had a self-esteem problem and that if I proved to him that I was supportive and loved him he would eventually share the load — but no, he’d continually act as if I was untrustworthy. I despaired.”

Refuses to take responsibility for finances, household duties and for own children

Sally said, “I was continually stuck because of Dylan’s lack of responsibility and my need not to go into debt.  So with financial issues I begged him, argued.  I told him I would show him how to do the books, show him how to do budgets.  He consistently said ‘I already know how to run my own finances, I’ve done it for years as a single man.  It’s not as if I cant do it.’  Then I’d say, ‘Well, do it then.’  So occasionally, I’d let go so he’d do it.  I would let him take full responsibility for the finances, but as usual he did not pay the bills, he didn’t do anything about earning money, he didn’t do anything about making a budget, so that there was no money when it was time to pay the bills. I couldn’t stand being in debt, so I would take over the finances again. I worked very very hard doing things I hated so that I was supporting him.” 
Sally said Dylan “always said ‘we’re a team’. But I would explain to him that team members actually do the ugly tasks as well as the nice tasks and that he had to contribute to doing the ugly tasks. But he insisted I had to do what I was good at, which happened to include all the ugly tasks, and that he would do what he was good at, which happened to be the nice tasks. So that was another seven-year argument and in the last year I finally said, ‘No, I’m not doing it any more’ and I just stopped working for him.”
According to Elsie, the pattern of roles in her relationship with Leon entailed, “around the house was my responsibility, everything inside it and everything outside it. He did nothing. He sat in his chair and that was it. I just did everything. He only had responsibility for the things that he wanted, the things like the finances, the things that mean he was in control.”
Pauline said she and Chris were trying to do up the house but he had no interest in it. So in an attempt to encourage him she’d say to him, “‘I’ll take the kids away for the holidays and you can paint the kitchen ceiling.’ When we came home he hadn’t done a thing. Also the more he eased off fathering the more did. What he dropped I would pick up and I became worn out. I got glandular fever, but didn’t rest up because I had five children.”

Treats her like a servant by overburdening her with responsibility

Donna said, “Frank needed a servant, I started off being a servant and then I became a slave because Frank needed and wanted to have a servant all the time. Everything in his life was about me, me, me, me, me, me and you are there to serve him, that is a woman’s place. I lost my life. My whole life became making him happy, picking up after him. There was no conversation. I served tea to him on a tray, wherever he chose to sit. I also made a joke of it…I was his slave, I used to wash him, I used to dress him, all of which he could do himself, I used to put his boots on for him and take his boots off for him.”
Recent research shows that when men become dependent on their wives’ income, rather than take up the slack and do the housework and child care roles, the tendency is for the man to do less housework than he may have done previously.(6)
Victoria gave one example of the many ways her husband Graham refused to take up the slack when he was not working. “We were on the farm and I also held down a nursing job in town. So I would get up at 4 in the morning and go and milk the cows with him. I would come home and get my breakfast, put his breakfast on so it was on the stove when he got in, put his lunch in the crockpot and get the dinner out ready for tea then I’d go out to work. Then I’d come home after a day of working and I’d tidy up all the dishes, go out and milk the cows, then I’d come in at night and cook his tea and tidy up the dishes and go to bed. I mentioned to him one day how it might be nice if he could do the dishes during the day while I was at work, but not — it was a woman’s job, so it wasn’t his responsibility, it was mine. So then I just shut up and did what I should be doing, but the one that always used to piss me off because I’d be really tired, working from 4 till 10.” Victoria learned throughout her marriage that “there was no point arguing because you’re not going to get anywhere.” This was because whenever Victoria asserted herself, Graham would engage in the disruptive pattern of “disappearing for three days as a way of trying to get his own way”.
Victoria never got respect or recognition from Graham for “working 11 hours a day. He treated her as if she did not matter. In her attempt to hold the relationship together she thought, “if I just cleaned the house a bit better, maybe things would have been a bit better.”

Acts like the ‘King of the castle’

Not only does domestic slavery entail taking responsibility for activities that the controlling person refused to take responsibility for, it also entails telling her how to do it. For example,Heather said, “Luke would be watching TV and I’d go and get our son’s bath ready and put the bath thing in and he’d come and say, ‘Oh you’ve put that in the wrong way,’ and he’d been sitting watching TV, while I’d been running around doing all these things, getting our son’s clothes ready, getting everything all organised and he never seemed to lift a finger.”
Similar to the other women above, Raewyn worked hard in her housewife and mother roles, but Brian “would always say I did nothing around the place. ‘What have you done all day?’ So I would just work harder.”

Untitled-7Enforces rigid gender role expectations — A good wife knows her place!

Elizabeth said when she and David “first got married David worked downstairs. We had a flat above his practice and I had to drive through the traffic to get to work. But I would get up and I would set the table and put wheetbix on his plate, heat the milk up, make the tea, make sure everything was there, make sure his clothes were ironed ready, and rush round and get things ready because that’s what wives did, they looked after their husbands. Then they raced home after work and quickly got a meal together and put the meal on the table for their husband, that’s what they did and they did the washing and they did the housework — even if they were busy with a full time job — doing that stuff, that’s okay because that’s your job.”
Some time later David encouraged Elizabeth to take voluntary redundancy from working at the hospital. David said “‘you don’t really have to work you just stay at home, cook and stuff’. I thought oh yeah, that sounds all right. He was, oh you know, ‘you can run the household basically, cook the meals, iron the shirts, and don’t worry about your job’. My mother was a very dedicated housewife so I thought’ ‘well this is what women are supposed to do’.”

In the 21st century, individuals in the Western world have choices.

Everyone has the right to broaden their choices to extend beyond rigid stereotypes. The problem is not so much whether the man or woman earns the money, or whether the man or woman does the housework and cares for the children — the problem occurs when choices are taken away by an abusive and controlling partner. As stated in the Australian It’s About Time report:(4)
“Equality between men and women is central to resolving conflict between paid work and family/carer responsibilities.”(4)
This requires us all to challenge the idea that it is normal and natural for the man to be in charge of the family and the woman to do as she is told. Men who coercively control their partners often believe it is not masculine to compromise or negotiate with their female partners. These ideas come from society and each of us can resist, challenge and change social messages. One place to start is by changing what healthy masculinity and femininity actually mean — we all have power and we all have times of feeling disempowered. Who decides that caring for a child and a home is not a powerful role? Who decides that earning money gives that person the right to abuse, use, coerce and have power over someone they supposedly love? We are all humans in this boat together — as humans we are all equal. If we all share the care and support of each family member we are valuing ourselves and others, now and in the long term.


  1. Kimmel MS, Aronson A. Men and masculinities: A social, cultural, and historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO; 2003.
  2. Connell R. Masculinities. 2nd ed. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin; 2005.
  3. Tichenor V. Maintaining men’s dominance: Negotiating identity and power when she earns more. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. 2005;53(3/4):191-205.
  4. Squire S, Tilly J. It’s about time: Women, men, work and family — Final paper 2007. Sydney, Australia: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2007.
  5. Cha Y, Thébaud S. Labor markets, breadwinning, and beliefs: How economic context shapes men’s gender ideology. Gender and Society. 2009;23(2):215-43.
  6. Meisenbach RJ. The female breadwinner: Phenomenological experience and gendered identity in work/family spaces. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. 2010;62:2-19.

Watch out for blogs on the following control tactics:

Power and Control – Separation Abuse is part of an ongoing campaign of power and control.

Tactic #8 — Separation Abuse

This is the eighth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel – Separation Abuse.
It’s commonly assumed women should just leave their abusive partner, that she’s stupid for staying, and that if she left him, all her problems would be over. But this is far from the reality for many women. Often when women decide to leave, their partner promises to change.
Controlling men are guided by a belief system – that women are possessions, the man is the boss, that women should serve men’s needs, that what he says goes and his sense of entitlement means he is the one who is right. Based on this belief system, men respond to women’s challenges for him to change, by denying wrongdoing, minimising harm done, and deflecting responsibility by blaming the woman. Therefore, the act of apologising is often used as a manipulative strategy to stop women from leaving. Some men block her ability to leave by holding her captive, whilst others emotionally blackmail their partner by threatening suicide saying “you either take me back or I’ll kill myself” (1).
Some men threaten to kill their partner, the children and her family. Women are most at risk of murder when they decide to leave or actually do leave. The main reason given by men who murder their wives is, not that she provoked him, but because they felt they had lost power and control over her (2). Such men believe they own their wife and children.
This blog describes what many men do to women after they leave. Women are more at risk of post-separation abuse if they have children to the controlling man.So it also describes some ways men use children to maintain control over women.
Post-separation abuse is not something that only begins at separation – it is part of an ongoing campaign of power and control.
Many men escalate their tactics post-separation by engaging in stalking campaigns. Sometimes men’s stalking behaviours look like acts of love from an outsider’s viewpoint. For example some men leave notes on her car windshield, perform favours, leave flowers and other gifts and make phone calls. BUT . . . when all of these actions areadamantly not wanted by the woman, and when favours are done without her permission, women feel violated, trapped and scared.
Other tactics include endless legal hearings aimed at diminishing her financial and emotional resources, using visits with the children as opportunities to harass the woman further. Using social institutions to emotionally blackmail women. This tactic is achieved by threatening to go for custody of the children, or by negotiating for custody and property by creating a climate of fear. It’s also achieved by falsely accusing women of fraudulently receiving single parent government benefits, or of neglecting the children and reporting them to statutory agencies for investigation.
When women experience psychological abuse and continually feel controlled, but never experience physical violence, most find their experience extremely difficult to label. Elizabeth said, “When I was in the relationship I never would have labelled it as abuse, I just thought that was the way it was.” So she, like many women, was shocked and petrified when her ex-partner began stalking. Usually, women expect as Adriana did that“after divorce things settle, or we don’t have to deal with each other.” But she said, “It’s not like that at all for me.”

Post-separation abuse tactics designed to get her back

The abuse Karen experienced throughout her relationship with Felix diminished when she first left. However, she said, “that was a deliberate attempt to get me back. Once that wasn’t working, it got very nasty. He can be Prince Charming with all the bells on and a very caring, supportive person and then he lost it completely and started smashing up cars on the motorway with his bullbars and it got very dangerous. Then I came home one day and the house was smashed up. But me leaving initially, everything toned down, and about a year after it got really bad.”

Men who wish to win back control, try a range of tactics to achieve this

Adriana said Steven “goes against my needs and wishes. Everything’s about getting what he wants. Very overtly – ‘This is what I want, this is what I want, that way or no way’. And what he wants keeps changing mainly to go against what the norm is, what we agreed, or what the court told us we were going to do.” Steven’s abuse escalated over time with “Phone calls getting worse and worse. Affidavits got crazier and crazier. His abuse went from me and then it went to friends and family. The circle of who he abused got bigger and bigger.”

Harasses her

Susan said that after she and Anthony split up, “He really did harass. He used to ring and ring and ring. In the end I’d take the phone off the hook coz I was so sick of it. Then he’d come knocking on the door.”

Uses the legal system to maintain control

Donna said, “There’s been many court hearings. We’d got to court and the judge would rule, ‘right the property has to be sold’. And then Frank would do the, ‘Give me three months and I’ll pay you’. So my lawyer goes, ‘Well you want your money so give him three months.’ Then I’d get a letter two weeks later saying ‘go to hell, you’re getting nothing, go away’. But then I’d have to wait for another year for a court date to come up.”

Threatens to kill her

Adriana said her husband Steven “threatened to kill me. The moment that happened I called the police, I called the lawyers. I was concerned that he would try. It’s been ongoing court battles concerning access and custody. He believed that he was having access that weekend and I already told him prior to this conversation on the telephone that it wasn’t his weekend. He left a message on my answerphone saying that he was going to come and pick our daughter up. I called him back because I didn’t want him to make a fool of himself and travel and get stupid again. So I gave him a call and said, ‘No, it’s not your weekend’. Then he just threatened to get me killed. It was really bizarre. It was shit. It wasn’t good.”
Susan said her lawyer who did the protection order for her said, “‘it takes seven years to get out of a relationship’ and it was seven years of trying backwards and forwards. That really surprised me because you think get out of a relationship and it’s over, but it’sdefinitely not over when you’ve got children.”
Anne McMurray interviewed men and women about the experience of separating parents who did not gain custody of their children. One of the men described a common motivator that drives some men to abuse and control their female partner after she leaves: “You spend a year ‘score levelling,’ having conquests, not relationships. You inwardly cheer when an estranged wife is shot – like a victory – a chalk that one up.” (3)
Elizabeth said David’s responses to her leaving were, ‘anger, anger, anger lots of anger, lots of put downs, lots of undermining. He used to threaten me about having affairs, ‘If you try anything like that I’d give you the lead treatment.’ I wasn’t scared he’d shoot me but I was scared he could hurt me. He didn’t have a gun.”
Elsie said that, “Every duck shooting I get scared. Leon shoots where I live, so I always get scared that I’ll bump into him, so I usually hide for the duck shooting months. When I left him he said he’d get me. At the same time I don’t think he would. I think he’s too much of a coward.”

Misuses the custody order

Elizabeth said that one of the things in her custody order was that David provide clothes for the children when they were at his place. She said that David, “decided he wasn’t going to do that anymore and they had to bring clothes from my place and they didn’t want to do that coz it means packing their bags and toing and froing. So one of the girls decided that she didn’t want to go to dad’s any more so she stayed at my place. The other one decided she still wanted to go to dad’s, but she didn’t want to take clothes. She went there one weekend, didn’t take clothes, he dumped her back. So neither of them went for a while. My oldest son is now living with me coz he got kicked out of his dad’s coz he started to speak up for himself just the way I did and of course they didn’t agree with each other so he got kicked out. It was meant to be punishment ‘go and live at your mother’s’. Now my son’s decided he is not going back there so there is a whole lot of drama going on there now. Now it’s, ‘you’ve got custody, I pay you to look after these children.’ It’s like, ‘We haven’t got a court order, if it doesn’t suit me I don’t have to have them.’ So the orders suit him when they suit him and they don’t when they don’t.”

Inflexible over child sharing arrangements

Elizabeth talked further about ways David used the custody order to maintain control over her. She said that his attitude had been to always totally stick to the order, no flexibility. At one stage I had to go into hospital for a few days during the school holidays, and of course we split the holidays it was in the order. I suggested we just swap the weeks over so that while I was in the hospital the children were with him and that I would have them the following week. ‘No, no, no, no you need to make your own arrangements we’re sticking to the order.’ The order was God. Then one day he decides ‘oh no I don’t really want that any more’. The good thing about the inflexibility was at least he was incredibly reliable, I could count on him to stick to it.”

Uses the children to maintain power and control over her

After Susan and Anthony split up, Anthony “threatened to take the children away. He threatened to get custody of them. I guess he figured with that he’d have control over me with the children. He’s done that a few times. He rung up one day and said ‘I’ve put something in the letterbox for the kids’. I sent the oldest out to the letterbox. She brings in this something. I opened it up and it was a vibrator. I quickly wrapped it up again and put it in the rubbish. The thing that got me was that he used the kids to pass it on to me.”
Eight years after leaving her husband, Elizabeth said “there is still stuff going on with the kids. He was going to have the kids for the first week of the holidays. And Thursday night, ‘Oh no it’s not convenient.’ I’d arranged to have a holiday, then suddenly, ‘hello here are the kids to look after’. So it’s like he still does this stuff.”

Alienates the children from the mother

Elizabeth said, When I finally got into a place of my own David wasn’t going to let me have the kids at all because I was the one that walked out. He would tell the kids, ‘Your mother doesn’t love you, why would she have left if she loved you, if she loved you she would still be here.’ Then the few things that I did take to put into my new place it was like, ‘Your mother stole those things from you.’ They’d come round and they would say, ‘What are you doing with that? You stole that from dad.’ He wouldn’t let me take any of their toys, their clothes, none of their bedding, nothing. I wasn’t allowed any of it. So they’d come around from this well setup house to my house I was renting, but they weren’t allowed any of their stuff. I had no money to buy them anything so they were there with paper and crayons.”
Some men attempt to alienate the children from the mother by making accusations to statutory agencies that she has harmed the children, so whilst investigations proceed she is only allowed to see the children under supervised access. Many men tell their new wives that their ex-wife was abusive, is an unfit mother and some men recruit their extended family and friends into siding with him. I’ve counselled many women who have had such experiences and when they talk to the man’s previous wife or wives, they discover all the women have experienced the same forms of abuse and control.

Uses the children as spies to gather information to use against her

Elizabeth had a new boyfriend, but did not live with him and she also had lazer surgery to her eyes. She was able to afford this because when she was still with David she had medical insurance, which she maintained after leaving him. But she said David said to the, “Is your mother a prostitute, how could she afford to get that done, is she sleeping with the guy?” Then David approached WINZ (the Work & Income government department who was paying her a single parent benefit). Elizabeth said, “WINZ then investigated me for trying to just jolly well get a few extra dollars here and there occasionally to try and keep the kids fed and clothed.”
Elizabeth lamented that David was “there on his $200,000 a year salary begrudgingly paying child support, but I wasn’t seeing anything of it because you don’t when you’re on the benefit. And hauling me over the coals, because of meeting some guy who is prepared to come and give me a bit of help with this and that and the other and possibly get into a relationship with. And sending my own kids into the house to spy, to find out how many nights a week he stays, so it can be reported back to WINZ.”
Elizabeth found David’s treatment of her, and mis-use of the children “Intolerable. I have just despaired about it. I’ve never wanted to say to the kids, ‘don’t tell daddy this or don’t tell daddy that’, because I believe the kids should be able to speak freely and that whatever information either of us get about the other, we just put into a place and disregard it. He wouldn’t let the kids talk about me when they were at his place. Don’t talk about her at all I don’t want to hear about her. So the kids would have to start censoring what they were allowed to talk about, or if things would happen over there, ‘Don’t tell your mother.’ So I never wanted to get into that with my kids, because I didn’t think it was right. But then I am like, ‘well what do I do here?’ because yes I am seeing this guy, but I don’t want to say to them don’t tell daddy. So it’s like your values are constantly being undermined and compromised. Here’s someone coming into the inner sanctum of your bedroom as to who you spend time with and how often you might be sleeping with somebody, having that reported across town and through government agencies. Something that is absolutely and totally private and none of their bloody business.”

Economic abuse

Teresa said Patrick abused her economically. He did this “by what he did with the house and by living in it for six or eight months without me and me still paying half his mortgage.”
After Donna moved away from Frank she said she had “the threat the whole time of, ‘If you make this happen I will make you bankrupt.’ But see I’ve told the truth and the whole truth and I truly believed the justice system would see me right but it hasn’t. He’s lied. Not once in his whole time has he ever had to prove anything he’s said. It’s just been accepted which blows my brains. And he’s said some horrific things about me.”
For Donna, the negative consequences of leaving Frank went on for years. For example, after Donna left the relationship, Frank went into debt. She said that, “Because he has now borrowed so much money and gone into so much debt, if I force the sale of the farm, by the time the debt’s paid there will be no money for me. Because the place is now a dump – and it was beautiful – now he’s telling the judge that it’s an absolute dump and the only thing left is for it to be bulldozed. I’ve had no access to any money where he has used my tax number in the business and now I owe the tax department $7,000. I owe the legal aid $7,500 and the Social Welfare $14,000, so yeah I come out of it not getting my money. The agreement was that he’ll pay me $10,000 and the legal fees, the legal aid will be tagged onto the property, but I still have to pay the tax department. So every direction you look I’ve lost. Lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.”
Elizabeth said, “there was an insurance policy that David had continued to pay that he decided was a mistake and he wanted me to pay back all this life insurance money. It took eighteen months to go through the whole legal process and ended up in the disputes tribunal and he didn’t get what he wanted. So, the very next day he is into the Inland Revenue Department with an administrative review for paying child support. It’s been this constant ‘what’s coming next, what’s he going to do this time?’”
During the first few months after leaving her husband, Elizabeth said David “was wanting to settle the matrimonial property, so I said, ‘what would it take to get you to stop this terrible violence that was going on’ – verbal, not physical. He said, ‘Just agree to my proposal, sign the matrimonial property agreement and everything will be fine.’ Of course I just really wanted to believe that, so I said, ‘Okay’. And my lawyer said, ‘Well I still think we should…’ I said, ‘Look he said this thing will end if I sign this I don’t care about the money, I am going to sign it.’ He stayed in the house, my boys were pretty much living there, and I was out of the house. I had this access thing where I could go and see the boys after school. He broke his promise. The day the matrimonial property agreement was signedhe drives around in a new car and hands me a trespass notice, which effectively cut off my access to my boys. I know I was totally naïve, but I was devastated coz I thought ‘hang on a minute that’s not how it was meant to be.’

Stalking aimed at driving her crazy

Teresa elaborated on stalking tactics that Patrick used: “After I moved out he would watch me from his car. He’d park round the corner and spy on me. He would ring me up, leave 12 messages on my phone in a day. When he moved my stuff he got a key cut for my new house and I’d come home and there’d be stuff inside. He would have come in and done the dishes, or put flowers on the table, or folded the washing. I had a 30th birthday party and he wasn’t invited and he wanted to come and he asked if he could come and I said ‘No’, which was very selfish. He parked around the corner to watch to see who was coming and stayed there to see what time people left. He was a constant presence. When we were together we’d been on a weekend away one time and there was a sex shop there and we’d bought a vibrator. He came around to my house and took it because he didn’t want me to have any kind of pleasure if he wasn’t there to give it to me. He’d do was listen to my messages coz I’d kept the same pin number on the call minder and I’d ring up and I would have gone to work with zero messages and I’d come home and there’d be four saved messages.
In response to Patrick’s stalking campaign, Teresa said, “I changed the pin number and I changed the lock and he was really pissed off. It was just awful, it was absolutely awful. I felt really powerless against it, I didn’t know what I could do about it and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or be mean. I’d come home and pull all my curtains in the middle of the day so he couldn’t see me. In the kitchen there was a dishwasher space under the bench without a dishwasher in it and I had this huge urge for about two months that all I wanted to do was just crawl into that and just be in there because he wouldn’t be able to get me. I slept as well, my sleeping grew even more once I’d moved out coz he couldn’t get me when I was asleep, and I was doing something he didn’t know about.”

Stalking campaigns aimed at undermining her sense of security

Heather said Luke was obsessed and infatuated with her. “He’d say, ‘I know where you’ve been today’. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. I thought, ‘he knows I work these hours, he could easily wait up the road and watch where I go after work’. I found it quite strange and then some little things he’d say I started to think ‘maybe he does’. I started looking around the house thinking he might have little cameras there watching me. He’d say to me, ‘I could just about tell you when you had your last dump.’ I thought, ‘my God what a thing to say, maybe he’s got this place screened somehow and I didn’t know’. I thought ‘maybe he’s tapped the phone’. I started to get all these funny thoughts going through my head.”
Heather thought, “‘I am having a baby with him, I’ve got to really think about that, we’ve got to remain friends’. Then he’d turn up at my door, ‘You can’t leave me standing out here, look your neighbours are looking.’ He’d put his foot in the door and say, ‘Let me in, I’ll just stand in here, let me just talk to you for a minute.’ I had 13 missed calls in an hour on my mobile. He was the only one that had my phone number. I’d just got it as a present from mum and dad for Christmas. I don’t know whether they knew something and wanted me to have it for an emergency. I actually got quite scared. He’d say, ‘I’ve been thinking about you all day. I’ve been moping around here all day hoping that you’d ring me.’ I thought ‘this isn’t healthy’.
Some women leave their partner, whilst others stay in their home and arrange for the man to leave. In the latter case, many men believe they still have the right to access that house whenever they want. Pauline said Chris “would come into my house, and one day I came out of the shower with a towel around me, and came up the hallway and he was in my lounge and I just went ballistic. I said, ‘Don’t come into my house like that.’ It felt weird after being married and with him for so long to suddenly feel creepy that he had seen me in a towel that he could have seen me partially naked it felt so creepy.”

Invades her privacy

Susan said that after she left Anthony, “he took away my space by following me everywhere. I’m pretty sure that he tapped my phones, I know that he was under my house, I know that he was listening and watching outside the windows. There were lots of things he did when I was with him, but I didn’t think they were a problem until I left and it got worse. He drilled holes in my bathroom floor so he could spy and holes in my bedroom floor, big four inch square holes. He made those right where you get undressed. The last time that we split up my biggest fear was that he would rape me . . . I think if you cut holes in people’s floor and underneath the bathroom there was a glass and a stethoscope.”
Susan did a lot of the crying over Anthony’s stalking behaviours. “When we had split up the last time and he was doing these things, I had my friends’ support. I locked myself in the house. I got a confidential number. I wouldn’t go anywhere alone. When I went up town I would find that he was usually across the road, or behind me, or in the shop. And the thing that’s really scary was, how did he know where I was going and what I was doing?”
Although some stalkers stalk women who are strangers, extensive research in USA highlights that most stalkers are women’s ex-partners. It is ex-intimate partners who are more persistent pursuers than are stalkers who are strangers (4).

Using the tactic of divide and conquer

Teresa said, “Patrick said a lot of things about me to other people and he was careful about who he said it to. He didn’t say anything to my closest friends because they wouldn’t have listened. But to the people at work he did and he told a lot of lies to people. I couldn’t ever negate any of it, because I didn’t know it had happened until later.” Teresa had to work with Patrick for the next eight to 12 months. His abuse entailed ongoing “nastiness, always when other people weren’t around, and the charm when they were. So I’d think I was imagining it. It’s amazing what you think you imagine. When I look back now I think ‘how could I have thought that?’ but I did.”

Separation abuse is extended to abuse against her supporters

Adriana said Steven “repeatedly called me a fascist and a bitch. Repeatedly. He intimidated a good friend in person. He came and destroyed bits around the house. He wrote affidavits, which were extremely damaging, not just to me but to the family, to his mother, brother. It started out I was a bad person, I was the one who was the bitch, but it went to all the people who supported my daughter and me as well. It was very hard because I cope much better with myself being the focus of the attacks and the intimidation, but when it generalised across to people I love and care for, that made it harder because I love them and I know how difficult it is for them to cope with that. They tried as much as they could to support me and help me and assist me, but now they have to keep themselves safe as well as try to help me.”
What does it mean for women who leave a partner after months or years of being controlled by him? Some women become free of the abuse, but many women do not. Separation from such men does not always lead to a better life. If women share children with the abusive man, they may never fully be able to escape the grips of his possessive control, even when children become adults, the abuse can continue around shared family gatherings.
These men are often very dependent on the woman they control. They believe that making her fearful will make her dependent. Men stalk, degrade, manipulate, harass, attempt to have their ex-partner criminalised, attempt to deplete her of her emotional and financial resources and attempt to block her ability to flourish, or enter a new relationship – because they want to limit her autonomy and independence. Attempting to make his ex-partner dependent on him is a strategic ploy aimed at getting her back. Other men want to punish her for humiliating him. When women leave, many men conclude that they have lost control over their possession and this humiliates them – as men – men who are socialised to be in control of “their” woman.
For any woman who has lived with a man who has been consistently controlling over time, the act of deciding to leave, or actually leaving should not be taken lightly by onlookers or the woman herself. Of course not all of these men go on to maintain a stranglehold over their ex-partners – but many do – so it’s important for women to follow their gut instincts and tell the truth to themselves about such a possibility and make arrangements that take the reality of separation abuse into account.
  1. Hearn, Jeff. (1998). The Violences of Men: How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men’s Violence to Women. London: Sage
  2. Mahoney, Martha R. (1991). Legal images of battered women: Redefining the issue of separation. Michigan Law Review, 90(1), 1-94.
  3. McMurray, Anne M. (1997). Violence against ex-wives: Anger and advocacy. Health Care for Women International, 18(6), 543-556.
  4. Craven, Zoe. (2001). Book Review: Stalkers and their Victims: Newsletter No. 6 – Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse.

Using Social Institutions and Social Prejudices to Maintain Power & Control Over Women

Tactic #9 — Using Social Institutions and Social Prejudices

This is the ninth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel – Using Social Institutions and Social Prejudices.
Power & control wheel #9 Clare Murphy PhD
Many perpetrators of psychological abuse use social, health, legal and other institutions such as child protection services as arenas to further their coercive control over their intimate partner.
They use the legal system endlessly to stop their partners from leaving, or to stop them from moving town or country, they do dodgy things to implicate their partner so she will get a criminal record, and perpetrators with financial resources engage women in drawn-out, frequent court battles over property, or over day-to-day care and contact with children. They also use loopholes in the government agency system to avoid paying child support and many use religious ideologies as a tool to keep women and children in line.
Perpetrators who use coercive control also use male privilege and entitlement believing that they “own” their partner, that she must obey and serve them. The good news is that some perpetrators seek help to stop abusing their partner by attending stopping violence programmes. The bad news is that many men then use that programme to further control women. I’ll explain what is meant by all of this below.
Of all the women I interviewed for my Masters research, Adriana had experienced the least amount of psychological abuse. However, it was a different matter after she divorced her husband — he threatened to kill her and began to use social institutions as a vehicle to establish power and control over her. Adriana said, “I think what pisses him off is that I was always in control of my life. The only thing he can get at me with is through our daughter, using the system he can control me.”
How is it possible for perpetrators of psychological abuse to use social institutions to further their coercive control when there may actually be good quality legislations and dedicated well-trained professionals who work hard to protect victims of abuse? Well — there are flaws in the systems — which means some policies, legislations and professional practices can lead to colluding with perpetrators by not holding them accountable for their actions, and can lead to blaming the victims. One of the flaws in the system is a lack of staff training in the dynamics of coercive control in the context of intimate partner abuse. Women I interviewed for my Masters research and men I interviewed for my PhD research tell their stories below….

Using the Legal System to stop women from moving town or country

Adriana regretted moving from  the UK to New Zealand with her partner Steven. His controlling behaviours increased when they arrived back into his home territory. After their separation Steven became abusive in the extreme — he threatened to kill her. For hers, and her daughter’s safetyAdriana wanted to take her daughter back to the UK. However, she could not leave “because he doesn’t want our daughter to leave the country, therefore I can’t leave with her. I wouldn’t leave without her, so I have to be here. I’m quite happy and settled here and doing what I’m doing, but my freedom is totally cut down. I don’t have the freedom to even move towns because he would prevent me. I would have to go to court. It would probably take a year before I could move. He wouldn’t allow me to. It’s the court who would possibly allow me to.”
Heather became pregnant when she was in the process of applying for university. She knew she wanted to leave Luke and pursue an education, so was going to have an abortion. But Luke had High Court papers served on her and the hospital to prevent the abortion. This institutional response fueled Luke’s fire, which enabled him to become even more controlling. Heather wanted to take out a protection order, so that if he breached it, the police would have rights to intervene and arrest him. However, the lawyer insisted she take out an “undertaking” instead. This is one way that the legal system fails to protect victims of intimate partner abuse. An “undertaking” is only a promise — it does not give the police legal rights to arrest a perpetrator of abuse when he breaches his undertaking. The legal system enabled Luke to breach the undertaking. He did this by approaching Heatherin the street and also when she dropped her son off at the agency who provided supervised contact. Each time Luke approached Heather he begged her for more contact with their son, he cried and swore at her. Heather had been wanting to move towns with her son to pursue a new life away from the abuse, but Luke used the legal system to prevent her from doing so.

Using the Legal System to fight for custody of children, with the underlying aim of maintaining power and control over the children’s mother

Elizabeth and David attended a mediation conference where an arrangement was made for Elizabeth to have the children three or four days a week and David would have them for the other three or four days. Such shared care is very disruptive and destabilising for children. Elizabeth said no-one was enjoying it. So Elizabeth “tried to talk to David about ‘What can we do about this? Can we try this, can we try that?’ He wasn’t interested. In the end the kids were really unhappy and she just said, ‘I am just not going to do this any more’ and of course it forced all the legal eagles to get together and deal with it.” David was a wealthy professional so had the financial resources to use the legal system to continue to coercively control his ex-wife.
Elizabeth said, “The judge made the decision which was a much more viable arrangement, which David was really angry about. He still wanted to go to court for custody and of course I am on legal aid. I’ve paid altogether over $25,000 on legal fees, $13,000 I still owe. We worked our guts out to try and get some negotiation before we went to court about custody. He would not respond, he would not negotiate. As far as he was concerned he was going to get what he wanted and he was really pissed off when he didn’t. He said, ‘I paid all this money to get what I wanted and I still haven’t got it.’ He was really angry about that. But I think part of him continuing to push for doing everything legally was because it would cost me a lot of money — money that I don’t have.”

Coercive tactics that lead to the victim getting a criminal record

Elizabeth said David took “up this trespass order when the property settlement came through. A few weeks later I was caught up with my car, and I was going to be late, and he was going to be picking the kids up from my place. I tried to get him at work and tried to get him at home quickly but couldn’t get hold of him. So I rang my neighbour to say, ‘If he turns up can you let him know that I will drop the kids at his place.’ I did what I could to get the message to him. He was absolutely furious. So I dropped my kids there and then rang up a bit later to say, ‘I am really sorry about what happened I tried to get hold of you.’ He hung up on me. At that stage I was really angry, because I thought it was important that he and I have some communication because of the children, so I went around to apologise and say, ‘We need to sort something out here, like there are going to be times when one or either of us is not going to be able to meet a time. What are we going to do in that situation? This isn’t going to work.’ But, he called the cops, had me arrested for trespassing. The kids see the cops take me out of what was our home, off in a police car. Anyway I explained the situation to the cops. They said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll go and get your car, we’ll have a word with the guy, I’m sure he doesn’t really want to press charges.’ They came back — ‘Yes he does want to press charges. Don’t worry about it we’ll get diversion, first offence.’ But for diversion the complainant has to agree. He wouldn’t agree to me having a diversion coz he wanted me to have a criminal record. I had about three court appearances, and my lawyereventually got it to the point where, I think he knew David years ago, and he rang off the record and said, ‘Hey listen mate I wouldn’t do this if I were you.’ Eventually got him to change his mind and I got diversion. But he was prepared to take it to the absolute limit.”
Anthony engaged in tactics that wrongfully led Susan to be investigated and prosecuted for fraud. After Susan separated from Anthony she did not have a car so he would take her to get the groceries. Her overlocker was not working so Anthony took it into town.Susan said that when he came home he said, “It’s not worth fixing, but they’ll give you so much for a trade-in if you want to buy a new one”. So Susan agreed. Susan told me: “This is how naïve and trusting I was. He brought me home a new overlocker. It was in his name. He put me down as being his spouse. He put my address as being his address. When he got his cell phone he did the same thing. He put me down as being his spouse.”
Unfortunately for Susan the government department that provides financial support to single parents contacted her saying, “’You know you’ve been living with Anthony while you’ve been on the single parent benefit.’ She said they had all this evidence that said I was with him because he’d put me down as being his spouse. I said ‘I wasn’t with him’, but they said, ‘He used to take you to town. You used to drive his car’. I said ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that we’re together.’ Anyway, I didn’t know the overlocker was in his name until the last time we split up and I got done for fraud. I said we weren’t a couple. Anthony was telling everybody that we were a couple. That really hurts. I thought I’d got out from him, but he’s still doing these things to make it look good. I hated him. I hated the things he’d done to us, to the low level that he’d brought us down to.”

Using the Government Agency that provides financial benefits to single parents

After she was divorced, Elizabeth spent some time on the single parent benefit whilst caring for her children. During that time she was having a casual relationship with a man. When parenting of children is shared, it is inevitable that children chat to the other parent about what happens at the other house. However, many perpetrators of coercive control use children to find out information that they then use as ammunition to continue controlling their ex-partner. Elizabeth said one time when her son came to her place to stay he asked her, “How many nights a week does Stewart stay mum?” Elizabeth said, “Next thing there’s an investigation by the fraud squad of [the government agency that provides the benefit].” The fraud squad asked, “We believe you have a partner now, what’s his name, when does he stay here, is it a relationship?” Elizabeth was angry, saying this government agency “would rather that you were f***ing a different guy every night than seeing one person who was giving you a bit of moral support or having sex once every three months.”
Elizabeth said David’s accusations to the department that provided the benefit meant that “To stay on the single parent benefit was a challenge, it’s happened twice. In fact the first time was when I was doing some odd jobs from time to time, helping a friend with her business. Anyway the next thing I’ve got the fraud investigation people. Pretty much all of the work that I was doing I was declaring, and the next thing I’ve got them on my case, ‘Did you do work at this place, did you sell this, do that, dah, dah dah dah dah?’ If I did cleaning jobs the kids used to come with me. They told David and David collated all the information that the kids got and gave to him and sent it to the government agency.”

Using the Government Agency that manages child support payments by separated parents

After couples separate, perpetrators of coercive control often find loopholes in the system and use that gap to pay minimal money towards supporting their children, or they may pay nothing at all. Men I interviewed for my PhD said not all men have a problem with paying child support, but some men do. Some controlling intimate partners do not have the best interests of the children at heart. As James said, many men believe “they’re controlled by a government agency over the kids that maybe they feel they own themselves… It’s a loss of control thing, their own personal property.” Lazarus knew the loopholes in the system. He said, “as soon as they start taking money out of my wages, I quit and change jobs … probably every eight months.” This, meant the system’s policy did not oblige him to pay for a period of time. Children involved in such a climate of control are negatively impacted in various ways, for example, not being able to afford to attend school camps and so miss out on healthy social bonding, physical challenges and may develop anxiety, depression or delinquent behaviour problems.
Some perpetrators of coercive control threaten their ex-partners by telling her that if she pursues child support payments from him, he will use the legal system to push for shared custody of the children which would then mean he would not be obliged to pay child support. This is frightening for women victims of coercive control because most women will do what ever it takes to keep their children safe. In their book, The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics (SAGE Series on Violence against Women)Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman draw from their clinical work with men that shows many perpetrators of intimate partner abuse do not engage in healthy fathering practices and many push for custody or contact with children partly as a tactic of maintaining control over the woman, not because they want to develop a warm relationship with their children.

Using Child Protection Services to coercively threaten the children’s mother

Susan said that, “One time Anthony rang and said that a child protection social worker rang and wanted him to go in. When he came back he said someone’s reported that our daughter’s been sexually molested. He said, ‘It’s your father.’ I found that really odd that they didn’t contact me, that he had to just go in without having a set appointment time and that he could take our son with him. Anyway I said, ‘So you don’t want dad looking after our daughter?’ He said, ‘No that’s alright, but they’re going to contact the kindy’. I was absolutely distraught because my dad has a lot to do with my kids. I fully believed Anthonyknew what he was bloody saying. I went to the kindy and asked if they’d been contacted by the child protection service social workers. They said, ‘No’ and would let me know if they were. When I did talk to the social worker she said, ‘We had an anonymous person whose given the names and ages of the children.’ The ages weren’t right. She said it was a man. She said, ‘We don’t follow up on these ones they’re very low priority’. It pretty much wasAnthony that was doing this, because if there’s an investigation saying that my father’s molesting our daughter, then what happens, the kids get taken away. Of course he fully denies that he’d done it.”
Luckily, in Susan’s case, the child protection services did not remove Susan’s daughter. However, many perpetrators of coercive control threaten their partners saying they will inform child protection services that they are an unfit parent. Unfortunately sometimes the child protection system colludes with perpetrators and engages in mother blaming, partly because of a lack of staff training and understanding of the dynamics of coercive control.

Using Religion to establish and maintain power and control

Some men use religious ideologies to justify controlling their partners, by for example telling her she has to obey him because the Bible says so. They may use religion to stop their partner from leaving by saying that God does not allow divorce. Eva Lundgren (1995) interviewed fundamentalist Christian couples in Scandinavia. One man believed that keeping his wife in line was very important because it meant keeping the “pattern of nature” and meant he was following God’s plan. Part of the men’s aim for using the Bible as a guide was to enforce rigid gender roles for women, so that the more feminine they perceived their partners to be the more masculine this made them feel — a feeling which makes some men feel more strong, secure and superior.

Using Social Prejudices as weapons to degrade and control women

Some perpetrators of psychological abuse use social prejudices to reinforce their power. They may do this by drawing on a range of social hierarchies. Social hierarchies only exist because people decide who is superior and who is inferior. Here’s what I mean….
He may draw on the gender hierarchy that men are more superior than women and tell their partner she deserves abuse because she’s ‘just’ a woman.
He may draw on the race hierarchy that ranks white people as ‘better than’ and tell her she’s ‘just’ a Mäori, or ‘just’ a Black woman, or ‘just’ an Indian/Aborigine/Hispanic, and so forth.
He may draw on the hierarchy that classifies some age groups as having more rights and privileges, saying she’s ‘just’ a kid.
He can find many social messages that place him at the top of any hierarchy related to work and finances.  He may be a breadwinner, earn more money than his partner, have wealth in his extended family, work as a lawyer, etc. — such positions are accompanied with kudos, status, respect and a sense of entitlement. She may engage in activities classified low on the hierarchy such as be a ‘stay at home mum’, do volunteer work, or work in paid employment as a cleaner — such positions tend to afford less respect and can be viewed as inferior…. In these circumstances, some men use their socially superior position to degrade, use and control their partners. They may do this by saying to their partners: “you don’t have any right to make decisions because you don’t have a ‘real’ job”, “you’re ‘only’ a mother”, “you have no money so you’ll get nowhere without me”. Then if a woman is dependent on her partner financially and she leaves him, he may further abuse her by engaging her in repeated and lengthy child custody and property battles, or may refuse to assist her and the children financially. Such unjust degradation can make women vulnerable to ongoing coercive control partly because what their partner tells them makes commonsense, because so many people have not learned to critique socially constructed concepts such as social hierarchies. The idea of equality between spouses flies out the window.
Other social prejudices perpetrators draw from include hierarchies relating to physical and psychological abilities — they may say to a disabled wife: “you will never amount to anything, you can’t even walk out the door”. Or they may use body image as a source of degradation by calling their partner “a fat slob”, and they may call a partner who does not have high level of education “a dumb bitch”. As Victoria points out below, all of these comments reinforce messages that surround all of us all the time.
Whenever Graham made snide remarks about Victoria’s size, he’d trivialise the negative impact on Victoria by saying, “Oh but it’s only a term of endearment”. Victoria said “I knew I was big, so it destroyed me a little bit more”. To cope with the abuse Victoria said, “I didn’t try to change my size because my weight is about safety. If I am overweight, I am fat, if I’m fat I’m ugly, if I’m ugly I’m safe, so I eat to keep safe. If you stop eating, you lose weight, people say ‘oh you’re looking good’, then you get abused. I ate because I was hurting. To get over the pain I eat.”
Some women learn that if they challenged their husband’s controlling behaviours, this would cause him to find more and more ways to maintain control by degrading them.

Using Social Prejudices that stigmatise mental illness

In our society, being healthy and well is considered worthy of praise, while having a mental illness and taking medication such as antidepressants is often stigmatised. Some people use these unjust social ideas as weapons to abuse and control others — by attempting to sway how the victim perceives themselves. Perpetrators who are hell-bent on diminishing their partner’s wellbeing may attempt to convince her that she needs a psychiatrist, or threaten to have her hospitalised for a mental illness. During the course of her seven year relationship with DylanSally became  depressed as a consequence of his incessant controlling behaviours. When she started taking antidepressants he said to her that her depression was the crux of their relationship problems. An effect of intimate partner coercive control can lead to the victim feeling as if they are going crazy — feeling as if they’re going insane or have indeed gone mad.

Using Women’s Immigrant Status as a weapon of power and control

Immigrants are vulnerable to abuse by their partner because they may not yet have a work permit, they may lack language skills in a foreign country, they may not know what services are available to them or how the systems work. Many women are sponsored into the country by their partner, which increases her dependence on him. There are various loopholes in the immigration systems that leave women who are victims of domestic violence very vulnerable and powerless.
Perpetrators use women’s immigration status as a weapon of control. They may constantly threaten to cancel their sponsorship of her, they may refuse to help her fill in the forms to get an extension to her work permit, some men threaten to have her deported and they use the legal system to get a court order preventing the removal of the children from the country. Thus children are left in the care of the abusing parent and grieve the loss of bond with the non-abusing parent who has been deported. Some perpetrators cancel their sponsorship, so that the woman’s application to reside in the country cannot go ahead. One Chinese woman, in a New Zealand study of women’s experience of Protection Orders, said her husband repeatedly told her, “I’ve been in this country for so long I know how things work. ‘I am telling you …’” Whenever she contradicted him he would yell: “You stupid Chinese. I’m going to call the immigration service right now and you’ll be out of here!” (Robertson and colleagues 2007:191) Some men will say to their partner ‘what do you know, you weren’t born here’, or ‘you can’t even speak English properly’. Such statements may not sound degrading to an outsider, but in the context of ongoing power and control they are statements that punch hard at immigrant women’s emotional wellbeing.

Using Male Privilege and Entitlement

Men I interviewed for my PhD talked about the kinds of privilege, entitlement and accompanying beliefs that drove their controlling behaviour towards their partners. These beliefs included the idea that men ‘own’ women, and that women are possessions who should serve and obey men. For example, Bill said:
“I can do what I want but you gotta do what I tell you to. That’s the way I’d see 90 percent of marriages, from a man’s point of view.”
Many couples have their money, house and car in both spouses’ names. Regardless of this, as Elizabeth and Sally said, their husbands used to repeatedly say the money, house and car belonged to them and not the woman.
Elsie said, “I was just something that he owned in every facet, whether it be sex or when friends are there, or if I was cooking, or doing some work, or whatever, it was nothing. Nothing I did was ever valued.”
When Pauline and Chris married, he chose the marriage vows — that led to Paulinepromising to obey Chris. In line with the belief that women should obey men, Chris had sexist attitudes towards all women. Pauline said that when Miss World was on TV Chriswould sit under the TV and look up. She said he had the attitude that all women are “tits and bums”.
Max said women should:
“Do as the man says. We can be very domineering. We want it our way. Our way or the highway, girl.… A lot of men do want to rule the roost, like, ‘I went to work, I paid for f***ing this, I’ve been working all week, get home to this shit’!”
Research with men who abuse women finds that those men justify their abuse by blaming women for failing to serve them as men. Geni, a man I interviewed said, “I would think the majority of men would think the wife is like the doting little servant, slave, there to do everything. But a lot of men come home from work in his suit and drops the briefcase and he expects the beer there and the meal on the table.”

Using Stopping Violence Programmes and Anger Management Programmes to further control women

Thankfully there are perpetrators of intimate partner abuse who seek help to change. Unfortunately though, research shows that many men use stopping abuse programmes and anger management programmes as yet another avenue to control their current or ex-partner. The ways men do this include telling her how lucky she is because his behaviours are “nothing” compared with other men’s, or by misinterpreting the training and twisting the definition of what constitutes coercive control by telling her that her behaviours are controlling, or by learning how to use a wider range of control tactics. Men who learn to take “time out” as an anger management strategy, can misuse this by not returning to resolve issues, or they may put the woman in charge of ensuring he takes time out. Many women get confused when their coercively controlling partner accuses them of being controlling. Yes everyone uses controlling behaviours in some form at some time — BUT…. There’s a big difference between destructive and constructive use of controlling behaviours. I write about this in the blog on Denial, Minimising, Blaming, and in my blog on the difference between “healthy” relationships and relationships where there’s “one-sided” power and control.