Last September, the British government made coercive control training compulsory at school.
The difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one is not always obvious, especially when the lasting impact is not as visible as a scar, but it can be just as damaging.
When Sarah * was almost 16 years old, she began to approach a boy in her class named Zach. After talking for a few weeks, he invited her to go to a concert.
At first she was nervous because she wasn’t used to going out alone, so she asked if her friends could go too.
“I want us to be alone,” he remembers him saying. “This is a unique opportunity for us to be together.”
Sarah was really starting to like Zach and as he kept inviting her to do things, just the two of them, she knew he felt the same.
So even though she was afraid to walk alone at night, she was willing to spend time with him.
A few months later they were officially a couple.
Before going to a party together, Sarah was trying on clothes and he said, “that’s too revealing.” Trusting Zach’s opinion, Sarah opted for a different dress.
When Sarah was talking to other guys in her class, Zach started saying that she was trying to make him jealous. “Why else would you be talking to him?”
She was sure it was innocent talk, but maybe he was right if it made him feel that way, she thought.
Zach began experimenting with drugs, taking class A drugs regularly.
Then Sarah told him that she was worried about him. “Stop being so controlling,” she replied.
Every time she talked about it, Zach accused her of trying to control it.
One night he Googled, “Am I a controlling person?”
The more time Sarah spent with Zach, the less she saw her friends. Zach said that was normal at the beginning of a new relationship. “Anyway, I didn’t like your friends,” he pointed out.
The results of his high school exams came quickly. Zach got two A’s and one B, Sarah got an A and two B.
“You know, that was expected,” he indicated.
Sarah entered the university of her choice, while Zach decided to retake some exams.
“Don’t go, why would you want to leave me here?” He asked.
The he insisted more and more that Sarah not go to college, and told him there was no point in going.
“It’s a waste of money. I’m going to be the breadwinner, I couldn’t live with myself any other way,” he told her.
Sarah, now 23, says the first years of their relationship “weren’t bad.”
“What I mean is that the beginning was not as bad as what happened after.”
What is coercive control?
Coercive control often cannot be limited to one event in a relationship, but is the accumulation of words, behaviors, and threats that humiliate, isolate and control victims, leaving them without freedom and with very little of “themselves”.
Victims describe experiencing emotional abuse as their sense of self-confidence and autonomy was dismembered, until the only ‘normal’ they know is the abuser.
The nature of coercive control means that being able to see the pattern of abuse for yourself can be incredibly difficult and, in some cases, almost impossible.
So how do you know when the jealous and the clingy become controlling and coercive? And when does that become a crime?
“Said he could break my neck if he wanted to“
To raise awareness of all forms of abuse, the British government made “relationship education” mandatory in schools, which came into effect in September 2020.
The curriculum includes teaching students to identify financial, emotional, and physical abuse in adolescent and adult relationships.
Sarah says this is something you would have liked to know before of her relationship with Zach.
For her, “you’re beautiful” soon became “you’re lucky I’m with you because no one else was going to love you.”
Getting out of bed and dressing required detailed approval from Zach on the outfit.
“He really convinced me that it was wrong for me not to show him what he was going to wear.”
And she didn’t see her friends again after her boyfriend secretly texted them, “By the way, Sarah hates you and talks about you behind your back.”
Zach used to say that he had no money to eat or to live, so Sarah says he constantly sent him large sums of money. But he adds that he later punished her.
“You’re doing it to make me feel bad about myself,” I would tell him.
In college, if she wanted to go out at night, Zach would tell her that she couldn’t go and repeated that if she did, “a stranger would rape and drug her” and that it would cause him too much worry and insomnia.
If she went out, which was weird, she was overwhelmed with messages and calls asking where he was and what he was doing.
“I started to notice that my life was really restricted in college,” recalls Sarah.
“I felt like I couldn’t join activities or make friends. I realized that my roommates thought that [nuestra relación] It was strange, because I always asked permission, but I thought it was normal. ”
“He convinced me that it was normal”.
Before Sarah knew it, the scorn that hurt turned into fears for her safety.
The moment she remembers most was when Zach visited her in college.
She had paid him to come see her and they had spent the day together. She was snuggling with Zach on the bed.
Then he said, “I could break your neck now, if I wanted to.”
Sarah says that the pressure to do what he wanted seeped into the private parts of their relationship.
“He talked a lot about the very graphic and abusive porn that he watched.”
“You wouldn’t do it in the bedroom, so I have to get it somewhere else,” I would tell him.
Sarah feared for his life on more than one occasion.
Angry, Zach would throw chairs, break things, and threaten her like it was as normal as kissing her.
“If I reached out and touched him to try to calm him down, he would push me,” Sarah recalls.
“I didn’t want to see him anymore. I was afraid of him.”
It was in her junior year of college, when her moments of “freedom” were wearing thin, that Sarah felt leaving Zach was an option.
The moment that she says stands out was when her housemate sat her down and told her she was genuinely worried that this controlling relationship would ruin her life.
“I was very unhappy and I didn’t realize it. A relationship shouldn’t make you doubt yourself every day.”
“I really thought, ‘Do I want this for the rest of my life?'”
Unfortunately, like many abusive relationships, the abuse did not stop when the relationship ended.
¿ QuIt is says the law in the UK?
Two women are murdered every week as a result of domestic violence in this country.
These cases are sometimes related to coercive control, according to criminology expert Dr. Jane Monckton Smith.
Coercive control became illegal in 2015 under the crime of “controlling or coercive behavior in an intimate or family relationship.”
To cross the boundary and become a crime, coercive control must make someone fear that violence will be used against them at least twice; or cause you serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse effect on your normal daily activities.
Although it is mainly prosecuted in conjunction with other crimes such as domestic violence, more and more individual cases are coming to court.
Lawyer Clare Ciborowska told BBC Three that she is watching more and more cases of coercive control involving 16-year-olds or more.
“When you are young, no one enters a relationship expecting it to be abusive, but anyone can find themselves in that position,” he explains.
“Sometimes small, subtle signs can start to appear, that can happen over a long period of time.”
“By then you are already involved in the relationship when things get worse. So it is important that young people know what coercive control is, can detect things from the beginning and feel able to talk about it.”
In some cases, Ciborowska says that the perpetrator avoids physical violence because it leaves an obvious mark.
“They are quite manipulative and make sure they do not commit any physical crime, because it is much more difficult to detect if it is only the aspect of coercive control, even though psychologically it still has a huge adverse effect on the victim.”
When Sarah traveled to break up with Zach, she was terrified.
“I felt very responsible for his life,” he says.
Having no idea how he would handle the breakup, Sarah told him on the street because she wanted to be in public with other people around, so that he couldn’t hurt her.
For months after breaking up with him, Zach continued to harass her.
“If I didn’t respond to him, he threatened to commit suicide.”
When she blocked his number, Zach appeared at her front door. And another time at his mother’s house.
“I realised that couldn’t escape completely until I moved out and he didn’t know my address anymore. “
A year after that experience was over, Sarah went back to socializing, is in a happy relationship, and, she says, is beginning to feel like herself again.
Are you experiencing coercive control?
According to a major domestic abuse aid organization, some common examples of coercive behavior are:
- Isolate yourself from your friends and family
- Deprive yourself of basic needs, such as food
- Control your time
- Monitor you through online communication tools or spyware
- Take control of aspects of your daily life, such as where you can go, who you can see, what you can wear, and when you can sleep
- Deny you access to support services, such as medical services
- Putting you down repeatedly, like telling you you’re worth nothing
- Humiliate, degrade or dehumanize you
- Control your finances
- Threatening or intimidating you
* All the names were changed
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