Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Information for Professionals

Understanding Domestic Abusers

Domestic Abuse: Coercive Controlling Violence

Dynamics

Domestic abuse is ongoing, purposeful behavior that is aimed at dominating one’s partner, and often one’s children as well.3 It is also referred to as coercive controlling violence4 or simply, coercive control.5

Context

Social norms and unequal distribution of resources (income, education, employment political power, etc.) lead some individuals to feel entitled to control their partner.  In heterosexual relationships, the norms and inequality are largely, but not entirely, gender-related. 

Gender of perpetrators
What coercive control looks like

Domestic abuse  involves repeated, ongoing, intentional control tactics used by one partner against the other. Those tactics may be physical, sexual, economic, psychological, legal, institutional, or all of the above. They often include:

Note: 

Domestic abuse is unlikely to end just because the victim ends the relationship. It often continues or escalates at separation, as a continuation of coercive control.  In fact, many murders of abused women occur during or after separation, when the abuser feels the victim is escaping his/her control, and tries to re-establish it. But domestic abuse is not caused by separation,14 and thinking that it is can lead us to grossly underestimate the danger to the victim. Unlike people who abuse their partners, those who engage only in separation-related violence are typically ashamed of what they have done, and stop after one or two episodes.

Consequences to victims:
Implications for intervention: 
Victims need domestic violence services, safety planning, orders of protection, and support. Victims should not have to deal with their partner’s domestic abuse all by themselves. 
Abusers 
How we understand domestic violence shapes how we intervene

Strategies for various professionals can be found in What Can I Do To Help Hold Abusers Accountable

Questions to ask yourself:  Does your partner abuse  you?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions…

Next Page:Why Would Anyone Abuse Their Partner?

Back To Understanding Domestic Abusers homepage


  1. Johnson, M.P. (2008). A Typology of Domestic Violence:  Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  2. Kelly & Johnson, (2008). 
  3. Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, Oxford University Press, refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
  4. Dutton, M.A., Goodman, L. & Schmidt, R.J. (2006). Development and Validation of a Coercive Control Measure for Intimate Partner Violence: Final Technical Report. National Institute of Justice.
  5. Moore, A.M., Frohwirth, L. & Miller, E. (2010). Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States, Guttmacher Institute.
  6. Kelly & Johnson (2008).
  7. “[N]onviolent control tactics may be effective without the use of violence (especially if there has been a history of violence in the past)…. Johnson (2008) has recently argued for the recognition of “incipient” Coercive Controlling Violence (cases in which there is a clear pattern of power and control but not yet any physical violence), and Stark (2007) contends…that the focus in the law should shift from the violence itself to the coercive control as a “liberty crime.” Ibid., p 481-482.
  8. Stark (2007), refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
  9. Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J.G.  (2002a). The Batterer as a Parent. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  10. Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1993). Spousal homicide risk & estrangement.  Violence & Victims, 8(1), 3-16.
  11. Kimmel, M. (2001). Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review - a report to The Equality Committee of the Department of Education and Science.
  12. Ibid. True separation-related violence is unexpected violence by a previously nonviolent partner – usually the one who is being left.
  13. Fox, J.A. & Zawitz, M.W. (2007). Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Intimate Homicide, Bureau of Justice Statistics.