Stark traces this failure to a startling paradox, that the singular focus on violence against women masks an even more devastating reality. In millions of abusive relationships, men use a largely unidentified form of subjugation that more closely resembles kidnapping or indentured servitude than assault. He calls this pattern coercive control. Drawing on sources that range from FBI statistics and film to dozens of actual cases from his thirty years of experience as an award-winning researcher, advocate, and forensic expert, Stark shows in terrifying detail how men can use coercive control to extend their dominance over time and through social space in ways that subvert womens autonomy, isolate them, and infiltrate the most intimate corners of their lives.
Elevating coercive control from a second-class misdemeanor to a human rights violation, Stark explains why law, policy, and advocacy must shift its focus to emphasize how coercive control jeopardizes womens freedom in everyday life. Fiercely argued and eminently readable, Starks work is certain to breathe new life into the domestic violence revolution.
In the forensic context where I work, women’s right to use whatever means are available to liberate themselves from coercive control derives from the right afforded to all persons to free themselves from tyranny not from the proximate physical or psychological means used to do this
The domestic violence model emphasizes the familial, cultural, interpersonal and psychological roots of abusive behavior. The coercive control model views the dynamics in abusive relationships from the vantage of the historical struggle for women’s liberation and men’s efforts to preserve their traditional privileges in personal life in the face of this struggle. The incredible strides women have made towards full equality, particularly since the l960’s, have been widely documented. These gains make it increasingly difficult for men to ensure women’s obedience and dependence through violence alone. In the face of this reality, millions of men have expanded their oppressive repertoire to include a range of constraints on women’s autonomy formerly imposed by law, religion, and women’s exclusion from the economic, cultural and political mainstream, in essence trying to construct a “patriarchy in miniature” in each individual relationship, the course of malevolent conduct known as coercive control. Although the aim of this conspicuous form of subjugation is to quash, offset or coopt women’s social gains (taking the money they earn, for instance), this strategy relies for success on the persistent inequalities based on sex that remain, including the huge gap in job opportunities and earnings that continues to advantage men.
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But this is the first book to show that most abused women who seek help do so because their rights and liberties have been jeopardized, not because they have been injured. The coercive control model Stark develops resolves three of the most perplexing challenges posed by abuse: why these relationships endure, why abused women develop a profile of problems seen among no other group of assault victims, and why the legal system has failed to win them justice.
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Against this backdrop, Stark analyzes the cases of three women tried for crimes committed in the context of abuse, showing that their reactions are only intelligible when they are reframed as victims of coercive control rather than as battered wives. The story of physical and sexual violence against women has been told often.