Criminalising ‘Coercive Control’? Why Lauren Laverne should stick to her day job

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,


I’ve not been publishing online much lately,  I have been working on my novel, so to speak. 😀 But I am moved to respond to something in the Observer today.

Lauren Laverne is a fantastic radio DJ and more. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for popular music and her ability to communicate that to the masses puts her up there with some of the great musos of our time. Im not saying she’s quite a Peel but yes even I think that should she be a man she’d be more lauded than she is for her talents and expertise in the field.

But Lauren’s forays into feminist oriented journalism are not quite so laudable in my view. Her latest piece, in the Observer, calls for ‘coercive control’ in (romantic? heterosexual?) relationships to be criminalised. The title of her piece uses the term ’emotional abuse’ and the standfirst calls it ‘psychological violence’. These slips in terminology reflect the confusion of the article and of the calls to criminalise not physical but psychological harm in relationships. If those calling for new legislation cannot specify clearly what it should cover it is not a good sign for that proposed legislation. Indeed, the term ‘coercive control’ itself is a bit of a tautology. With ‘coercion’ and ‘control’ having very similar/overlapping meanings and synonyms. I can’t help but wonder how Foucault would translate the phrase – ‘powerful power’?

Whilst Laverne acknowledges  men can suffer emotional abuse in relationships her line on  criminalising this abuse is part of a wider feminist campaign led by organisations such as Women’s Aid ( which focusses  on emotional abuse by men of women in romantic /sexual relationships. When in fact there is plenty of abuse in the other direction. Laverne references a statistic of 30% of women having reported (to the national crime survey) suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lives, which further puts the emphasis on women being harmed – by men. It is not clear how this statistic was reached and what the questions were in the survey. Would men be less likely to report incidences of being hurt emotionally or physically by their women partners?

It is interesting to note in relation to women’s ’emotional abuse’ of men in romantic relationships that the recent feminist Ban Bossy campaign seems to be saying we should not ever describe women’s behaviour in negative terms. I dont support  old- fashioned stereotypes of ‘nagging wives’ but on the other hand, I do know some domineering women who ‘control’ their male partners in some ways. And I am not even arguing against this as a phenomenon per se. I would go so far as to say some men consciously or unconsciously, like some women, enjoy being dominated! But (especially heterosexual) men’s submissive  tendencies are still unacknowledged to a large degree.



And there’s the rub. As I have said before, I think any understanding of, and commitment to tackle domestic violence and abuse should take into account many people’s masochism. This is not to defend non-consensual harm – like Lauren I have experienced it myself – but rather to try and understand what drives people in sexual/emotional relationships and how they might be more happy in their power relations. Because a sexual relationship without power probably wouldnt have much/any sex in either.

I also think that when it comes to domestic abuse, one of the problems is the privatised couple formation of traditional heterosexual relationships. If we were more open to our neighbours and friends about our relationships then ‘coercive control’ might not go undetected and unchallenged as it does. I am not saying nobody should be monogamous, but I don’t think monogamy, marriage and coupledom as an ideal help protect people from harm by that one ‘true love’ we are encouraged to find and keep behind closed doors.

One of the key arguments in Laverne’s piece is that people suffering domestic abuse stay in relationships due to fear and ‘self doubt’ imposed by their abuser. I agree to an extent. But I do not think the question ‘why don’t they just leave them?’ should be dismissed altogether. I have asked this question to friends telling me of the domestic abuse they suffer, and have got short shrift. And yet as Laverne herself found, leaving is the solution to the problem. In most cases except for a horrendous minority of extreme ones* the ‘coercion’ does not stretch to preventing someone physically from leaving their abusive partner. And rather than criminalising the emotional hold that abusive partner has on someone, as Laverne is suggesting we should, maybe we could focus on trying to increase people’s confidence, support networks and opportunities to leave and start a new life.

*and I know of at least a few very extreme cases where people have taken great risks/made great sacrifices to leave an abusive/violent partner and of course, have not regretted it.

  1. drunicusrex says:

    I find it ironic that “emotional abuse” seen as a crime that men perpetuate upon women. Years ago, I was married to a woman whose rage (and infidelity, and irresponsibility) made my life utterly miserable.
    After a few happy months, she discovered that if she screamed long and hard enough, she could get her way. This included everything from taking my car out drinking with her friends, though she never bothered getting a license, to forcing us both to babysit who I later found out were her boyfriend’s children. All weekend long. For free.
    I like children, but not all weekend long.
    She cut back her work hours, stopped cleaning the house, stopped sleeping with me, and would disappear for many hours at a time. She also gained a terrific amount if weight from gorging on sweets, while i lost over 20 kilos.
    Any protest by me against any of this would result in such a rampage by her that I would worry that the police would be called. And one night they did show up. She physically attacked me and when I pushed her away she fell, telling everyone I had beaten her. Luckily the police didn’t arrest me.
    She then borrowed money from me so that she could move out, and when I found out she was unfaithful I filed for divorce. I haven’t spoken to her since.
    I’m a very different person now than that timid young man who clung to a woman that was lazy, stupid, hurtful, and deeply dysfunctional and angry at the world.
    But she got what she wanted – financial and occasionally emotional support – by using rage and abuse to control me. To make me feel small and alone. To soothe her many hurts, and she did have a sad childhood.
    But we all grow up eventually, if we wish to be happy.
    And I do not believe laws that insert themselves in loco parentis into private, consensual relationships do anyone any great favors. Assault, harassnent, rape, fraud – such things are all illegal, no matter who does them. More laws are rarely the answer to miserable relationships.
    Happiness is a choice one makes. It is not something that can be granted by the stroke of a legislator’s pen.

  2. Laura says:

    Glad to have you back Elly. I’m with you on this, and partly because that kind of abuse is endemic in lgbt relationships, which can often be hugely unequal. The idea that emotional abuse is yet another violent attack on women by men is far from the full truth on this matter.

  3. Rick Powell says:

    Fantastic, cogent analysis.

    The law (and critical theory) is full of tautologies and nonsense words. We don’t need any more of them.

    So very good to hear from you again. Signed, Missing You On Twitter.

  4. innegative says:

    Good to see you back 😉

    I used to like Laverne as a TV presence. Can’t stand her though as a DJ. Simply can’t listen to her. I’m not sure I can bear the respect she’s already getting without giving her more!

    But I think these arguments are beginning to happen all the wrong way around. In general today, we argue: “but men are victims too. If it’s good to protect women, then men should be covered by the same protection also”. And yet the problem is surely the problem of hyper-security in every aspect of life? The dehumanising and de-relating criminalisation of all inter-relational negativity?

    At present, your feminists want to apply this protection to just women. Perhaps as a wider power-seeking and castrating agenda? Maybe, but it’s hardly a sufficient response to drag men into the same victim-principle. The extent of the principle is itself the problem.

    On the upside of all this – security itself is an oppression and as such comes with its own invisible violence – the violence of deterrence. The more you ramp up and deploy the logic of security, the more you antagonise its counter-flows of resistance. I expect the consequences of this constant shift in the direction of perfect safety will only increase our appetites for sado-masochism.

    So perhaps the answer is to draw men under the same protective principle and make similar war on ‘bossy’ or ‘domineering’ (if you prefer) women. The only hope here seems to be the complete destruction of the relationship as that may well be the only way we’ll be able to find our way back to it and out of this god-awful mess of abstraction and self-atomisation.

  5. Julie says:

    Coercive control is not a tautology. “Control” does not infer the negative connotations of threat and intimidation of “coercive”.

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