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Does Your Relationship Include Coercive Control?

Coercive control is becoming recognized as a pattern in abusive relationships.

Key points

  • Domestic violence is a form of coercive control experienced by over 10 million adults in the United States each year.
  • Courts in many states are now issuing restraining orders when there is coercive control, even without physical violence.
  • States are defining coercive control more broadly to include isolation from friends and family.
  • Coercive control may include controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, and finances.
Wind Vector/Shutterstock
Source: Wind Vector/Shutterstock

Domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) is experienced by over 10 million adults in the United States each year; 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.1

For many years, victims of domestic violence (also known as survivors) have had the potential to get court orders restraining their abuser from contact, including temporary restraining orders (TROs) that require them to stay 100 yards away and not contact the victim by phone, internet, or through third parties like family members or friends. However, courts have usually required a recent incident of physical violence or recent serious threat of physical violence to qualify for such an order, sometimes within the last 30 days. But coercive control can go on every day without physical violence every day, if at all.

Coercive Control

From a psychological perspective, abusive behavior often goes beyond physical violence—or may not include violence at all—yet it can be just as devastating. The psychological term for one person (such as a spouse or co-parent) dominating the other person in a relationship is “coercive control.” In the last couple years, during the pandemic, several states have added the term “coercive control” to the criteria for a restraining order, even if there has not been a recent incident or serious threat of physical violence. California was a leader in this trend and similar language has been added by over a dozen other states since January 2021:

“California Family Code Section 6320 a) The court may issue an … order enjoining a party from molesting, attacking, striking, stalking, threatening, sexually assaulting, battering, … including, but not limited to, making annoying telephone calls …, destroying personal property, contacting, either directly or indirectly, by mail or otherwise, coming within a specified distance of, or disturbing the peace of the other party, and, in the discretion of the court, on a showing of good cause, of other named family or household members.

"…. Section 6320 c) … “disturbing the peace of the other party” refers to conduct that, based on the totality of the circumstances, destroys the mental or emotional calm of the other party. This conduct may be committed directly or indirectly, including through the use of a third party, and by any method or through any means including, but not limited to, telephone, online accounts, text messages, internet-connected devices, or other electronic technologies. This conduct includes, but is not limited to, coercive control, which is a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.

Examples of coercive control include, but are not limited to, unreasonably engaging in any of the following:

(1) Isolating the other party from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.

(2) Depriving the other party of basic necessities.

(3) Controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services.

(4) Compelling the other party by force, threat of force, or intimidation, including threats based on actual or suspected immigration status, to engage in conduct from which the other party has a right to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the other party has a right to engage.

(5) Engaging in reproductive coercion, which consists of control over the reproductive autonomy of another through force, threat of force, or intimidation, and may include, but is not limited to, unreasonably pressuring the other party to become pregnant, deliberately interfering with contraception use or access to reproductive health information, or using coercive tactics to control, or attempt to control, pregnancy outcomes.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control in an intimate relationship, you may want to look into the laws of your state by contacting a lawyer or domestic violence support services to see if you can get a restraining order requiring that an abuser keep his or her distance. Of course, a court order is only a piece of paper, so it helps to also have a safety plan in the event that your partner ignores the order. But police are enforcing such court orders more effectively now than ever before.

For help in the United States, call the Domestic Violence National Hotline at 800-799-7233 or go to


1. Retrieved on March 30, 2022 from: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website:…

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