'Coercive control' is a better legal definition of domestic abuse, says Calgary agency

·2 min read
Coercive control is defined as 'a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten.' (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Coercive control is defined as 'a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten.' (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The head of Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society in Calgary says she wants people to know that domestic violence is more than a broken bone, bruise or black eye.

In fact, according to the latest data by Statistics Canada, only about 30 per cent of domestic violence victims experience physical abuse of the level that would be considered criminal, says Sagesse CEO Andrea Silverstone.

Silverstone says the term "coercive control" is a truer way to explain the experience of domestic violence.

"The definitions that we've been working off of — clients don't see themselves and therefore they don't call services because they are like, 'I haven't been hit, that must not be me,'" said Silverstone, who is also the co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective.

Coercive control is defined as: "A continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten."

That's according to Impact, a provincial collective whose purpose is to define a common understanding of the issue of domestic and sexual violence and then to eradicate it.

The term "coercive control" has been adopted in other countries such as the United Kingdom, where it's now part of the criminal code.

In Canada, the House of Commons justice committee has tabled a report in Parliament recommending a national task force study adding the term to the Criminal Code and report to the justice minister within a year.

The proposed legislation would make coercive control a crime in Canada.

"This changes everything in terms of how we are able to better address domestic and sexual violence. This is the next move we need to make in this sector," said Silverstone.

Calgary police respond to approximately 30,000 domestic conflict and domestic violence calls each year.

CPS says these numbers have remained relatively steady for the past five years. Calgary not seen a spike during COVID, but other Canadian cities have, and it's been referred to as the "shadow pandemic."

CPS says it has seen an increase in non-criminal calls since March 2020. Those include verbal altercations that escalated to the point that police were called or situations where one party asked police to be present during an interaction with an intimate partner or family member.

It says this increase shows that members of the public are calling police and looking for community support before the situation escalates to violence.

"We're very pleased that individuals that are undergoing domestic violence are actually seeking help way before it gets even more violent. That's great, but there is still a great deal of work to be done," said Staff Sgt. Vince Hancott of CPS's domestic conflict unit.

November is Family Violence Prevention Month.

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