By Dr. Karin Huffer — editor Wilene Gremain
In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, here’s a composite story drawn from my cases:
I was a successful college educated thirty-something when I finally met my soul mate on a cruise ship to Alaska. Independent thinker, educated, ecology minded, career oriented, honest, he was almost the mirror image of myself as far as these qualities, two of a kind. We had it all. I was incredibly happy. Anything ”¦ we would do anything to show the love and respect we felt for each other. “Marry Me?” “You Bet!”
After almost one year of marriage and closing in on our first Christmas together, I was at full throttle to make the best ever Christmas for us. I remember. It was nothing ”¦ nothing ”¦ I couldn’t find my car keys as I was leaving the house. While plowing through my purse, I realized my wallet was almost empty. Robbed, that’s what I thought. I’d been robbed.
Like a snapshot forever captured in my mind, I see him in the living room jabbing at the logs in the fireplace, calm, very calm. I was alarmed about the keys and my missing credit cards and cash and I said something like, “Honey, I’ve been robbed!” I remember. He never even turned around. I thought he hadn’t heard me, so I said it again, louder, “I’ve been robbed!” And the poker came up, out of the fire, and over his head as he turned wild eyed. I was not hit, not a bruise or injury except to my heart and soul.
That was really the first day of the rest of my hell life. Over the time that followed, I was a hostage, a smiling, babbling hostage. Until I left, it was about another year, almost another Christmas before I was able to leave. My friends were eventually gone and even my family seemed to stop asking why I never visited.
He controlled everything about my life. He even went with me to the beauty salon and made me take out the red highlights I’d always added; mouse brown was back. I was forbidden to use the car alone. He kept my cell phone in his pocket and handed it to me after he’d checked to see who it was and if he felt like letting me talk to them. Control, complete control … he picked out my clothes, criticized by body, making me constantly diet and watched as he directed intense daily workouts ”¦ I fought to keep a hidden spot, untouched in my mind, that fought back ”¦ though I lived a life of fear, each day sliding, slippery, sliding closer toward nonexistence.
He forced me to sign papers. I don’t know, papers. Alone, in shock, afraid of his boundless knowledge of my Self, he made me ”¦ do ”¦ sex things that he thought up. At some point, his control appeared to be complete. But, I’d kept that hidden spot and one day—I ran!
It’s only been a few months and I’m trying to re ”¦ to re ”¦ what? I’d apparently signed my interest in the house, checking account, and car over to him. Broke, alone, he’d lied about me to my family and friends and they believed him! Him, the passenger on the cruise ship, the one that I too had believed.
The perfect description of me was a newly laid egg, shell soft and the yolk visible, so very fragile. Step by step, I pushed back at him by filing a complaint in court to regain”¦anything. And, come to find out, his coercion seeped into the system. The passenger had the court convinced that I am defective, the cause of just another bitter divorce. No voice, no strength, my yolk ready to ooze out in court, he still controlled my fate as I was the one with nothing. Now, he had it all.
Coercive control is now a punishable crime in the United Kingdom. It is recognized for what it is, a form of battery.
Americans are just waking up to the fact that coercive control creates psychic injury in the victim. It is an insidious type of intimate partner abuse that leaves no bruises or visible signs of attack. The victim lives under threat, slowly being impoverished, compromised, humiliated, and imprisoned.
It seemed like a relief to her when he said he would handle all the finances and would always take care of her? At first, she signed documents out of trust. Then, she signed being terrorized and under duress.
The Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act, or ADAAA, does not mention coercive control, but it does protect the broken psyche that is the resulting trauma.
The ADAAA mandates that you have accommodations that allow you to function, ensuring equal access to the private or public service. Such accommodations can include alterations to usual procedures such as: you don’t have to see the abuser, be questioned by the abuser, be subject to his smell, his body language, his looks that only you can interpret. You can be sequestered before court or appear via Courtcall or Skype by distance means.
Times have changed and abusers can be outmaneuvered. Regaining control may take teamwork but it can happen with a tool that doesn’t care about the past only your future and wellbeing. Like accommodating a sprained ankle, the ADAAA accommodates an injury, real but unseen, in your psyche. Your injury is held confidential under this mandate and the HIPAA law and treated as any other, with accommodations and humanity.
Surviving Court When You’re Traumatized
Part 1: How to protect yourself when facing a coercive controller
Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, 8-9 p.m. Eastern
(Missed Part 1? Recording available by Oct. 19.)
Part 2: How the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can support you
Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, 8-9 p.m. Eastern