12/29/2014 12:33 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2015

A Step Towards Stopping the Entrapment of Domestic Abuse Victims

A common belief concerning domestic violence is that the crime consists only of physical abuse and threats of violence. But, in reality, some of the most degrading types of abuse are those that constrain the victim's behavior. It is not uncommon for perpetrators to seek control of their victims through other ways beside violence that are equally hurtful.

In response to this misconception, a new domestic abuse offense was recently added to the definition of domestic violence by home security in the U.K. It made "coercive and controlling behavior" within a relationship also illegal and punishable for up to five years in jail. As described in a BBC news article about the legislative change, coercive and controlling behavior can be described as anything like, "the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet."

This revolutionary change to include containment as abuse can be the first step for helping a victim break free from the abusive situation. As I describe in my book, Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide To Economic Freedom, victims do not normally stay in abusive relationships because they lack the will; rather they lack the power to leave. As I explain in the book, "My own belief is that the desire and the will to leave already exist. The problem is that it has been coerced by violence and other means into dormancy (39)."

Subjecting the victim to coercive and controlling behavior, especially over a longer period of time, is a tool abusers use to gain complete control. Once the abusers have complete control, it is almost impossible for victims to leave the situation safely. When their abuser regulates all of their finances, resources, and necessities, victims feel that they have no chance of surviving without the perpetrator. By making "coercive and controlling" behavior a punishable offense, the U.K. government will have the chance to stop the process of putting the will of the victim to leave into, as I have labeled it, dormancy.

Not only does this legislative change provide victims with a greater chance of breaking free, it also answers the question most ask when considering domestic violence: why do victims stay? The common assumption by asking this question is that victims, as humans, have free will to chose when they want to enter or leave a relationship. With the new consideration that "coercive and controlling behavior" is also domestic violence, it shows that legal systems are recognizing that though victims may not be physically trapped, they are invisibly confined in other, but equally impactful, ways.

The assertion that women are literally trapped in domestic violence may be hard to believe, but it is true. Victims are disempowered by perpetrators through a build up restrictions on their freedoms, and they ultimately lose the power to leave the situation. Including the controlling of partners as a part of the definition of domestic violence aids in transferring people's attention from the question of "why do they stay?" to "how can we help them leave?"