Book Review: Power and Control

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

By Emma Williamson

"It allows the reader insight into a system of abuse that is both individual and societal in nature"

On beginning our research Elisa and I divided our journey into phases, and it seemed clear the first phase was the question: “What is Domestic Abuse?”. At the time we were both aware of a very useful tool, The Power and Control Wheel, which Elisa effectively summarises on our Feel Better Channel here. In my opinion, the best way to describe it is a “cheat sheet” to identify forms of domestic abuse. It is especially useful for acts less easily categorised because they do not present as physically violent. These abuses may not cause injury or scarring but the results are still extremely severe. As the power and control wheel conveys, these include: coercion, threats, emotional abuse, economic abuse or enforcing isolation on a partner.

Coincidently this led very naturally to a book I was recommended early in our process written by Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, Power and Control - Why charming men can make dangerous lovers.

It was invaluable because it dealt in-depth with the evidence behind the theory. It provided very clear case studies that exemplified the different scenarios and manipulations of power that might play out in this cycle. In each survivors' story you can read the subtle and overt behaviour of abusers that fall into categories of 'the power and control wheel' with devastating consequences.

However, I think the most important aspect of the book was providing a human, qualitative example with clarity and measure, that stayed clear of sentimentality. It allowed the reader insight into a system of abuse that is both individual and societal in nature.

Horley is also right to remind us how these cycles of control can trap a victim within an abusive relationship for a long time and emphasises that questions like “why do they not leave?” do little to help. The real question, which will be a vital aspect of our research, is “Why do people abuse?” A question that Horley believes is primarily due to the unequal society we find ourselves in. “Men believe they have the right to control and dominate women because they have historically been given that right” - Sandra Horley - Power and Control: Why charming men make dangerous lovers.

It appears this is a fundamental inference in Horley’s writing and something that underpins every aspect of the book. It points to a societal failing to provide an equal and moderated relationship between men and women. When reading the section “Why do men abuse?” It is difficult to dismiss this archaic underpinning of society as it is possibly the most substantiated chapter in the book. My wide-eyed self would like to believe that we are more progressive than this, however at this stage in our research it was simply difficult to refute.

I am grateful this particular book was the first I read about abusive relationships and it will definitely create a foundation for further research. It not only identifies the form abuse takes but also sign-posts both victim and abuser towards important information to breaking free of those behaviours. Really this book is a manual for anyone in doubt about what type of relationship they are in. When read by victim or abuser, they might identify behaviour they were otherwise unable or unwilling to accept in themselves or their partner, and most importantly take steps towards overcoming it or getting help.

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