Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Romantic Terrorism? an Auto-Ethnographic Analysis of Gendered Psychological and Emotional Tactics in Domestic Violence 1

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Romantic Terrorism? an Auto-Ethnographic Analysis of Gendered Psychological and Emotional Tactics in Domestic Violence 1

Article excerpt


The argument put forward in this paper is that terrorists operate in Australia every day. Innocent women are tortured, held captive and/or killed every week in this country and worldwide by people who rely on fear and intimidation to control them. But because these terrorists torture the women they profess to love, their intimate partners (or ex-partners), their behavior is hidden from public sight, it is hardly ever discussed, rarely evokes outrage and has never resulted in governments or anyone else declaring a "war" against it. These terrorists are perpetrators of gender-based violence, particularly those who engage in psychological and emotional tactics of coercive control in intimate relations. The Oxford English Dictionary (2016) defines terrorism as "[t]he unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims." While we do not intend to debate the definition, we do aim to introduce important parallels between political terrorism and domestic violence, particularly with respect to "the unlawful use of violence and intimidation." Domestic violence is by its very nature characterized by violence and intimidation, and arguably, if the personal is political, as second wave feminists claim (e.g. Hanisch 1970; Firestone 1970), then the incidence of intimate or romantic terrorism is far more insidious and widespread than the more prolifically discussed, but much less threatening (in terms of numbers of actual victims) political terrorism. Drawing these parallels helps to point up the urgency of the need to address domestic violence and violence against women in general, by ascribing at least the same (if not more) resources as those allocated to national and international defense against religious and nationalistic terrorism.

Domestic Violence as Terrorism

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, the Australian government declared a "war on terror." New laws were quickly enacted to combat the terrorist threat posed by Islamic extremists. These new laws were stunning in scope, number and reach; conferring broad powers on government agencies and impacting on the liberty of those involved or suspected to be involved in terrorism (Williams, 2011: 1137). In spite of the fact that the risk and numbers of victims far outweigh the threat of political terrorism, governments have never so vehemently responded to acts of terror perpetuated against women at the hands of their romantic partners or expartners. Indeed, compared to the "threat" posed by political and religious extremists and the damage caused by their terrorist activity, intimate partner terrorism is perceived as much less serious and hardly a threat at all to the social fabric of modern society. Yet is violence against women in the domestic sphere and the supposed sanctity of romantic relationships really that different from populist understandings of terrorist acts and torture in our post-9/11 world?

We conceptualize intimate partner violence as coercive control, a term introduced by Stark in 2007, which has been recently gaining ground in both the scholarly literature and public narratives (e.g. Williamson, 2010; Fisher, 2011; Government of Western Australia, 2012; Evans, 2014; Murphy, 2014, Hayes and Murphy, forthcoming). Stark's model emphasizes purpose (perpetrator intent) and process (perpetrator tactics) as well as victim outcomes. Coercive control is a pattern of intentional tactics employed by perpetrators with the intent of governing a woman's thoughts, beliefs or conduct and/or to punish them for resisting their regulation. Perpetrator tactics may include actual physical and/or sexual violence. However, actual violence inflicted upon victim bodies is conceptualized as a tactic of control.

Coercive control can be distinguished from a bad relationship (in which both partners are abusive toward each other) by identifying a perpetrator's intent to control and the consequent negative outcomes for his or her victim. …

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