Calgary advocates warn about coercive control, another type of domestic violence

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Calgary prevention advocates are warning people about a lesser-talked-about type of domestic violence: coercive control.

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Andrea Silverstone, executive director of Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society, describes coercive control as being a pattern of behaviour that regulates and dominates another person’s daily life — even after a breakup.

Examples include undermining confidence and relationships with others, limiting someone’s ability to access money and support, and monitoring someone’s communication and location.

“Essentially, one individual tries to intimidate — through fear, threats or actions — another individual so that they take away their personal agency. It’s a liberty crime that is a crime of domestic violence,” Silverstone said.

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She said the agency has seen cases where pets have been given up for adoption. Silverstone said the agency sees animals being used against people in domestic violence cases all the time: “It is more the rule than the exception.”

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Police told Global News “the behaviour could fall under the definition of coercive control if there isn’t a valid reason given by the ex-partner of why the dog was put up for adoption.”

Humane society procedure

The Calgary Humane Society told Global News that whenever a pet is surrendered to the society, the admissions team traces whatever identification an animal has — tattoo, microchip, vet records or city licence — to the proper owner.

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CHS communications manager Jessica Bohrson said the CHS has talked to Sagesse about building “awareness on what families fleeing domestic violence can do to ensure they have evidence of ownership for their family pet.”

“If they end up having to leave the home without their pet, they should ensure their name appears on licences and microchip information, if at all possible. CHS would then, as part of our due diligence, be able to contact the individual to let them know their pet is in our care,” Bohrson said.

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“Our mandate at Calgary Humane Society is to ensure the well-being of the animal. Organizations like Sagesse work to support victims of domestic violence, and we work closely with many such agencies to provide our support.”

'Much more than a black eye'

It’s crucial to recognize that coercive control exists, Silverstone said, and people need to learn the signs.

“Often when we think about domestic violence, we think about a black eye or broken bones. Only about 30 per cent of individuals who experience domestic violence actually experience personal injury,” she said.

“Ninety-five per cent of the cases in which there is domestic violence, there is also coercive and controlling behaviour, so it is actually the most common form of domestic violence.”

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“Society needs to recognize that domestic violence is much more than a black eye. It’s actually a whole pattern of behaviour that we see every day but we don’t recognize possibly as coercive control.”

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Silverstone said she would like to see the Canadian Criminal Code updated to recognize coercive and controlling behaviour.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact Sagesse at 403-234-7337 or Calgary police at 403-266-1234 or 911.

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