The term “domestic violence” has always been a misleading term. While domestic abuse sometimes includes violent acts like hitting, choking, or punching, often domestic abuse involves far more subtle behaviors. Most domestic abuse centers on what researchers call “coercive control,” a pattern of behaviors such as using threats and demeaning language to control the victim, isolating the victim from family and friends, and using money for the purpose of establishing control – often but not always accompanied by physical acts.
Now, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken a stand to protect the victims of more subtle forms of domestic abuse. In United States v. Castleman, the Court was asked to interpret whether a federal law that bans anyone convicted of a “crime of domestic violence” from possessing a gun applies even if there is no “violence” in the generic sense. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the unanimous Court, clarified that crimes of domestic violence are not limited to “violence” and instead include even more minor acts of physical force, which over time can subject an intimate partner to the other’s control.
For everyday people who are subjected to abuse and coercive control in their personal lives, the Supreme Court’s ruling provides validation. If you know of someone who might be in an abusive relationship, please be aware that they need support, resources and information. The National Domestic Violence Hotline and The House of Ruth in Washington, D.C. are excellent resources. Finally, an experienced family law attorney can provide representation to access the legal remedies available to the victims of domestic violence and coercive control.