Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future: Session 4 – Domestic Abuse – Women’s Voices

From “battered wives” to “coercive control”: 35 years of understanding domestic abuse in Scotland

Nel Whiting, Scottish Women’s Aid

Nel Whiting


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–          Roots of SWA came from Women’s Liberation Movement

  • Freedom for all women from intimidation and threat of male violence

–          The understanding of what domestic abuse is has been changed by the vocalizing of stories and the revealing of hidden voices

–          Story of changing language (changed to reflect our understanding)

  • In the beginning:
    • Battered wives
    • Domestic violence

– The problem needed to be admitted

  • Original language was limiting:
    • Meant in marriage and physical violence
  •  Came from a criminology background
    • The Dobashes, Violence Against Wives
      • 25% of police business was around domestic violence
        • Legitimized the problem with statistical proof
        • Turn towards ‘domestic violence’:
          • ‘Women and their children’
  • Hearing stories revealed domestic violence was much more than violence                 à expanded understanding of that domestic violence was more than battered wives, and also made children victims as well even if not physically touched
  • Further reveals the need to look beyond the surface
    • Shame was something victims grappled with
    • A lot of investment in hiding and protecting this aspect of a person’s life who was abused
    • Personal stories revealed unexpected and unanticipated forms of abuse

–          New language:

  • Coercive control (Evan Stark)
    • New framing, helps reveal impact of domestic abuse
    • New understanding of domestic abuse:
      • Coercive control
      • Isolation
      • Intimate terrorism
      • Violence that is fundamental/instrumental
      • gendered
      • Space for action, personal choices, decreased because someone else is taking that space away
        • This awareness means groups like SWA want to also help rebuild that space for action which had been taken away

          Gender as a social structure also impacts approaches to domestic violence/abuse

  • How does this impact sexuality, expectations, ways society values men and women, and relationship between men and women

–          Importance of the body when analyzing domestic violence

  • Bodies are the targets and sites of attach

–          Gendered-based violence

  • Any form of violence used to perpetuate gender inequalities and keep in place gendered orders

–          LGBT Domestic Youth Project

  • A result of these new perspectives, language and understanding

–          SWA has broadened their work, and expanded connections



Lynn Abrams: What about perpetrators and their voices?

–          There is work on this as well; also contributes to the understanding of domestic violence

Frankie McCarthy: How was the internet contributed to these developments for women’s aid?

–          Positively and negatively

  • A new venue for harassment which can cause more complications for prosecution as well as help prosecute