November 2020

The FREE magazine on &

around coercive control



Dr Karen Williams on

Psychiatry, Borderline Personality

Disorders and Coercive Control


Editor's Notes

5 Min talks about the need to have

uncomfortable conversations, H.O.P.E. and


The CCChat Interview

7 Bal Howard on escaping a forced marriage

and what it has taken to find healing.

The CCChat Interview

18 Dr Karen Williams on psychiatry,

borderline personality disorder and

coercive control.

More Than A Bruise

28 SODA founder Sam Billingham has a new

campaign that starts on 1st December.

Making The Invisible Visible

Editor's Notes

About The Editor

Min Grob started

Conference on Coercive

Control in June 2015,

following the end of a

relationship that was both

coercive and controlling.

Since then, there have been

several national

conferences as well as

smaller events.

Min’s interest lies in

recognising coercive control

in its initial stages, in

identifying the ‘red flags’ of

a potentially abusive

relationship before a person

becomes too invested in the

relationship, as that is when

it will be much more difficult

to leave, as well as the

challenges faced when

living with and recovering

from trauma.

Min has talked on

identifying covert abuse

and, with the use of

examples from social

media, she identifies a

number of covert tactics that

are commonly used to

manipulate. These tactics

will often be invisible in plain

sight- as the abuser seeks

to remain undetected.

Min is also a public speaker,

and speaks on both her

personal experience of

coercive control, family

courts and the livedexperience

of trauma - as

well as more generally of

abuse that is hidden in plain


Let's Grow The


To contact Min:


Uncomfortable Conversations

Hello and welcome to this issue of CCChat Magazine.

This is a very special issue where I interview two hugely inspirational

women - Bal Howard and Dr Karen Williams - who are looking to change

the landscape around how abuse is understood. It is also special because

it features, on the cover, an image from the H.O.P.E. Digital Art Project,

which both celebrates and raises awareness of black, Asian and

minority ethnic women either working, advocating or campaigning within

the domestic abuse & sexual violence sector. H.O.P.E. stands for Helping

Other People Everyday and the project is the brainchild of Meena Kumari

of H.O.P.E. Training and Consultancy, which provides training &

consultancy in domestic abuse, sexual violence, sexual abuse and

safeguarding. Meena teamed up with artist and Psychology graduate,

Daisy Meredith for this project and the beautiful images are available as a

calendar. More information on Meena, her work, the H.O.P.E. Digital Art

Project and calendar can be found on

Regular readers have noticed CCChat taking a new direction in terms of

content with more indepth interviews and this will continue as I focus not

only on a deeper understanding of coercive control, the myriad ways it

manifests, not only in an intimate or family context, but also what it looks

like in a wider setting - for example, what it looks like in the professional

world, in government, in politics and elsewhere in society. As part of that, I

will also be further exploring the barriers to identifying and addressing

coercive control, namely the myths and biases that can skew perceptions.

It's time we looked at the bigger picture - the macrocosm of control. It's

time to delve deeper and have the uncomfortable conversations that will

propel us towards a much deeper understanding of the dynamics involved.

Min x

Making The Invisible Visible

The CCChat


Bal Howard

Making The Invisible Visible

The CCChat Interview

Bal Kaur Howard

Bal Kaur Howard has been

advocating on the issues of

Black and Minority Ethnic

women and men on

domestic violence, honour

based crimes (Forced

Marriage & Female Genital

Mutilation) and Child

Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

since 2008.

Born in India and brought

to Britain aged one, Bal

was forced into marriage at

the age of 17

She went back to education

at the age of 26 after

escaping and has

subsequently been

disowned by her family for

over 20 years.

Employed by Suffolk

Constabulary for 7½ years,

Bal was responsible for

developing policies,

procedures and training for

police officers and partner

agencies to enhance the

service to victims and

potential victims.

Since leaving the police,

Bal has developed and now

delivers training for frontline


throughout England and


Her website is:


al Howard has an award-winning company

providing seminars, training courses and

workshops for professionals whose work

includes cases of domestic abuse and

exploitation by individuals or criminal

gangs. I asked her about her decision to go

into this area.

B: I started out in the public sector, my back ground is in

sales and marketing in the corporate world and then Banaz

Mahmod was murdered by her father, her uncle and three

members of their community. At that time, I had also read

Jasvinder Sanghera’s book, SHAME and realised that that

was my story, so I emailed the author, not for one minute

thinking that she would email me back, but she did.

Around that time, Jasvinder was going round the country

raising awareness with the Forced Marriage Unit that had

just been formed and she asked if I would like to join her

and I said I’d love to. So I went around the country and

there was an event in Duxford, and, on the way back, I was

at Cambridge railway station and both the Superintendent

from the police and the Domestic Abuse Manager were

there. They were thinking about creating a job and we

talked about what it should look like, what the role would


When the job was advertised, I applied and got it. I didn't

have much to put in the application form, apart from my

own experience, and so I put it down and got the job.

I was with the constabulary for seven and a half years. The

Honour Based Violence strategy was formed at the end of

2008 and in that were 90 recommendations and all police

forces signed those 90 recommendations. We needed to

educate other professionals, partner agencies around

forced marriage, honour based violence and FGM, so when

I went into the police, the first thing I did jointly with

Suffolk County Council, was form a Steering Group with

various different agencies on how we were going to take

this forward in terms of training and the role evolved from

there. There wasn't a single case of Honour Based Violence,

Forced Marriage or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at

that time.We then started to see between thirty to fifty

cases a year.

Making The Invisible Visible

" I witnessed, as a child, fights with baseball bats, bricks,

windows crashing in, dinners going on the wall and

I didn't really want to be part of that family."

Bal Howard

M: It was obviously needed.

B: Yes, and I think it’s still needed now. I

loved the frontline victim work. Putting

the policies and practices in place was

really good as well, as it was a nice

learning curve putting together a police

policy for how to handle these cases and

then doing the joint Honour Based

Violence, Forced Marriage and FGM

policies for Suffolk County Council and

Children and Adults Safeguarding.

The Home Office guidance was released

around that time and so I started using

my own story to change hearts and minds

during training sessions.

I would say that even if you forget the

training, you never forget the story.

M: Bal, for the readers who haven’t heard

your story, are you happy to share it?

B: Yes, I share to educate, so I have no

problem with talking about it. I was born

in India. I was just one year old when my

parents relocated to the UK. They came

because of the migration that was

happening at the time, because there

weren’t sufficient people in the labour

market. They had no intention of staying

as such, but that’s what happened.

I wish my dad had left his core beliefs and

values behind him, at Heathrow Airport,

but he just didn’t. He brought them in

with him. So we settled in the North East

of England and in that family

environment, there was my dad’s brother

and his family, my mum’s brother and his

family, and we all lived together.

Making The Invisible Visible

Then when I was nine, we came back to

the UK. I didn’t speak any English, was

put in a really low class and then two

years later, I went into secondary

education where I was also put in a really

low class, where I was second from

bottom. When I hit puberty at the age of

thirteen, my dad removed me from school

and I just didn’t go back.

M: Could he just do that?

B: At the time yes and nobody, none of

the teachers came looking for me.

M: Oh wow.

I lived with domestic abuse from the

different family members. I witnessed, as

a child, fights with baseball bats, bricks,

windows crashing in, dinners going on

the wall and I didn't really want to be part

of that family but then at school, I was

one of four Asian kids in the whole

school, so I was bullied because of my

skin colour but, actually, school was

better than home.

I wished school was from 9 o’clock in the

morning to 9 o’clock at night and with no

school holidays. I used to think that I

don’t belong to this family and when I

was seven, my dad relocated back to

India, so we all moved back.

We lived out there for two years and those

were the happiest memories of my

childhood. Dad wasn’t around and we

were free, as children, to go and do what

we wanted.

Dad had tried to protect us from getting

too westernised so we weren’t allowed to

have English friends over, we weren’t

allowed to go to their houses so, it was a

very controlled environment.

B: I just stayed at home and was being

taught how to cook, clean, how to look

after the other children in the household.

My dad said I won’t need an education. I

knew I was going to have an arranged

marriage, but I didn’t think it would be

forced and then at 17, my dad and uncle

drove me to Yorkshire, where I met the

man who was going to be my husband. I

was 17, he was 25.

I wasn’t allowed to be alone with him or

anything and, on the way back, my dad

said what did I think? I said 'No' and my

dad said that’s the man you’re going to

marry whether you like it or not. If you’re

thinking of running away, I’ll find you, I’ll

kill you and I’ll go to prison. And I totally

believed he would do that.

I’ve had cousins who had fled and they’d

found them through a telephone

number,or they’d camp outside people’s

houses to find them so I just thought,

where would I go? Where am I going to

live? They’d find me anyway so I went

through the marriage when I was 17.

M: The level of fear you must have felt

must have been sky high.

B: It was massive. My mum said it was

my duty as a daughter not to bring shame

on the family. You will do whatever it

takes to remain in that household

Making The Invisible Visible

and we don’t want to hear anything bad.

Anything, like she doesn’t cook, she

doesn’t clean. Anything bad.

So I went off with a strange family. I

didn’t even know who they were. That

night I was raped by my husband. I didn’t

even know what sex was at that time but

that daily rape happened for almost 8 and

a half years of my life.

I wasn’t coping. I’d be going back home

saying I didn’t want to be in the marriage,

and I’d get sent back to him. It was

control from the in-laws and extended inlaws,

it wasn’t just one person, it was all

of them. I was jumpy, on edge all the

time, making sure I did everything right. I

was so underweight it was unbelievable.

They would get this brown powder from

India and they said this will help you fall

pregnant, drink it. There was this one

Auntie who told me to pretend to drink it,

don’t drink it because you don’t know

what’s in it.

M: I was going to ask what’s in it.

B: Yeah. I think I drank it a couple of

times in front of them, then they left me

to it and I’d pretend I was drinking it. I

was pregnant three times and miscarried

three times. Nobody asked any questions

and on the third miscarriage I thought I

needed to get out and so I made a

decision. It took three months of planning

to destroy everything with my name on it.

" I would say that even if you forget the training,

you never forget the story."

Bal Howard

I went to the family GP when I was 18 and

said I wasn’t coping very well. I couldn’t

tell him what was going on as I knew it

would get back. But he gave me valium

and I absolutely loved the valium. It fixed

a pain on the inside.

I then think I went shopping. I’d not told

anybody but they had found out where I’d

parked the car and were waiting around

the car for me. They invited my family

from the North and I had lectures from

them. I can’t even remember the number

of hours. I just remember focusing on the

carpet, counting the squares so I wouldn’t

pass out and that night I took the lot. All

of the valium. I didn’t want to be alive.

Obviously God had a different plan.

I then thought how am I going to get

through this alive? So I thought I’d have

children. I’d have somebody to love and

somebody to love me back. He was an

only son so it was expected.

I destroyed everything, my National

Insurance number, NHS number because

those were the things that could be used

to track people.

I then went into a police station and said

to the police that I’m going of my own

free will but my family are going to report

me missing.

I fled on the 28th of March 1996. I had

chosen London as I thought they wouldn’t

find me there and then my new life


I knew that as a result of me leaving, I

wouldn’t see any of my family ever again

and I’ve not seen them for over 24 years.

The shame and dishonour. They moved

from the North East to Bedfordshire

where they built this new family


Making The Invisible Visible

My little sister needed safe guarding. She

had a learning disability and was about 8

or 10 years old but they had already

arranged her marriage. I knew the person

they were going to marry her to, so I rang

the police, and told them that my sister is

at risk and they would have to track her

wherever she goes.

There were three missing persons reports

for me, from various different family

members and there were posters and

leaftlets in all of the houses nearby,

asking if anyone had seen anything, then

they got a private detective to find me as

well – which I didn’t find out until years


I then did some training in Bedfordshire

where three professionals came up to me

asking if I had a little sister who lives in

Bedford. They said my mannerisms were

just like my little sister, that I was just like

her. I then found out that my mum had

passed away and that my dad was a really

nice man, that my sister was in assisted

accommodated living as dad couldn’t

cope but she goes home at weekends and

I just thought to myself, it’s really


I had to leave the training room, went to

the toilet and composed myself, did my

meditation. I then went back and

delivered the Honour Based Violence and

Forced Marriage training and right at the

end I shared my story with photographs.

" There were three missing persons reports for me, from various different family

members and there were posters and leaftlets in all of the houses nearby, asking if

anyone had seen anything."

Bal Howard

The officer I’d asked to safeguard my little

sister rang me back three times and I

never forgot her name. It was the first

time I had sought external help and she

had helped me.

When we did the DA Matters training in

Suffolk in 2016, I was sent to Bristol on

'Train the Trainer' with Safelives. I was

sitting there, a whole load of us, and we

had to introduce ourselves and the two

trainers introduced themselves and one of

them was this officer.

M: No way!

B: Yes, after 18 years. It was 2016, I

couldn’t believe it. It was just incredible.

So my sister is safeguarded to this day,

which is incredible.

Then I looked at these three professionals

and then I said "My dad’s a really nice


M: Oh my God, did they squirm?

B: I just left them to it, though I did ask if

there were any photos of me in the house,

has he ever mentioned that he’s got this

oldest child that happens to be me?

Never mentioned it to the professionals.

M: Oh my God. That must have really

made them think- especially as they had

thought he was such a nice man.

B: Then I got to Hitchin railway station

and that’s when I burst into tears.

M: I can't believe you lasted that long.

B: Yeah. I lasted that long. That was a

powerful session.

Making The Invisible Visible

What that led to was me being contacted

by a social worker who had engaged with

my little sister but, because she goes

home at weekends, I didn’t want to put

her through emotional turmoil, so I

worked with social services to ask her a

few questions. She remembers me and

talks about me and she carries a photo of

my mum around with her.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see her but right

now is not the right time. So, at least

that’s there. When my Dad dies, I’ll get to

see her again. But it’s been an awfully

long time. March next year it will be

twenty five years. A quarter of a century.

When you walk away, it’s not walking

away from one perpetrator, it’s walking

away from them all.

The relationship, the whole way through,

felt uncomfortable but then I thought this

is how relationships are meant to be. He

introduced me to cocaine. I just loved that

lifestyle of going out but it felt really

uncomfortable, so I decided to do

another geographical and moved to

Oxford, then Cambridge, then Corby.

I kept moving, not making any Asian

friends, so I wouldn’t be linked back. I

literally just moved around the country

to different locations with different jobs

and then I thought, that’s it, I don’t want

to be in a relationship ever again until I

met my husband, in Ipswich. It took two

years and two months to go on a date

with him. We got married and have been

married for fifteen years.

" I tried to find a therapist. I was grieving

but my family were all still alive."

Bal Howard

I tried to find a therapist. I was grieving

but my family were all still alive, so it was

really difficult to find one who

understood. I couldn’t find one until

towards 2012. It was someone who works

with war veterans and he kind of started

my journey into therapy. He’s a Human

Givens therapist, which isn’t talking

therapy. Talking therapy was stressing me

out. This was more hypnotherapy and

something started shifting.

I had gone back to studying when I was

26. I went to the University of Greenwich

and did a couple of diplomas and met a

man. He was eleven and a half years older

than me. I had never had a drink, had

never gone to the pub. I went to the pub

for the first time. This guy wined and

dined me and bought all my clothes and

jewellery. Looking back, reflecting on it, it

was just coercive control.

The shit really hit the fan after that. I felt

safe for the first time in my life but

emotionally I wasn’t coping. I was

working for the police, and on a

concoction of a lot of prescription

medication , Diazepam,Temazepam,

Gabapentin, Propanalol, 220 mg of anti

depressants. I was trying to cope but not

really coping and so I started using

cocaine in the morning and then alcohol

in the evening- along with all these

prescription pills- and slowly fell into


I have to say, hands on my heart, with

everything I have been through, this was

the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I just

could not believe how much power this

addiction had and I was becoming an

abuser. I was becoming very aggressive

towards my husband and I was delivering

domestic abuse training thinking yeah, I

do that, and I do that.

Making The Invisible Visible

So it became a revolving door for six years

with mental health services and

addiction. It broke me. It brought me to

my knees. It was a kind of another

spiritual awakening, I needed help so I

went to rehab.

I’d heard of East Coast Recovery because

I’d worked with a victim in there and I

thought, I need that service so I made a

phone call at 8.30 in the morning on 3rd

January 2013 and that day this guy, who’s

a good friend of mine still, he lived in

Somerleyton, he worked in Lowestoft and

he said, Bal I’m actually 1.1 miles away

from your house, I could come and pick

you up and I said yes please.

I didn’t want to be like my dad. My dad’s

last words were you’ll end up in the

gutter. If I get drugs tested at work it will

be instant dismissal and the home is

going to go, the marriage is going to go

but I just couldn’t, on sheer will power

alone, I couldn’t beat that thing, so in

January 2013, I ended up in residential

rehab in Lowestoft for three months.

So I went into rehab and they asked me

how long am I here for and I said I’m here

for as long as it takes, so I went and

stayed there. That’s when I learnt to live,

at the age of forty three..

I learnt what it really meant. Rehab saved

my life and taught me how I was going to

live on a daily basis.

" I knew I was going to have an arranged marriage,

but I didn’t think it would be forced."

Bal Howard

I went in on January 3rd. I struggled with

mental health services around that time,

because they wouldn’t assess me. They

wouldn’t make an assessment when I was

off my face, because I was intoxicated and

that’s when I desperately needed it more

than anything else, but when I presented,

I presented really well, I mean I hid it

from work so when I presented at work,

to mental health services, they said you

don’t fit the category, you’re fine. There's

nothing wrong with you.

My spiritual journey started there

because the first thing we did, every day

for three months, from nine o’clock until

half nine was meditation. We did positive

affirmations, prayers, if we wanted to,

and now mediation is now 70% of my

recovery. I did Alcoholics Anonymous

meetings, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics

Anonymous but rehab gave me, in the

three months I had probably 400 hours of

therapy. 1-2-1 therapy, group therapy,

acupuncture – they did the whole holistic

thing and it was just an incredible

journey. Lowestoft was where I was


Making The Invisible Visible

I hated going to Lowestoft before that.

And then my recovery journey took me

back to India. I met an Indian Catholic

Jesuit priest, who was also an atheist, at

Clare Priory, in Suffolk. He comes over to

the UK once a year. He said come to

India, so I went and for three days I cried,

so the broken parts of me were healed out

there. I spent 3 months with the Father

and talked about how I was born a Sikh,

Islam draws me but I go down the

Buddhist Centre as well, and he said to

me, don’t worry about that, these are just

different rivers to the same sea. Don’t

worry about religions.

M: That’s a really beautiful way of putting


So I left rehab on the 28th of March 2013.

It was a Thursday and I fled on 28th

March 1996, which was also a Thursday

but this time I left with a brand new

family - the people I spent three months

with. I’ve been clean and sober since.

They detoxed me of all my prescription

medication as well and the only things I

take these days are ibuprofen or

paracetamol. My day starts with

gratitude. Father said to me that when I

wake up, my first morning thought, when

I regain consciousness, is to thank God

for another day. I shouldn’t be alive. I

should have been dead at 18. Dead by my

family, or during that marriage, or

because of the alcohol and drugs. For

years now, my first awakening thought:

Thank you God, for another day.

" Don’t worry about that,

these are just different rivers to the same sea."

B: Yes, so I go back to India every year,

apart from this year, since 2015 to the

Ashram for spiritual growth, yoga. We get

up at four in the morning to do Yoga,

stretches, meditation. He has really

enhanced my spiritual journey and if I get

stuck along the way, I just email him.

The other man who has been an amazing

inspiration in my life is Nazir Afzal who

was the Crown Prosecution lead for the

Rochdale Child sexual exploitation case. I

met him in 2008 and I said I can’t believe

a man is talking about violence against

women and girls and he’s actually an

Asian man. I sat with him in Manchester

in 2016 thinking about leaving the police

and I asked him if he would be my

mentor. He kind of helped me and guided

me, which is incredible but he also did

little things like text me on Diwali,

because no one sends me birthday cards

or Diwali cards so that is really special.

I feel whole again. Without rehab

teaching me how to live, I only thought I

was, but I know that I wasn’t. The

relationship at home needed a lot of

healing as the marriage would have ended

because of my behaviours and we had ten

months of therapy with an addiction

counsellor, to save my marriage and

also,at the same time, my husband

needed to understand addiction.

M: I’ve been spending the last few

months better understanding trauma and

have been reading a lot about Gabor

Mate’s work and how addiction comes

from some form of trauma.

B: Yes, it completely does and that is how

my courses came about – from my own

experiences. I then started delivering on

Modern Slavery and Trafficking,

Extremism and Radicalisation. I won’t

deliver anything that I don’t feel

passionate about.

Making The Invisible Visible

Training Offered By Bal Howard:

Toxic Trio – Exploring domestic abuse,

substance misuse and mental health

Domestic Abuse – Half Day or Full Day

(Depending on the Objectives)

Harmful Practices / Hidden Harm

Honour Based Abuse Forced Marriage

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Breast Flattening / Ironing

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) /

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Extremism and Radicalisation

Modern Slavery / Trafficking Addiction

Drug Awareness & Reducing Harm

NPS (Psychoactive Substances)

Emerging Trends & Challenges

Young People, Families & Drug Use

Introduction to Motivational


To find out more about Bal Howard and

her training courses, please go to

Making The Invisible Visible

CCChat Interview

Dr Karen Williams

Trauma Specialist

Making The Invisible Visible

CCChat Interview

Dr Karen Williams

Dr Karen Williams is an Australian consultant psychiatrist specialising in Post

Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is the founder of Doctors Against Violence

Towards Women - an advocacy group promoting mental and physical safety of

women who are survivors of family violence and sexual assault.

M: Thank you so much for agreeing to be

interviewed. You are the first psychiatrist

I have interviewed and I am really looking

forward to learning more from you, but

first, what made you decide to go into


K: I went into medicine with the idea that

I was going to be a paediatrician. At the

time I, like many other people, wanted to

go into general medicine. I didn’t think

about mental health at all, I think most

people don’t. You think of physical health,

so I had gone into it that way.

I then heard that with psychiatry you

start at nine o’clock and you get to have

coffee, so that was the appealing thing to

me. I’d love to say it was for a benevolent

reason but I wanted to do a three- month

term, so that I would be able to rest after

the really long vascular terms.

Surgical terms start at six and go on until

eleven, so I thought I was going to get a

break! I really didn’t know that much as

we hadn't really done much mental health


What ended up happening was that one of

the first patients I saw, with a male

psychiatrist, was a young woman. She had

cut herself and taken an overdose. He

took maybe five minutes and then said

she had borderline personality disorder.

Now this was all very foreign to me, what

was this? How did he make that decision

when he had only talked to her for a few

minutes? I asked him but he really just

fobbed me off with his explanation of how

he got that diagnosis.

Later on I went into an interview with the

patient. I wanted to talk to her in a little

bit more detail. This was just me going off

my own back, going away and having a

chat to her. I asked her why did you do

this and she said to me that her husband

had done all these things to her. I asked

her questions about her background and

we went through her life story and it was

a story of just awful abuse.

I went back to the consultant and said she

got bashed up just before she took the

overdose and he was like yeah, right,

that’s irrelevant. That’s not anything to do

with her presentation.

Making The Invisible Visible

In psychiatry we have a checkbox of

symptoms – do you have poor sleep? do

you eat? do you have lack of energy? do

you feel sad? Yes, yes, yes ,yes, so

you’re depressed. We have this way of

looking at the final symptoms and

deciding what the person is, based on that

final set of symptoms, not on any of the

things that led them to get there.

M: Oh my God.

K: And he goes, you’ll just know. We get a

lot of people from lower socio-economic

backgrounds round here.

That’s just part and parcel, a lot of

patients have that in their background,

it’s not part of the presentation.

That struck me as really quite odd but

then I started reading some of the

research papers on how, if a person had

undergone traumas in their childhood, it

causes physical damage to the brain and

that you can see it on scans, see the

neuro-chemical changes, the

hippocampal changes, you can actually

see that an assault has a physical impact

on the brain.

I was really excited by this and thought it

was going to be a game-changer, it would

change everything because people who

were telling me they had a history of

childhood abuse, sexual abuse, domestic

violence, all the people we had been

labelling as having mental illness were

actually traumatised. But it actually didn’t

change anything at all.

" We have this way of looking at the final symptoms and deciding

what the person is, based on that final set of symptoms,

not on any of the things that led them to get there."

Dr Karen Williams

For someone who had had no mental

health training, I was really shocked. I

thought that he must know stuff that I

don’t know. You kind of accept that this

older wiser man knows much more than

you do, so I figured that he must be right.

That was my first entry point into

psychiatry and over time, more and more,

I thought this was ridiculous.

How can none of this matter? These are

people’s lives and we are just looking at

the sum total of the person at the end?

A lot of people will forget their trauma,

so, if you’ve been assaulted and your

body’s way of dealing with it is to forget,

when a person asks you if you were

abused, you say no and you’re not lying

because you genuinely forgot, or you were

too little to remember.

Kids who have been raped at the age of

two don’t remember, so they might say

no,they weren't sexually abused because

they don’t remember or their body has

helped them to forget by closing off that

memory.We know that happens.

Making The Invisible Visible

" If a woman is being bashed or raped, we never say it’s PTSD,

we say she has got Borderline Personality Disorder.

Even though the symptoms are actually the same."

Dr Karen Williams

Or they don’t identify it, or they don’t

trust you and don’t want to tell you. They

don’t have to tell a researcher everything

about themselves, and as we know with

coercive control, the vast majority of

people won’t identify it.

If you take a man who has gone to war,

even if they have never been deployed,

they’ve joined the Navy and then they

show any signs of mental health – they

are aggressive, get angry, drink, get

depressed, agitated, with any of those

things, we immediately say they’ve got

PTSD but if a woman is being bashed or

raped, we never say it’s PTSD, we say she

has got borderline personality disorder.

Even though the symptoms are actually

the same.

I then found out there was a psychiatrist

in America, Bessel van der Kolk, who said

that all of these things that are happening

to people absolutely impacts the way that

they behave and what we are looking at is

traumatised individuals.

Over the years, I have done more and

more research into this as it’s become an

area of interest that I have devoted my

career to.

The female psychiatrists back in the

1960’s or 1970’s fought against getting

borderline personality disorder included

in the DSM, as they knew it was going to

be bad for women, and they were right. It

pretty much replaced hysteria and

the women who were diagnosed, were

probably just women who wanted to

stand up for themselves.

Making The Invisible Visible

So if someone is asking you, you do

sometimes feel angry? And you’ve been

raped and you say yes, the last thing you

think is that that person is going to do

something bad to you. You think that

person is going to help you. You answer

yes, yes, all very eager to get an answer to

your problem.

Women aren’t even necessarily realising

how horrible it is, to be sitting there and

for this psychiatrist to decide what they

have, because when they are then given

this diagnosis,and they need to try and

get custody of their child, they now have a

history of mental illness and a diagnosis,

so it makes it even harder for them to get

custody of their kids.

They were defined as hysterical and then

that term was taken out and essentially

replaced with borderline personality


If you look at the shopping list of

symptoms for borderline personality

disorder, they include things like: is

impulsive, gets angry, rage, feels empty,

has mood swings. It doesn’t matter what

happened to that person, if at that

moment, if the moment you presented to

the doctor or psychiatrist and they ask, do

you have intense relationships, do you

have feelings of wanting to kill yourself,

and they’ve just had an overdose so I can

tick they’ve got suicidal thoughts, do you

get angry sometimes, yes, ok, you’ve got

all of those things, you’ve got borderline

personality disorder.

M: I'm really shocked by that. I had no

idea it was such a tick-box exercise.

K: Remembering that, at that point

people are very vulnerable. You go to a

psychiatrist because you’re vulnerable

and you’re worried about something,

something’s going wrong, and so you go

in, seeking answers.

What we’re seeing is there are

women who are losing custody to abusive

men because a doctor has given a

diagnosis of personality disorder or other

mental illness, when actually, when you

actually talk to them, they’re really

traumatised. This is why I’m such a

passionate advocate.

I work in a hospital, where I’m really

uniquely placed because I have the

defence force, the police and all other first

responders who I treat for PTSD and

that’s all funded by the defence force, the

government really. What I treat them

with is individual therapy, group therapy,

exercise therapy – they get relaxation,

mindfulness. We give them everything

that we can possibly give, to treat them.

That’s one part of my role and then I’ve

got an outpatient clinic where people can

come pay to see me. The women who

come to see me come with a referral from

their GP – this person has got depression,

anxiety, BPD anything. And almost every

single one, it’s very rare that I won’t have

a case where there is a history of abuse


M: That is absolutely staggering.

K: Yes, it is staggering.

Making The Invisible Visible

K: People will say to me, you’ve got all

these traumatised patients because you

are a trauma specialist but most of the

referrals do not say please see this person

for trauma, please see this person for the

rape that they experienced when they

were three, they say please see this person

for depression. They are the same

referrals that every psychiatrist in the

profession gets. It’s not different but what

is different is that I will spend 45 minutes

to an hour in talking to the patient.

Unfortunately, even if I say that’s what

I’m noticing, it will get dismissed, so I say

I’m happy for you to look at my referrals.

Have a look and tell me which ones say

domestic violence, sexual assault…. You

can count them, probably, on two hands.

We don’t compensate adequately for

someone who wants to do this history and

it’s the same in the general practice

setting as well.

Female practice GPs are getting all the

mental health cases, the domestic abuse

cases, as they are preferentially selected

by the women patients, for obvious


Men are getting the coughs and colds

appointments and the women GP's are

getting far more complex cases as the

women are picking them and so there is a

gender gap there but not because women

are paid less than men but because they

get the cases that take longer.

" They are the same referrals that every psychiatrist in the profession gets.

It’s not different, only that I will spend

45 minutes to an hour in talking to the patient"

Dr Karen Williams

Most of the women will come with

histories where they've tried several

different anti depressants, and nothing is

helping them feel better, so they ask what

can they do about it? What do they do


Then you listen and find out about their

family life, you find out about their past

and find that they’re either experiencing

abuse now or they’ve experienced it in the

past, always. Also not forgetting that if

someone can afford to see me, they are

not the worst off in society.

If you want to spend time with someone,

you are financially penalised because you

can’t charge the same as someone who

doesn’t spend as much time. There’s no

financial incentive to spend that time – to

invest in getting a proper history – it’s a

huge systems issue.

I can give you a fantastic example of

coercive control involving money. So this

woman was doing an anxiety course at

the hospital . She was on $150, 000 a

year, so really good income and she gives

all of her money to her partner who is on

$120,000 so he’s on a good income too,

but less than her, and all the money goes

to him.

She came into the office one day,

distraught, saying 'I destroy everything

that’s good in my life, I sabotage my

family'. She was so upset. She had gone

down to the shops and spent all this

money and was really upset that she had

done that. Taking money out of the kids’


I asked what she spent the money on.

It was a journal.

A $14.00 journal.

Making The Invisible Visible

The psychology group she was in had told

her to buy a journal to write down her

feelings.This highly intelligent woman on

$150,000 was distraught that she was

ruining her children’s lives because she

had bought a journal.

What had happened was that her

husband had been tracking the card and

had immediately called her when she

bought it and said what the fuck are you

doing spending that money? We have

hardly any money and you are spending

it, what’s wrong with you, what’s WRONG

with you? She felt so terrible.

So I asked her how much do you think

you guys spend on bills, why would that

$14 make a difference?

And if you get a kid who has been under

the influence of a parent who has done

this and said this is how much money you

get, and you’re straight into marriage, it’s

very easy for a person to have no idea of

what the costs are. So it’s not that she’s

stupid, it was that she trusted and

believed that he would know and that he

was so angry at her that he must be right,

she must be spending too much.

So I asked, when did you last have a haircut?

I haven’t had a haircut in five years.

When was the last time you brought

yourself any new clothes? I haven’t, not

for several years. She believed that there

was no money and that is the perfect

example of coercive control.

" If you want to spend time with someone, you are financially penalised

because you can’t charge the same as someone who doesn’t spend

as much time. There’s no financial incentive to spend that time

– to invest in getting a proper history – it’s a huge systems issue."

Dr Karen Williams

I told her you guys are right up there,

amongst the wealthiest in our society,

earning around a quarter of a million a

year, why would you guys be struggling? I

don’t know, he’s the one who is managing

the money. How many houses do you

have? We have one How many mortgages

do you have? we have one mortgage.

M: What was he doing with the money?

K: He was keeping it from her. Whatever

it is, she had no access to it, she had no

idea. All he kept doing was saying there

was no money.

It’s not like she’s looking at the bank

accounts and saying there is nothing –

she is just relying on what he is telling

her. And he has just convinced her that by

the time he has paid off the electricity and

water and rates and all of this, there’s

nothing left and she believed it. That’s the

thing – she believed it.

You know, you can just convince

somebody that they are awful. You take

away their autonomy and you make out

they’re dumb and can’t manage and are

causing chaos for the family and ruining

everything and then, of course she feels

anxious and depressed because she’s

ruining her family. And so you come to a

psychiatric unit and hope they will help

you and you are given an anti depressant

and that reinforces the ideas that you are

mentally unstable.

M: Yeah, and you end up believing you’re

the problem and not the abuse.

K: Exactly. So this is where we, as a

society, continue to abuse this woman on

top of the man abusing her. So he will

abuse her then we will, by telling her she’s

mentally ill, she’s the one with the

problem and that she needs these

medications so that everything will get

better and so then what happens is that

Making The Invisible Visible

M: How do you self-care with all of that?

Because it must be so hard not to be

affected by it.

K: I think what’s happened for me has

been the advocacy thing, like, if I can

change things and make things different,

I feel like that’s my self care, that I’m

absolutely making a difference to people’s

lives and then my life is worthwhile and I

feel less helpless, because I think that why

you need self-care, is because you feel

helpless and hopeless.

M: That makes sense. I've never thought

of it like that.

she will go back to him and, if there’s

anything she argues about, he’ll say have

you taken your meds today? You clearly

haven’t taken your meds. It gets used

against her. Her opinions on everything

will be that’s because your mentally ill. It

happens all of the time.

That’s why when I see the women I say

I’m not giving you any meds and

sometimes they’re desperate. What’s

easier, if you have to think about it, is it

better to believe your husband who says

you’re nuts, go and see this doctor, go and

get some pills and feel better, is that

easier? Or is it better to hear from a

woman you don’t know, don’t trust that

you don’t need these pills. Which of these

things do you think they would prefer to


A lot of the time they would not come

back if I tell them that they are the ones

that are in the right and it is their

husbands that are the problem, so I have

to be so careful about the way I phrase

things and not push patients away by

being overzealous and, often, my

instinctive reaction would be to tell to


K: If I can feel like I’m not helpless

because I am doing something with my

experience, I’m not sitting on it but trying

to make it mean something and I guess,

on some level, it gives me that bit of self

care. These little girls, especially, will

have this behaviour with other men

because they’re used to it. They’re used to

the man who has control, who is

aggressive and tells them what to do,

they’ve experienced nothing different so

they get into these relationships and

marriages where they’re not surprised if a

man controls them, they don’t know

anything less.

M: Yes, it’s all they know. To be

compliant, not rock the boat. It’s woven

into the fabric of who they are.

K: So when you are like that, you are

functioning on your primitive brain. It’s

the bit that’s in panic mode. You’re in

absolute panic mode so you won't sleep

properly and then you’d be sleep


You can’t assess someone like that, it’s

like saying I’m going to hold a gun to your

head and then I’m going to get you to do

the crossword. You cannot do a crossword

when there is a kidnapper with a gun in

their hand.

Making The Invisible Visible

K: In Australia, what's happening in

court, is that no one can question the

decision that’s been made because you

can’t question the report. There are a final

set of recommendations and they’re

private, so the mum can’t go I want to see

the results of this, I want to know why

they made this determination.

There’s no way of doing that. You can’t

sue them, you can’t do anything. They are

completely safeguarded and so are the

magistrates. It needs to change.

Things need to be transparent, you need

to be able to see.

That’s what domestic violence is , so

there’s a kind of a clear picture of what

you have to have happened to you to be

truly a victim of domestic violence and

that means that everyone else who’s got

all these other things looks at themselves

and they don’t see themselves there.

That’s a huge problem because it’s

incredibly invalidating If you can’t see

yourself in the world around you. You

think there’s something wrong with you

so you buy right into the idea your

partner is selling you that there IS

something wrong with you and, if we

don’t teach women what coercive control

looks like, it’s going to be next to

impossible to heal properly.

" You cannot do a crossword when there is a kidnapper

with a gun in their hand."

M: What steps do you think a person who

has been gaslighted and controlled, can

do for their recovery, after they have left

the relationship?

K: The biggest thing is identification. Our

society has hidden that as an issue.

People are talking about coercive control

now but the vast majority of women girls,

teenagers, kids still don’t know what it is

and so they’re not seeing it in their

everyday lives. So not only are they

invisible in their homes, they are invisible

in the world around them.

They can’t identify themselves in the

world around them when, if they see

advertisements for family violence it’s

usually a shadow of a man with a closed

fist about to punch the woman who is

crouched down.

I know that what makes the biggest

difference to my patients is validation. Me

explaining to them that that behaviour is

not ok, do you see what he’s done to you?

And when they finally see it for what it is,

they can forgive themselves. Self

-forgiveness is one of the biggest things

because they hate themselves.

When you’re at that point of self

loathing,you know, I’m a horrible person,

I’m all these horrible things that he’s told

me I am - they absolutely believe that, so

when you can help them see that they are

not the horrible one, they are not bad or

shameful or embarrassing then that kind

of thing is really healing – when they can

start to see that the person who is

horrible is their partner. That’s not that

easy, it’s really not, because the women

who come to me will still self talk – she

doesn’t know what I’m really like, she

thinks it’s all him, if she knew what I was

really like-

Making The Invisible Visible

They really think they are dirty and

horrible and cause all the problems. I

know that they’re thinking that too. Do

you know how long it takes, to go through

all that? To do this you have to be patient,

you have to want to do this and most

people don’t because it’s going to cost so

much money to do that, or it’s a massive

loss of income but, absolutely, validation .

They have to find that person who gets it

and validate it and so to answer your

question, it’s really hard because there’s

not a lot of people out there who are

doing this. You want to have therapy with

someone who understands trauma and

who can walk through the core beliefs you

have now taken on, as someone who has

been abused because you take on core

beliefs, I’m ugly, I’m lazy, I’m stupid,

people don’t like me, people are

embarrassed for me, I shouldn’t go out in

public because I’m an embarrassment, so

you have all those beliefs playing out in

your day to day world. So you ask, do you

have friends? Do you see your friends? I

don’t have friends Why not? People don’t

like me. So you have to try to work out

where did all of that come from and then

challenge those ideas- that’s not an easy

thing to do and that’s why it’s so easy to

get into another relationship like that.

Prevention is far far better, the way I see

it. If we can get people talking about what

it really looks like - your friend is so hot I

don’t have to worry about others guys

picking you up - if you humiliate someone

enough,they will then choose not to go

out with their friends and they won’t even

realise that someone has told them not to


M: You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the

head. Many of the examples used to

illustrate coercive control don’t really

show how a person is humiliated and

degraded. It is very much along the lines

of does he check your phone, which

doesn't go deep enough into how

someone can absolute annihilate your self


Making The Invisible Visible

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