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Editor's Notes



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 6

national conferences as

well as smaller events.

CCChat magazine

originally started out as

a newletter and has

been going since 2017.

Min’s interest lies in

recognising coercive

control in its initial

stages, understanding

how to identify the ‘red

flags’ of abusive

behaviour before

someone becomes

more invested in the

relationship, as that is

when it will be much

more difficult to leave.

Min is also a public

speaker and speaks on

both her personal

experience of coercive

control as well as more

generally of abuse that

is hidden in plain


Let's Grow The


To contact Min:



Trauma Bonding isn't about

codependency, it's about survival.

Looking at trauma bonding, for an issue of CCChat, is

something I have wanted to do for a very long time. Ever

since reading The Betrayal Bond, by Dr Patrick Carnes, I

have found it really helpful for my own healing journey to

look at understanding how exploitative relationships can

impact a person long after that relationship has ended

but, at the same time, have often been frustrated by what

is often a very victim-blaming narrative and conflicting

information that often explains away trauma bonds as


Putting together this issue of the magazine, I have come

to realise that the subject of trauma bonding is much

bigger and more complex than I had anticipated and to

do the subject matter justice will require more than one

issue of CCChat so, this first part features two amazing

and indepth interviews with two amazing women which

is hopefully a good introduction into a subject that not

many people have heard of or fully understand.

Whilst researching for this issue, I read Dr Alexandra

Stein's newly updated book, Terror, Love and

Brainwashing, in which Dr Stein, looks at how a

disorganised attachment bond (or trauma bond) is

formed.If you cannot wait for Part 2 of CCChat's Trauma

Bond series, I can highly recommend this book.

Min x

Making The Invisible Visible

Dr Karen Williams

On Trauma Bonding

Dr. Karen Williams

is a Consultant

Psychiatrist, based

in Australia, who

has completed her

specialty training

in General Adult

Psychiatry, and

obtained a

Fellowship in Post-

Traumatic Stress


She treats both

complex Post-

Traumatic Stress

Disorder and Post-

Traumatic Stress

Disorder and is a

member of the


Advisory Group for

The Trauma

Recovery Centre

Dr. Williams is the.

founder of Doctors

Against Violence

Towards Women,

an advocacy group

aimed at

promoting the

mental and

physical safety of

women who are

survivors of Family

Violence and

sexual assault.



Dr Williams for the

November 2020 issue of CCChat. It was

a fascinating conversation on

borderline personalities disorders and

coercive control. This conversation on

trauma bonding is equally revelatory.

M: What is trauma bonding? There is a lot of confusion

around what it is and how it occurs.

K: It’s probably really important to understand that it

is people’s ideas, first and foremost. Don’t think of it as

a science because what you’ll read is people’s

interpretation of human behaviour and everyone is

going to do that differently, it’s not like a scientific

concept that’s proven 100%. Everyone is sprouting

their own hypothesis about why it happens and I just

think it’s important to know that because that’s why

you’ll find this contradictory information out there,

because it isn’t a science, it’s an effect, it’s not like you

can do a blood test and go ‘yep, you’ve got that


M: That makes sense. How would you say it occurs?

K: What I’m seeing in clinical practice is that it

happens in people who are already vulnerable to it and

it is a consequence of coercive control. You usually

find, particularly in adults, that they will have a history

of childhood abuse or childhood trauma already. What

usually happens is that you’ve got an already

vulnerable individual and they are vulnerable because

of their childhood – they have already experienced a

childhood where they have not been given a great deal

of love or been given inconsistent love or violence. So,

you think about how a child has to survive, to me it’s a

survival mechanism and when a little kid is exposed to

a parent that is unsafe, what they try to do and what we

all do as animals, is to try and understand that person,

or that abuser and if you understand them, then you

can control it a little better.

Making The Invisible Visible

When they talk about walking on

eggshells, they’re really trying to

interpret that person - what are they

going to be like? What mood are they

going to be in, and how do I prepare

myself for that? There are two ways

these kids can look at it, they can look

at it as: my parents or my carer is

dangerous and they want to destroy

me or they can look at it as my parents

love me and I’m faulty, but if I keep

working towards being good, they

might love me. Which do you think

would be an easier construct for a child

to think about?

M: The second one. My parents love

me, it’s me that’s faulty.

K: Yeah. You don’t want to think that

the person that is holding you and

providing for you and is your support

person, actually wants to harm you or

see you destroyed in some way, you’d

rather think you can control it by being

what that person wants you to be. If

you were everything that that person

wanted and you did everything right

then, potentially, you could win them

over. You could make them love you. It

sets up this idea and it is really a

neural network, a pathway that

develops, that they need to keep

working to get love. Even abusive

people are not always horrible, people

aren’t black and white and usually do

have good things about them and

they’ll be in a good mood at times and

so the child will work towards that

time when Daddy is in a good mood or

Mummy’s in a good mood and they

think that that’s what they’re really like

as a person – they are good people and

if they do the right thing, that’s the bit

of them that will be highlighted. Every

time something goes wrong the child

thinks it’s because they’ve done

something and that’s what it looks like

Making The Invisible Visible

" It becomes normal for that child to believe that they are

shameful and faulty and not as good as everybody else."

because the person who is abusing

them will be picking on something that

they’ve done – you didn’t do this right,

you didn’t do that right, I was in a good

mood until you did this.

M: You’re the only one who can bring

out my bad side, no one else can.

K: That’s absolutely right. God, what’s

wrong with you? Why did you make

me do this to you? It’s that sense of

how could you do this? Why could you

do this to me? So these kids feel so

terrible about themselves – they think

that they’re faulty, they’re flawed,

shameful. They’ve been humiliated by

their parent and so they will try and do

everything that is the opposite to that,

to try and win their parent over.

What we know with abusive parents is

that it doesn’t matter what you end up

doing, no matter what this child does,

the cycle will always come back to

where they get abused again and so

these kids never really feel that they

have got it right because you never win

with abusers. It becomes normal for

that child to believe that they are

shameful and faulty and not as good as

everybody else, that they’re not

loveable so then when an abusive man

comes along, they are prime targets

because what the man does is love

bomb that person. They choose

someone who will fall for them and not

question them when they throw this

ridiculous love at them at the


Making The Invisible Visible

it’s that whole thing of where you are

so exceptional, you are special. In that

way they are coercing a certain type of

behaviour from a girl, right from the

beginning. You’re special because

you’re not crazy like my last girlfriend.

My last girlfriend was nuts, but you’re

not. You never get angry, you’re so

sweet and nice and you never shout,

you never argue, you’re just so much

better than her. So, right from the

beginning, he’s saying these are the

rules, this is what I like.

It’s a technique they all use- show this

amazing side, incredibly romantic,

loveable and loving, charming to

everybody. It’s a side they will often

bring out whenever they meet people

for the first time and they’re trying to

impress that person.

M: And if a child has grown up and

hasn’t had that secure love that can be

really intoxicating to have that level of

love imbued on them.

K: That’s right, especially when they

want to escape their family. You’ve got

this vulnerable person who is trying to

get away from a situation where

they’ve been neglected and, as human

beings, we need to connect to others to

survive, it’s part of our survival

instinct. We are herd animals, we don’t

go around by ourselves, we need other

humans to survive and so, by nature,

we are looking to find our herd, to stay

within a pack and to stay safe and so

when someone is offering that and

saying I love you and you’re everything

to me, you are different to other girls,

This is exactly what parents do as well,

when they’re abusive, don’t show

anger and if you do show anger, the

violence will be worse. That’s why you

will find that these kids will never get

angry. They won’t be angry at their

parents and they won’t be angry at

their abuser because there’s no one

that can hate them more than they

already hate themselves and that’s

really, really important because what

we find offensive when we hear

someone saying something nasty to

another person is that that person is a

human being, we are compassionate,

we look at another human being as a

person and we see them as a human,

but when they see themselves as

beneath that, as garbage, then when

someone is saying those things to

them, it’s not really that insulting to

them, because it’s actually how they

view themselves.They don’t look at it

with abhorrence, the way I might look

at it when they tell me they’re being

called certain things. When women I

see tell me they’ve been called certain

things, I think how can anyone say that

to you? You’re the nicest person but in

their mind they are disgusting, there’s

an absolute self-loathing. I find it

really hard to grapple with the hatred

that people can have for themselves.

Making The Invisible Visible

When you’ve got someone who hates

themselves so much, it makes it really

easy for people to abuse them and for

them to not even see it because, to

them, it is true. Yes, I am disgusting

but I’m trying to do things differently.

So what happens is that they’ve done

the love bombing intoxicated the

person that thinks that person is going

to be a safe haven, this person is going

to take care of me – this is all true –

this is what love looks like and they are

excited about it. They’re feeling,

finally, something positive about

themselves. But that cycle only lasts

for a little bit and then they isolate the

person, humiliate, just as a reminder

that it’s not that secure.

You’re so beautiful and so much better

than my crazy ex because you

apologise when you’ve done the wrong

thing and so often they will be

grovelling and apologising because

that gets rewarded and one of the

biggest signs when I know there is

trauma bonding is when I hear the

sentence, I sound like I’m painting a

really bad picture of this person, but

they’re really not. They actually got to

know them and they’re not like that.

Because even as they’re saying these

horrible things, they know it sounds

horrible but they think that they’ve got

a special understanding of the abuser

that I don’t have and if I understood

them and if I understood how THEY

“When you’ve got someone who hates themselves so much, it

makes it really easy for people to abuse them and for them to

not even see it because, to them, it is true."

Feeling insecure is actually a normal

feeling for them so they don’t even

recognise the tenuous nature – love

and pull back, love and pull back and

then when they DO become violent

and when they DO scream or become

abusive, when they do that and they

apologise straight after – I’m so sorry,

I can’t believe I did that, I’m so sorry

but you did this to me. I never wanted

to hurt you. I love you. I never do this

to anyone, I never get angry but why

did you do that? Why did you hurt me

this way? YOU did this. And because

they hate themselves already they go

this is a lovely guy, I’m so lucky to have

someone like this and I’ve gone and

ruined the one good thing and then no

no no it’s my fault.

have brought out the bad side, then I

won’t be angry at their abuser because

even within our consulting room, they

will be trying to protect the abuser.

They will STILL tell me the good

things about that person and how they

aren’t as horrible and things that they

think are great about them will just be

normal human behaviour like showing

a bit of kindness.

M: So how do you break away from

that? How do you come out of that way

of thinking? I’m assuming it’s not


K: No, it’s really not easy and you have

to be so careful because, as someone

who does understand it, and my

compassion lies with the patient, my

instinct is to say run, get away and

then they feel guilty that they haven’t

Making The Invisible Visible

explained well enough how shit they

are as a person and then they feel

guilty for painting the wrong picture.

There still self- talking the whole time,

believing that this person isn’t all bad.

M: So much of that feels familiar.

K: Because it is part of coercive control

and it’s almost inevitable that there

will be that within, I mean, even today,

I had a woman who described horrible

abuse to me. She was getting sexually

abused from the age of four. Her

mother knew about it. Her mother saw

the blood coming from her daughter’s

vagina and said “ go and clean yourself


that space, really confront her or

challenge that idea and I don’t really

think that’s always that helpful

because when they’re in that head

space, they’re not going to hear it.

Because if you’ve got someone bashing

the shit out of you and you can still see

them as wonderful, as a lovely parent,

someone you just met for the first time

isn’t going to convince you otherwise.

M: If anything, you’re going to feel

defensive and protect that parent.

K: That’s right and then you’re not

going to tell me about it so, I think, for

me, where I sit, I’m more interested in

getting them to build a safe

" If you’ve got someone bashing the shit out of you and you can

still see them as wonderful, as a lovely parent, someone you

just met for the first time isn’t going to convince you otherwise."

and the father gave her the strap

because mum had told on her. Even

with that, and even with an ongoing

history of her Mum turning a blind

eye, she said the sentence – It sounds

like I’m painting a really bad picture

but – and there was nothing

redeeming about this mother.

Absolutely nothing but, in her mind,

she couldn’t tolerate the idea of saying

anything bad about her mother

because, that was her primary

attachment figure, at the end of the

day. And in her mind, she needs her to

be the strong person who will look

after her and she has to frame it, in a

way, that her mum is a safe person and

a good person. And I can’t, in

relationship with me so that they can

continue to openly talk about what’s

happening in their lives and what’s

playing out in their day to day life, so

what’s happened to them in the past

colours their present and so when I’m

talking with them about the present,

we go back to the past. What does this

mean? How come this event is

happening to you now? How come it is

having such an emotional impact?

We’ll work out what is the cause of it

and over time, I sort of leave them to

work it out for themselves because that

is a much more powerful and lasting

change. When a person works out for

themselves that a person they thought

was safe, is actually one of their

abusers – that is often a massive loss

for that person and a source of grief

and so it is better for them to come at

their own pace, when they’re ready –

Making The Invisible Visible

when they’ve been working through

things for a while and they’ve got that

safe relationship with me, rather than

me just going no no no, you need to

know that your husband, mother

father were abusive people. They

wouldn’t stick around, if I’d just gone

straight into that.

M: I think that’s the key, that they have

to figure it out for themselves and it’s

incredibly hard.

K: Yeah, and when you work with

someone it does happen. It does. It

always does and it’s quite interesting

because sometimes they forget when

they came to you that they held these

people up on pedestals. I remember

one patient telling me that her friend

thinks she needs to go and visit her

mum and she told her no way, why

should I? Why should I keep exposing

myself to this toxicity? Only six

months prior she was completely

upholding her mum up on a pedestal

and wouldn’t fathom the idea of

breaking up that relationship but it

was a journey that she’d gone through

and without me being really overt in

telling her what to do . I just listened to

her and helped her find her way

herself. It’s a much better way.

M: It’s really difficult because even

when, on an intellectual level, you can

see the relationship as abusive, on an

emotional level you still have really

strong feelings for that person so it’s

really hard to break that. If I’m being

honest, there’s something that really

freaks me out is that I still have

dreams about him. The dreams aren’t

about the abuse but they are

overwhelmingly positive and about

how I felt for him right at the

beginning, when he was very much

love bombing me and had me high up

Making The Invisible Visible

on a pedestal. In those dreams, I’m

ecstatically happy, full of love, glowing,

completely cherished, protected and

safe. And then I wake up and it really

screws with my fucking head. And I get

those dreams quite a lot and it doesn’t

happen with any of my other past

relationships- just this one and I don’t

understand it because the deep love I

felt for him didn’t actually last very

long and I’ve had deeper feelings in

other relationships. Is that a normal


K: We can dream about anything, it

doesn’t necessarily mean we desire it

or want it but if you have had feelings

of neglect and you haven’t been

responded to positively throughout

childhood and that person has come

along and shown you what it feels like

to feel loved and secure, that

emotional connection you get is highly

addictive and it might feel like love but

it’s hormonal.

It’s lovely to think that it’s this

Hollywood thing of true love but It’s

more like a whole stack of oxytocin

that’s been released and it feels good

because when you have spent all that

time feeling terrible, and you’ve only

got cortisol running around and it’s

negative feelings and numbness a lot

of the time and you don’t feel anything,

then that feeling of security and not

feeling anxious, for a little while,

however short it was, even if you were

in a twenty year relationship and only

the first six months was ok, you hold

onto that feeling of security that you

get when they are being loving. You

want to be back where you were, you

want that feeling back again. And he

says it too, remember what it was like,

it’s a promise of something wonderful

and good and there’s a hopefulness.

A lot of what people who have been

traumatised in childhood and

adulthood miss out on is feelings of

hope and I see that very much missing

in the lives of people who have been

abused. They don’t even want to feel

too much hope because it never works

out for them and when they get hope

something always happens. So even

when things are ok, things will fall

down again and there will be

disappointment so it’s like you almost

don’t want to get to feel ok because it’s

inevitably going to be followed by a


M: Especially, I imagine, if your abuser

is the kind of person who tells you ruin

everything you touch, everything

you’re involved in turns to shit and it

just reinforces that message.

Making The Invisible Visible

K: And when you’ve got that beginning

bit where it’s all lovely and nice and

they are promising you the universe,

there’s hope there, that things are

going to be better, it’s not going to be

awful anymore. You’ve been rescued,

you’ve been saved and it’s going to be

ok and wanting to feel that protected

feeling which you didn’t get as a child,

well of course you want it, why

shouldn’t you want it? There’s no

reason to hate yourself for longing for

that feeling of security and love

because it is a normal human emotion.

It’s like resenting yourself for wanting

to feel happy.

K: And you know that people will look

at you and judge you and think why

would you feel that way? What they are

doing is speaking from a very strong

position of privilege and of judgement

when they decide that you’re doing it

because you’re some weak willed


M: And that you like being degraded,

you like being treated like shit.

K: Yes, and the police will treat you

like that - well you go back to them

anyway, you love it, you love this sort

of abuse, they will even say that. You

like getting knocked around, that’s

why you keep going back, but it

" There’s no reason to hate yourself for longing for that feeling

of security and love because it is a normal human emotion."

M: I think what I find really strange is

that I’ve been in relationships where I

have loved deeper and the relationship

was healthier, but it’s only with this

relationship that I get all the dreams

and the only one that literally still

fucks with my head.

K: I think you feel ashamed of it.

M: Definitely. Why can’t I have a

dream about the guy that treated me

better, who I was more in love with,

why this total pilchard? And so I’m

angry at myself and yet the dreams

have absolutely no bearing on how I

feel when I’m awake and going about

my day to day activities.

completely undermines what happens

in those situations where it is much

safer to stay and connect with the

abuser than to try and run away from

them. Because we know instinctively

that if you leave an abusive man, the

chances of being hurt are a lot higher.

They will stalk you and hurt you and

follow you and, at least if you’re living

with them and you’re able to see what

they are doing and are able to track

their movements and walk on

eggshells – you at least know that

devil, compared to the devil when

you’re hiding from them and they’re

trying to chase you.

M: Yes, you’re able to monitor and

manage the situation which is much

more reassuring.

Lorem Ipsum

K: Yeah, it’s much, better to be closer

to the enemy and know where they are

then let your imagination run away

with that. It is incredibly hard for

when women leave, to try and feel safe,

because so many will try and stalk you

after. It’s incredibly rare that you’ll

leave and they just go "bye" and that’s

the end of it. It’s almost never like that.

They’re angry and they’re spurned and

they will come out with vengeance and

that is so terrifying they will want to go

back just to placate that person and

lessen that risk and be in a safer spot

that way, than have them chasing

them. The unknown is much scarier

than the known.

is intoxicating because we are

genetically programmed to want love

and attachment. We need it for our

survival. Abusive people are exploiting

that need that we have for love and

they know that as humans we all want

it so they give it and take it away and

give it and take it away. It is a bit like a

slot machine where people put in

money and there will be so much loss

but then there’s a win.

M: The feeling of winning is so

amazing, you carry on. You talked

earlier about it being hormonal. Is it

something, and this sounds really silly,

but can you take hormones to adjust

for it, like HRT?

“It is incredibly hard for when women leave, to try and feel safe,

because so many will try and stalk you after. It’s incredibly rare

that you’ll leave and they just go "bye" and that’s the end of it."

M: Do you think that all those

responses to danger – the fight or

flight, friend, flop do you think that the

response to friend someone comes

from a trauma bond?

K: Yeah, I mean that is trauma

bonding, when you fawn with them

and try to connect with that. That

whole bond that you’re making with

that person, trying to get into their

brain and understand them and

empathise with them. It’s better to

empathise with them and understand

what’s happening and that is part of

the whole trauma bonding process.

That’s why you’ll see little kids who are

being abused, do that with their abuser

and they will maintain those little

secrets they have been told to keep

because that feeling of attachment also

comes with it and that

Is it possible that, if your body is

fluctuating between these highs and

lows, is it something that can be

regulated or is it that only therapy can

address it?

K: You can’t medicate away those

biological human responses. We have

cascades of hormones going on in our

body to modulate all sorts of things –

temperature, blood pressure, heart

rate and that’s just one of the things

that’s a survival mechanism, so it’s like

trying to regulate your blood pressure

or your temperature, that’s all

homeostasis – you don’t get to choose

it. You can try and impact it and you

can try and do things to help. The

reason you want it or crave it is a

safety thing and may reflect you feeling

anxious or unsafe then that may be

why you dream of it, to give you that

Making The Invisible Visible

M: I think there’s a societal need to

judge. People are judging the whole

time and it’s really hard to stand up to

that and say you’re judging me, it’s

really hard to go against the flow.

K: Absolutely, we add trauma to the

trauma when we don’t see it and we

allow women to feel that way. I was

talking to this girl today and she was

saying that she doesn’t want to take

advantage of the compensation she’s

been offered. I feel bad to do that. This

is where shame comes in and it’s so

different to how a war veteran


M: Victims of abuse don’t see

themselves as heroes.

little moment of not feeling unsafe. It

might also mean nothing, just your

body remembering an old feeling and

really nothing, definitely nothing to be

ashamed of. You can’t control your

dreams, if you could then you would.

Why would you want to dream of this

guy and what a disappointment to

wake up and to be thinking about him,

how horrible, so again you can’t blame

yourself for these hormonal feelings

and what your body just does. I just

think it’s awful how many women are

so filled with shame when they are the

ones that really should be celebrated

for being able to survive something

like that, and to come out the other

end and still live to tell the tale because

it is so dangerous to be a child who is

abused that way and it could be so easy

to turn into an awful person, but

people like you are kind and want to

help other people and that’s testimony

to your human spirit, isn’t it?

K: We know that the consequences of

childhood trauma is far worse than a

single event that happens in anybody

else’s life, someone who has not been

traumatised as a child, it is far worse

and far harder to treat and far harder

to receive treatment too. You’ve got to

look at it this way, you’re standing

under a tree and there’s all this fruit on

this tree and you’re standing next to

somebody else who is putting their

hands out and taking the fruit and

eating it and enjoying it and there’s

fruit dripping down their mouth and

they are happy and you’re not reaching

for any of that fruit, you’re not even

trying to get it because you don’t think

you deserve it. It sounds really simple

but so much of that shame stands in

the way of her reaching for things that

she deserves. There’s not anyone

stopping her at this point, it is because

she doesn’t think she’s good enough.

It’s always astounding to me how

common that is.

Making The Invisible Visible

Everything we do requires a belief that

we’re good enough, even small things,

and that is why it’s often so much

harder for women to get back on their

feet after abusive relationships,

because there is so much shame

around that person and it’s usually the

perpetrator that has given them that


M: Shame and the effect and impact of

it is something that’s not nearly talked

about or sufficiently understood.

"Everything we do requires a

belief that we’re good enough,

even small things, and that is why

it’s often so much harder for

women to get back on their feet

after abusive relationships,

because there is so much shame

around that person and it’s

usually the perpetrator that has

given them that belief."

K: It really isn’t. Often when I talk

about shame, that will be the thing

that makes them cry because I’m

probably one of the first persons that

has ever acknowledged that they feel

that way.

M: If you are willing, I’d love to talk to

you for another issue on the subject of

shame, there’s a real need for it.

K: There’s a real need for a lot of


Making The Invisible Visible

Ruth Stearns

on the misapplication of trauma bonding

Ruth Stearns is the

Communications and

E-Learning Manager

at Safe and Together

Institute. She has been

in training and

implementation since

1995 when her career

began as a middle

school teacher in



Ruth has also worked

as a professional

business coach

specialising in systems

and practice


Aside from her



Ruth is a published

poet, writer and public

speaker and has

worked with clients

using various energy

medicine and bodycentric



for trauma recovery.

Drawing on her

childhood experiences

growing up in an

abusive, religious cult

and as a survivor, she

is a fierce advocate for

those who have

experienced abuse.



listened to a really interesting

podcast in which Ruth Stearns spoke

about her concerns on the use of the

term trauma bonding and how it is

misapplied. As a result of that podcast,

here is a really fascinating interview.

M: What is your understanding of trauma bonding?

R: Trauma bonding was created as a theory that

recurring and cyclical patterns of abuse, perpetrated

with intermittent reinforcement through words and

punishment, create a bond between the perpetrator

and the victim. The original definition of Trauma

Bonding, as a psychological theory, was focused on the

perpetrator. The DSM definition is clear that the

trauma bonds are created by the actions and choices of

a perpetrator, intentionally, to lock a victim in their

clutches. But, much like many other theories, trauma

bonding has been turned around to be focused on the

survivor or the victim of those crimes as an attempt to

“explain” why victims ‘stay’. It has become a victim

blaming tool which is supporting incidence based

practice and failure to protect narratives which make

survivors responsible for the choices of a violent


In the 1980’s, Donald Dutton and Susan Painter

explored the concept of trauma bonding theory in the

context of abusive intimate relationships between men

and women. They focused on the parent/child

relationship and sexual exploitation. Patrick Carnes,

who developed the term, described the “misuse of fear,

excitement and sexual feelings to entangle another

person” which is very perpetrator focused.

Unfortunately, in our victim blaming systems trauma

bonding has become focused on how survivors respond

to the perpetrators’ patterns of coercive control and

domestic violence rather than being focused on the

perpetrators’ choices and behaviours.

Making The Invisible Visible

The media hypothesized Elizabeth

Smart, for example, was trauma

bonded to her perpetrator because she

‘enjoyed the sex' when she was

kidnapped and held for years against

her will, being raped repeatedly by her

perpetrator, which is absolutely

salacious and disgusting. This

narrative continued in the media even

when Elizabeth Smart stood up and

said she didn’t leave because she was

terrified of dying at her perpetrators’

hands, not because she enjoyed being

raped. These narratives about women’s

co responsibility in their abuse are

deeply ingrained in our collective

psyche and are very dangerous.

We have whole systems that want

victims to leave their abusive

relationships, believing perpetration

ends with geographic distance,

screaming “ They are trauma bonded”

rather than focusing on what the

perpetrator and those around them are

doing that is making their victim

terrified or incapable of leaving.

Professionals are failing to ask

fundamental questions like: Who is

supporting perpetrators’ narratives

and how is that creating challenges

and danger for the victim? Is their

pastor or religious leader supporting

coercive control and abuse by telling

victims they need to be submissive?

" Unfortunately, in our victim blaming systems trauma bonding has become

focused on how survivors respond to the perpetrators’ patterns of coercive control

and domestic violence rather than being focused on the perpetrators’

choices and behaviours."

Trauma bonding has become a

dangerous narrative which blames

victims for the violence inflicted on

them. Even worse than that, it has

been embedded in documentation

which makes the perpetrator and their

choices invisible. This encourages

professionals to focus all their efforts

and mandates on the victim to try to

break those ‘trauma bonds’, as if the

victim is the problem, rather than

focussing on the perpetrator and how

they create those trauma bonds

through violence, coercion, fear,

threat, sexual violence, removing

freedoms, punishments emotional and

physical, financial control.

Are family and friends supporting the

narrative that the behaviours of the

perpetrator are normal though they

are causing trauma, fear, loss of

liberty, danger? What we must do in

order to protect victims and survivors

from the worst inclinations of our

systems, is we must shift their focus

from trying to psychologically break

down victims to focus on perpetrators’

patterns of behaviours and map that

back to harm, to the family

functioning, to the adult survivor, to

child development, wellbeing and


Making The Invisible Visible

M: You’ve actually answered my

second question which would have

been how does the term trauma

bonding get distorted or misapplied.

So, if I’m right an example of how a

trauma bonding occurs is when

somebody puts you on a pedestal,

kicks you off and then puts you back

and it keeps recurring so that you

think you’ve done something wrong to

be kicked off the pedestal and so you

change how you are, how you behave,

in order for the person to love you

again. What is your view on that?

R: I think there’s a tremendous

amount of behavioural variety in the

way perpetrators create trauma bonds.

Once again, I want to focus back on the

perpetrator who creates the trauma

bond intentionally. They may do so

through love-bombing and removal of

that with violence, they may threaten

in different ways in different cultural

contexts or exploit vulnerabilities such

as language barriers, learning

disorders, illness, trauma, immigration

status, religion. This is why

understanding behavioural patterns

and their context is very important to

holding perpetrators accountable. The

variety of ways that a perpetrator

creates a trauma bond is best

understood by looking at a

perpetrator’s patterns and behaviours

across all their relationships and that

doesn’t just include intimate

relationships, but it includes work,

interactions with friends and family. I

feel most professionals don’t have a

clear understanding of how

perpetrators' behaviours create trauma

bonds because we have fallen into the

trap of not focusing on the perpetrator

but focusing on the victim’s normal


reactions to that trauma.

Making The Invisible Visible

Culturally, everyone around us seems

to be very blind to the reality of how

perpetrators' behaviours are the

problem and NOT the response of

victims and survivors to the abuse

forced on them. Also some deem a

person trauma bonded when they have

been living in a situation even

professionals, marriage and family

counselors, pastors, family and friends

failed to name as abuse. We are told to

work on our ‘high conflict’

relationships in one context, even

forced to by family court, then harmed

by other entities such as child

protection for having contact.

Though professionals have used this

push and pull of trauma bonding as a

deficit within survivors, I feel that they

are doing grave violence to survivors

by not placing the responsibility on the

perpetrator themselves. Professionals

should be saying to survivors: " You

were living in an impossible situation

where your life, your children’s lives,

your wellbeing, your mental stability

was being threatened every day and

nobody was helping you because they

didn’t see it, because they didn’t

recognize it, because they supported it,

because of their deeply held beliefs, or

their biases or their prejudices. You are

a brave and amazing and resilient

human and you are capable of keeping

" Everyone around us seems to be very blind to the reality of how

perpetrators' behaviours are the problem and NOT the response of

victims and survivors to the abuse forced on them."

Being connected to your perpetrator,

who holds all financial power and

control, who can harm you and your

children, in the absence of meaningful

support to end that perpetration, is not

a trauma bond. It is a reasonable self

protective strategy. Staying in the good

graces of your perpetrator is a

fundamentally self-preserving action.

You cannot be safely defiant in the face

of a perpetrator if nobody is willing to

see, understand and intervene in these

situations to partner with survivors –

counsellors, pastors, friends and

family, even social workers and child

protection services are missing that

perpetration. What choice do we have,

as victims and survivors, but to try and

navigate around our perpetrator in

ways we deem will de-escalate the

situation when no one else is willing to

hold them accountable?

yourself and your children safe under

those conditions, when nobody was

helping you, and you were incredibly

scared and alone. "

I don’t want us to talk about trauma

bonding in response to perpetration, I

want to talk about the resiliency of

victims and survivors who are

navigating violent situations, which

professionals and systems are failing

to respond to appropriately, safely. If

you go even further into cultural issues

intersections and intersectionalities

and look at women who are black,

immigrants, indigenous women, they

are accused of trauma bonding often as

a means to take their children. This is

because of their unique vulnerabilities

within our systems which historically

have been harmful and adversarial to


Making The Invisible Visible

Me: Why do you think this is? Do you

think it is because they are not seen as

a danger to the public at large?

R: I believe that our lack of funding for

appropriate services arises from a few

factors. These systems are huge and

impersonal & have focused on service

delivery over the stated needs and

outcomes for adult and child survivors.

The mode of practice isn’t specialized

to the needs of those particular

survivors and that family and what is

best for them.

Calling police is not safe for many

survivors from marginalized

communities or for example a victim of

an officer involved in domestic

violence. Engaging services which have

been used as tools of terror by a

coercive controller who has more

money, more power, privilege and

control is not safe.

Often services are formed around what

professionals think is best, the theory

du jour of the moment, political

influences from competing lobbies.

Practice must be behaviorally

grounded and outcome grounded in

ways it is not currently. And agencies

should lose their funding if the

preponderance of their outcomes are

not stated, by survivors, to be assisting

them with safety, stability, self


"Our systems are solidifying dependency on perpetrators by not

providing effective, comprehensive, appropriate services which are

meaningful for the most vulnerable."

Our systems are solidifying

dependency on perpetrators by not

providing effective, comprehensive,

appropriate services which are

meaningful for the most vulnerable. In

essence they, by their failures, are

seeding the ground for that trauma

bond..It’s like asking a prisoner of war

to constantly resist and defy their

prisoners and suffer their wrath, but

refusing to assist them in ways that

secure self determination, safety and

stability when they attempt to.

I am going to say something very

unpopular that may upset some. But I

am ok with that, as a survivor who

wants to call the movement out a bit.

Some in the women’s sector have lost

their grass roots vision because of the

realities of competition for

government funding and they must

regain it. We are supposed to be the

guardians at the gates of services

working in the best interests of

survivors and their children. Once

government funding became a major

factor in the Women’s sector survival,

Making The Invisible Visible

I believe many lost their will to fight

the hand that feeds them. Government

is a natural and powerful tool of

coercion. This means government

agencies need constant monitoring for

abuses of power and active collusion

with perpetrators. Someone needs to

step up and do that job in a way that

has influence and authority. We must

become collectively aware of how

perpetrators are manipulating our

systems. Many in the industry fight

against meaningful investments in

behavior change, which means better

behaviorally based programs that are

residential (so survivors and their

children do not have to leave their

home or work), are tied to verified

We all want the same thing; that adult

survivors and their children are

together, safe, stable, self determined.

Holding perpetrators accountable

behaviorally is collective cultural work

we must do. Many think this is too

hard. I don’t believe that is so. I can

see and feel a better collective

responses to coercive control &

domestic violence from a behavioral

standpoint. This means investing in

tools, training, education, creating

mandates for how professionals

(including mental health

professionals) document coercive

control and family violence. Our

failures are eco systemic, our fixes

must also be eco-systemic.

" We can’t continue to focus on victims, we must focus on

perpetrators. We must be evaluating and monitoring them

behaviorally especially if they have contact with children."

behavioral change rather than

certificates of completion and that are

culturally appropriate. This is a result

of the whole field being underfunded.

Refuges and other services should be

funded adequately so they no longer

feel there isn’t enough to go around to

invest in meaningful programs for

perpetrators. We can’t continue to

focus on victims, we must focus on

perpetrators. We must be evaluating

and monitoring them behaviorally

especially if they have contact with

children. We must confirm their

behaviors have changed by engaging

survivors and family in meaningful,

partnered ways. I believe we can do

this but we must have cross system

collaboration which will create the

trust and good will to move the dial

forward to invest in more holistic


M: Going back to trauma bonding. I

first heard about it a few years ago

when reading 'The Betrayal Bond' by

Patrick Carnes. At the time, it made

sense to me for why I wasn’t able to

move on in life emotionally even

though, on an intellectual level, I was

able to understand what had happened

and why I was feeling the way that I

did. If I’m being honest, it’s something

I am still trying to get my head around,

which brings me onto the next

question. Do you think the term

trauma bond is a useful term or do you

think there could be a better term to

describe what a perpetrator is doing to

elicit a bond in their victim?

R: I think that the term is adequate in

its original meaning and context, but

the way it is applied and the way it is

focused on victims is not how the term

Making The Invisible Visible

was originally intended. The common

usage is very victim blaming and

ignores the reality that the perpetrator

is making behavioral choices to entrap

their victim and is using high level

psychological and fear inducing torture

tactics to do so and many people are

normalizing that by failing to recognize

and name the perpetrators’ behaviors

as criminally violent. If we were talking

about ANY other type of perpetration,

if we were talking about me being

kidnapped by a group of extremists

and then beaten and enslaved, we

wouldn’t be talking about MY bonds to

my perpetrator, we would be talking

about the horrific actions of the person

who was choosing that type of

Over 61% of child deaths (known to

child welfare) involve domestic

violence perpetration and if you were

to view a study to see how many of

those were to involve coercive control,

I don’t doubt that percentage would

rise exponentially.

M: This is what gets me. You have to

prove that you’re a capable mother,

you have to prove that you can

transcend all these obstacles and

challenges you’re faced with, often

with no support and there just isn’t

that level of scrutiny into the person

who is causing this.

The common usage is very victim blaming and ignores the

reality that the perpetrator is making behavioral choices

to entrap their victim."

violence and we would be focusing on

their responsibility and their

intentional use of terror and physical

harm to entrap. We have clear biases

around intimate partner perpetration

where we assume that there has to be

some co responsibility on the part of

the victim, that they can’t just be

entrapped and essentially kidnapped

and co-opted for years and years

within an intimate relationship

without their consent.

That type of thinking needs to go away,

it is fundamentally flawed and is

keeping us from focusing on

perpetrators and their patterns of

behaviors. It is increasing danger, not

just for adult victims, but for children

who live in those circumstances.

R: Isn’t it crazy Min that we must

prove we can keep our kids safe from a

perpetrator who is making violent

parenting choices and no one asks

what kind of parent THEY are and how

THEIR choices are harming their kids

and collaborative co parenting?

What we should be looking at is

perpetrators’ coercive control and

domestic violence as parenting choices

which deeply impact child wellbeing

and development via multiple

pathways. We need to recognize that

domestic violence and coercive control

perpetration is a parenting choice and

that person is fundamentally inhibiting

collaborative parenting by those

actions. Every action they choose to

entrap and harm their family is a

threat to child wellbeing and child


Making The Invisible Visible

That’s something that we don’t really

talk about, the women who fall

through the gaps. The women who

have to pay mortgages and don’t want

to default but can’t afford to pay out

for a space that can often cost the same

as their mortgage.

We are not doing this right now, nor

are we providing adequate eco

systemic support which are

appropriate for that survivor to be

safely independent from that

perpetrator and also have stability for

them and their children. We force

adult and child survivors into contact

with perpetrators via custody and

access, we fail to recognize the power

and control they assert via financial

abuse, through manipulation of our

services, our courts. We are not

currently doing what survivors say

they need to be safe, stable and self


M: No we’re not. I don’t know what it’s

like where you are but not all women

here can get into a refuge and I don’t

mean because there is a lack of

availability. The refuge space needs to

be paid for so if a woman is not

entitled to the qualifying state benefits

and doesn’t have the means to pay for

her space, there is nothing for her.

R: That’s a very important point. It

really does lock financially vulnerable

and financially abused women from

services. In the United States refuges

are generally free, as long as they

accept you. They won’t always accept

everybody but generally, many men

who want behavior change need to pay

for services unless they have been

arrested. This is a fundamental

impediment which pushes those who

cannot afford those programs to avoid

getting assistance or toward arrest

rather than intervention. Even in parts

of the UK court mandated behaviour

change programmes are much more

common than non-court mandated. So

you need to be arrested for you to get

help. This is not acceptable to many

survivors who want their partner to get

help before they resort to more

carceral interventions. We demonize

this love and concern of victims by

calling that ‘trauma bonding’. But it is

a reasonable expectation to have, that

survivors should be able to reach out

to the systems that say they are there

for us to try and find interventions

other than arrest.

Currently, in the United States with a

lack of effective coercive control laws

survivors need to be harmed physically

in order for us to afford a behaviour

change programmed. That perpetrator

has to be arrested, they have to have

harmed physically, there needs to be

physical evidence that that harm was

enough to mandate them to a

behaviour change programme.

Making The Invisible Visible

Even then the behaviour change

programmes are inadequate because

they are not tied to behaviour change,

they are tied to certificates of

completion, the number of hours the

perpetrator attended, how their

demeanor was in the context of the

four walls of the program with no

verification of behavioral changes from

the survivor or their children. There is

no input from the victim/survivor

about whether or not the perpetrator’s

patterns of behaviours have changed

and if they have more safety, stability

and nurturance.

M: Victims lie because they’re

frightened of being let down.

R: And being actively harmed by the

system. Many historically oppressed

groups know our systems are

dangerous and adversarial to

survivors. Many of these systems have

engaged in colonization, in policing

‘family values’ which demonized ethnic

communities, single mothers, sex

workers etc… Hell, I even knew I didn’t

want to be in the system, I had a

healthy distrust of government entities

and knew how they could harm me. I

didn’t get help because I knew I would

be hurt further. So I went at it alone.

“Victims lie because systems take away their children when

the domestic violence perpetrator has been the one

who has created the problem."

A lot of professionals will say ‘We can’t

do that because victims lie about

perpetration.” Victims lie because they

don’t want their partners to go to jail

and for their children to be destitute,

so if you provide a programme where

we address those concerns and create

stability for them we will reduce their

natural and understandable fears.

Victims lie because they are afraid that

professionals are going to blame them

for the perpetration, so let’s stop

blaming victims for the perpetration

and let’s focus on the perpetrator. That

will reduce the amount of resistance

you get from the victims. Victims lie

because systems take away their

children when the domestic violence

perpetrator has been the one who has

created the problem.

Trauma bonding really just is a

horrible excuse for our inadequacies,

for our poor policies, for our unjust

systems and victim blaming responses

professionally and as a culture. So,

when I hear someone say ‘she’s trauma

bonded’ because she went back to him

I hear victim blaming, I hear resistance

to the reality that our systems are not

serving survivors and are most often

traumatising them. Why would we

want to engage in a system that blames

us for the criminal behaviours of

another person and that doesn’t

provide us safety, stability, self

determination? I want to call out every

single industry that touches on

domestic violence and child wellbeing

and I want them to start focusing on a

perpetrator’s patterns and behaviours

and looking at perpetrators as parents:

look at how perpetrators harm

Making The Invisible Visible

collaborative parenting and child

welfare, child wellbeing and child

safety. I want them to give survivors

services that WE say will help us. If I’m

trying to leave a coercive and

controlling relationship where I am

terrified of leaving, I need to know that

leaving is going to be better than

staying because if it’s not going to be

better, why should I leave?

M: I think that’s the message that

needs to get out above everything else.

Make it better to leave and if you can’t,

don’t judge victims and survivors for

staying. What I hear a lot, and often it

is from family and friends, is that it

can’t have been that bad, otherwise she

in their choices, less connected to

others, less joy and it makes them feel

fearful and traumatised. If a person is

consistently choosing behaviours that

have this kind of trauma impact on

their partner & children and they are

aware that their behaviors are

harming, yet continue to engage those

behaviors in order to maintain power

and control, we have to start looking at

them as criminals, as impacting child

wellbeing, safety and development as a

parent by choice. Then we need to

respond appropriately to the level of

danger based off of our partnering

with the survivor to gather and

understand the perpetrators’ patterns

of behaviors.

" If I’m trying to leave a coercive and controlling relationship where I am

terrified of leaving, I need to know that leaving is going to be better than

staying because if it’s not going to be better, why should I leave? "

would have left, or she’s made her bed,

she has to lie in it, that she married

him and she needs to make it work and

not think about breaking up the family.

What is often not talked about is how

families will often guilt or shame a

victim of abuse into staying and this

needs to be challenged because not

only are those messages incredibly

harmful but they also go against the

message that you shouldn’t put up

with abuse and if it is happening, get

out. They are endemic.

R: This is why we made the Friends

and Family Ally Guide because we

wanted people to not just understand

that domestic violence and coercive

control perpetration is a series of

behavioral choices on the part of the

perpetrator but that domestic violence

makes people feel less safe, limited

M: Absolutely, The fear is huge and

perpetrators will often threaten a

victim with the services that are

actually there for a victim but the fear

that is instilled with the threat of

incarceration and child removal is

huge and overshadows the fact that

these services are actually meant to


R: And we can’t diminish the terror in

marginalised communities, people

who have questionable immigration

status, people who are trans. They

don’t want the police called on them

because the reality is that they will

probably be perpetrated against within

our systems. Indigenous women in

Australia get arrested as perpetrators

at alarmingly high rates, showing the

failures of the system. We haven’t fixed

some foundational system breakdowns

Making The Invisible Visible

The police retain almost 65% of

domestic violence perpetrators as

active duty police. Those are the

people who are answering those

emergency calls. They are the ones

deciding if we can prosecute or our

cases can move forward. There is

perpetrator manipulation within our

systems and because of their siloed

nature few have felt they can tackle

this. But we can and we will.

M: It needs more than a slap on the

wrist, they need to be sacked.

R: You are right Min, they really do

need to be sacked and tried for

domestic violence and abuse of power

and should never hold a position of

influence again. This is one of the

factors in high dual arrest rates, you

can see the shadow of perpetrators

with power in the behaviours of our

systems. You can see their biases in the

behaviours of the system.

Victims who are poor, who are

marginalised are more fearful, not

from their perpetrator but from the

systems themselves. They fear they will

be harmed, they will be physically

harmed, they will be sexually

assaulted, they will be deported and

they will experience further violence in

that institutional setting, that their

children will be taken away from

them. We really have to stop with the

trauma bonding narrative & start

talking about gaps, deficits & the

failures of our systems which put

survivors in a level of fear that they feel

they need to protect themselves by

remaining in a violent situation over

engaging our systems. The devil you

know is much more navigable than the

devil you don’t know.

Making The Invisible Visible

Having one perpetrator is more

manageable than having a whole

system perpetrate against you. Having

both at once is absolutely devastating.

I knew my perpetrators inside out. I

knew the things that would trigger

them, I knew the things that would

potentially set them off and I spent my

whole life trying to navigate the world

and keep the world calm for them,

which is a huge amount of stress and

pressure, because I didn’t want to set

them off. That takes a tremendous

amount of energy, is traumatizing and

I had no idea what would happen to

me if the police came into my home, in

fact I was terrified because I had

Police, family court and child

protection are the three systems which

are used with impunity by perpetrators

and they use them to threaten and

control their victims. They stalk us and

get us fired from our jobs to create

financial dependency & punish us for

leaving. Our systems fail to support us

and then when we return to the

perpetrator because they control our

homes, our money, and we want them

to stop harming us via our systems

professionals claim we are trauma

bonded. They say we are not capable of

handling parenting, have a mental

health disorder, an addiction so we’re

going to take the children away and,

guess what?

" Having one perpetrator is more manageable than

having a whole system perpetrate against you.

Having both at once is absolutely devastating."

witnessed police brutality as a child. I

had no idea what would happen to me

if I had gone to a refuge because I

didn’t have the evidence that the

refuge would want. They would want

to know that I had called the police,

they would want to know that it was

that bad. I didn’t avail myself to

services because I was fearful of how

the system would treat me, and I had

good reason to be. I had good evidence

of it and, in fact the evidence of many

victims and survivors support the

reality that our systems are more

traumatising, even violent, towards

victims and survivors than sometimes

their own perpetrator. This is

compounded by the current practice

context where systems give

perpetrators tools to torture us,

particularly in family court.

We’re going to give the children to the

perpetrator because we don’t believe

coercive control or domestic violence

are a threat to children despite the fact

that 61% of child deaths involve those


M: I don’t know how widely the term

trauma bonding is used in the UK. I

am not aware that a professional has

used the term towards a victim in a

court setting, but that is not to say it

doesn’t happen. I’ve only heard it in

terms of psychologists and counsellors

talking about understanding a victim’s

experiences, so I don’t know how

prevalent the term would be in a court

setting or in expert witness reports.

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M : What I do hear a lot, when it

comes to trauma bonding, is that it is

co-dependency and women who are

trauma bonded are addicted to their

abuser and need them the way a drug

user would need a fix and that

understanding of it drives me crazy as

that is not my understanding at all.

The Women who Love Too Much.

R: Psychologists & therapists'

documentation is used by the courts to

establish fitness as a parent, this is

where we see decontextualized

diagnostic language deeply impacting

judicial proceedings. The focus on the

pathology or the response to violence

is prioritized and used to question a

survivor’s fitness as a parent. Whereas

the violence, the behaviors and choices

of the perpetrator are made invisible

by that documentation focus and the

practices of even ‘trauma informed’

experts. The perpetrator causes,

exacerbates or impedes the victim

from healing or seeking help. Then

they use the trauma they caused (and

will cause their children) to justify

their power and control and

professionals are going along with it. It

is malpractice in my mind as they are

practicing outside their scope of

expertise, there are no mandates

mental health professionals need to be

domestic abuse informed or trained to

document appropriately.

R: How horrible that people are

weaponsing concern and care for a

loved one as being trauma bonded or

Stockholm Syndrome, and again, I

want to pull people’s attention away

from the victim here and I want them

to start asking the question; what kind

of parent, what kind of partner chooses

to harm their loved ones and entrap

them in ways that are threatening and

violent and coercive and cause fear and

shame and a sense of inability to

navigate the world because of that

violence? I really want people to shift

their focus from the victim, because

the victim is living in an ecology, an

ecosystem of systemic non-support

and failure of professionals.

Family and friends are missing the

perpetration and don’t understand it.

Pastors and religious leaders are

supporting it through paradigms of

male dominance and male control and

the institution of marriage as the

primary good of the family, rather than

acknowledging healthy, safe,

nurturing, loving homes without

violence is what is good for children

and society. We’re being told over and

over again that we need to stay in these

relationships, that we need to continue

to try and work it out, that we have

personal responsibility for the

perpetration we are experiencing and

then when we don’t leave, people are

using co-dependency as a term which

absolutely makes me incredibly angry

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because the reality is that mental

health professionals are some of the

most supportive people of the

perpetrators. They use the

perpetrators trauma to absolve their

behaviours, they don’t name coercive

control an abuse, they call them

‘relationship issues’ ‘high conflict’

which makes the power dynamic and

responsibility equal when it is not


Professionals have a lot to answer for

in this regard. The notion that

domestic violence victims and coercive

control victims are codependent

absolves the whole field.

It doesn’t always mean incarceration but

most certainly, if family courts stopped

participating in the perpetration of

domestic violence and post separation

coercive control by not allowing

perpetrators to threaten their victims

with specious litigation and drain them of

their funds, by not allowing the

perpetrator to get off the hook, by holding

that perpetrator accountable as a parent

by saying you have abused your partner

and you did so consistently over the years

and you are not a fit parent. If workplaces

and HR departments were to recognise

that someone is creating a toxic work

environment by their behaviours and they

were to name those behaviours

"They use the perpetrators trauma to absolve their behaviours, they don’t

name coercive control an abuse, they call them ‘relationship issues’ ‘high

conflict’ which makes the power dynamic and responsibility equal

when it is not equal."

It absolves social services and

governmental agencies and

absolves the community around that

survivor, NGO’s of doing what is right,

which is focusing on the perpetrator

and their patterns of behaviour of

harm, how they’ve impacted child

wellbeing and family functioning, how

their behaviours were parenting

choices, rather than focussing on the

victim and trying to make them out to

somehow have a deficit.

We do not need that. We’ve already

had our perpetrator doing that to us

for years. We actually need people to

name the behaviour, to claim the fact

that those behaviours are harmful and

to either help the perpetrator change

that or hold them accountable in other

ways which may mean incarceration.

as abusive and they were to claim the

fact that that person had been doing

harm to other people and that that is

not acceptable, and they were to fire

that person, we would immediately

start to see domestic violence

perpetration go down. The problem is

not victims, it’s not that we’re trauma

bonded to some salacious relationship

that we somehow desire. The problem

is the culture around us is not holding

that perpetrator’s behaviours

accountable and is giving them every

excuse in the book to keep

perpetration going.

M: The more I think about this, the

more I become convinced that if we

looked at bullying and made it a crime,

that would stop a lot of the abuse and

not just in the home but in many

settings like the workplace,

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the armed forces, educational

environments,religious settings,

online, sports settings and so many

areas where bullying occurs but, at the

moment we have piecemeal legislation

which cherry picks what is and isn’t a

crime and even the setting where it can

or can’t be a crime. I don’t know what

it is like in the US but in the UK

bullying isn’t a crime. It may

encompass acts that are criminal, such

as harassment, if you make threats,

assault and stalking for example but

bullying, per se, is not a crime. There

would then be some uniformity across

all areas of society and it would be

much easier to understand which

behaviours are and aren’t acceptable,

If you were just looking at things from

an isolated standpoint, people say we

want to give the bully the benefit of the

doubt, maybe this was just one

behaviour and it wasn’t that bad and

people deserve to have a certain

amount of freedom and the benefit of

the doubt. Our incidence focused

systems have created a reality where

we don’t have pattern based

understandings of perpetration which

gives more clarity, context and guards

against false allegations. Because

pattern based assessment gives context

and that context gives information

about potential lethality and the risk of

grave physical harm and also gives

information on how to resist that

" Professionals have a lot to answer for in this regard. The

notion that domestic violence victims and coercive control

victims are codependent absolves the whole field."

because they’d be unacceptable across

the board.

R: One of the problems with practice

and this is true across the board and it

doesn’t matter which country we’re in,

is that practice has been very focused

on single, isolated incidences. When

you focus on perpetration as an

isolated incidence there’s a few things

that happen:

Number one: You don’t get the full

understanding of the patterns of

behaviour and their impact which

means you don’t understand the

severity of harm and potential


perpetration, what type of

accountability needs to be brought into

the mix. If you have a perpetrator

who’s had a couple of incidences where

they’ve done this or that at school, or

at work and there is home-life

perpetration as well, if we are looking

at all those individually, we’re not

going to be able to see the big picture.

This is how family court, child

protection, police and the judicial

system have worked, by bringing in the

notion of coercive control, which is by

definition a pattern-based

perpetration, you now have to widen

out that lens and start looking across

relationships, look at behaviours

toward the public, at work, towards

social workers, towards police, towards

child protection workers and all of that

gives you a lot of information about the

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willingness of the perpetrator to harm

their family. Does that perpetration

cross over into potential harm and

lethality for a police officer? Does that

perpetration cross over into behaviors

indicative of threatening social worker

safety? Who comes into contact with

that perpetrator? What are the risk

levels? The other factor is that each of

our systems operate in silos. They

won’t talk to each other so the police

and the judicial system have their way

of talking about perpetration, but

criminal and family court have

different paradigms and different

mandates and then you have child

protection which again has a different


Child protection doesn’t see domestic

violence perpetration from the

standpoint of the perpetrator making

dangerous and harmful parenting

choices which endanger children.

What we have are fundamentally

flawed, siloed, victim-blaming, gender

double-standard industries which all

mandate to domestic violence

survivors and fail them horribly. Then

perpetrators wind up to become serial

perpetrators moving from relationship

to relationship and harming a new

family which keeps the cycle of

violence going. We have an obligation

to ask about what impediments to

seeking safety victims face which

include the ecosystem around them,

" The mental health industry, social works, child protection and

family court have no right to use term trauma bonded as a label

for victims who they are not properly supporting."

So not having a consistency across all

of the sectors that touch on domestic

violence and child wellbeing has

actually created more danger for

victims and survivors. Their siloed

nature means that many victims and

survivors fall through the gaps as

they’re being passed from system to

system and these systems are not

domestic violence informed, they are

very focused on their own mandates

and they ignore domestic violence


Oftentimes family court will not allow

that evidence of perpetration to be

submitted because they do not see

adult to adult perpetration as a child

wellbeing/best interest of child issue.

including their legitimate fears of the

system. What are they saying they

need, as a victim, what would be

supportive of them? The reality is that

sometimes that needs to be a process

where we start to support the victim,

acknowledge the failures of the system,

and give them the help that they say

they need to start to readjust their view

of healthy relationship so that they’re

very clear that the person they are

attached to is choosing violence and

that it’s not acceptable, there is no

excuse for their violence.

We should have people around that

perpetrator who call them up on their

behaviours but the fact of the matter is

that that’s not happening right now

and until that starts happening, the

mental health industry, social works,

child protection and family court have

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no right to use the term trauma

bonded as a label for victims who they

are not properly supporting. They have

no right because they have not given us

the supports we need. We are

situationally bonded to our perpetrator

because the powers that be are not

doing the things they need to do.

That’s because so much domestic

violence practice is wrapped up in

social and psych theories created by

professionals not attached to behaviors

and concrete outcomes for victims.

The prevailing thought about victims

and survivors is that they are trauma

bonded and incapable of making

decisions and there is a whole genre of

feminism that actually supports this

and says that the state has the right to

usurp the freedoms of that victim and

that family in order for them to

intervene, without doing all of the

other supportive, behaviorally

intervening things first, without

providing adequate support… and that

is institutionalised violence.

M: Ok, I’m just going to interrupt but

what you just said there I didn’t

actually understand. Can you explain

some more?

R: There is a whole genre of thought

within domestic violence practice

where professionals believe victims

who are in abusive relationships are

foundationally traumatised and

trauma bonded, delusional and

therefore the state has the right to

usurp their freedoms, usurp their

parenting and take their children

away. What I’m trying to say is that if

other actions weren’t taken before

that, if the system wasn’t supporting

victims in ways that THEY state they

need in order for them to be safe,

stable and free, be that financial

support, housing support, focusing on

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the perpetrator, then systems have no

right to do those things. They have no

right to those interventions, it is

institutionalised violence built on the

back of poor practice, insufficiencies,

failures and their own inabilities to

focus on the perpetrator as a parent

and hold them accountable- it’s easier

to focus on the victim than it is to focus

on the perpetrator in the mind of


M: There’s that classic quote from

Judith Herman, isn’t there? All the

perpetrator asks is that the bystander

do nothing, but sorry, I don’t

understand what you mean, though,

about there being a special branch of


R: There is a branch of feminism that

really believes that women who are in

these relationships are fundamentally

delusional and therefore, being

delusional, we have to treat them as


That they have the right to

institutionalise them, to put them in

mental health programmes, to

mandate to them, to take their

children and, honestly, this falls most

heavily on marginalised communities.

It’s very easy for a white feminist to

look at a woman who is wearing a

burkha, who is from the Middle East

and say, “well she is in an abusive

relationship because she is delusional

and she doesn’t know any better and

so now the state is going to swoop in

and take her away and take her

children away” and potentially, not

always, incarcerate her partner. More

than likely he’s going to petition for

custody of the children, and will get it

even if he has been jailed, and slowly

torture her in family court.

That brand of feminism that feels like

women are bonded to their perpetrator

because they’re delusional, often

justify atrocities towards marginalised

women, indigenous women ,

immigrant women and that is a

problem, As women, we really need to

face that that is entirely victim blaming

and that the government itself is not a

safe arbitrator, it’s not a safe place for

most victims. Government control is

fundamentally paternalistic and

patriarchal and benefits people who

have tremendous power and money.

We really need to fix our systems and

hold them accountable, that’s what we

need to do.

M: How are we going to do that, when

the people in power are the ones who

don’t see the need for change?

R: We recently wrote a White Paper

called ‘How Perpetrators Manipulate

Systems’ and it goes through all of the

major systems and how perpetrators

use them as tools of terror and agents

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of torture and we teach professionals

how to recognise and resist those

manipulations. We do so through

mapping perpetrators’ patterns across

all sorts of relationships, across work,

across all their interactions so that we

can get a greater view of their patterns

of perpetration which would give us a

sense of their potential harm and

lethality for children and their adult

survivors. The first step is admitting

there’s a problem then recognising and

defining the problem and I think we

are starting to get there, people are

starting to wake up.

perpetrators respond to domestic and

sexual violence emergency calls is

going to improve our responses, it’s

just common sense. You can see this in

Australia right now where they’ve been

really going through it with their

Attorney General who has historic

sexual assault allegations against him

where his alleged victim committed

suicide after her claim was denied. The

fact that this person is the power that

holds the authority for how victims

and survivors get justice is highly

problematic. There needs to be a lot of

accountability, a lot of transparency in

order for us to reach a point that

victims and survivors can be

reasonably assured that the systems

" Government control is fundamentally paternalistic and

patriarchal and benefits people who have

tremendous power and money."

In the UK you have a super complaint

against the police because the police

retain domestic violence and sexual

violence perpetrators and they answer

domestic and sexual violence calls and

have authority over our pathway to

prosecting our perpetrators. It’s not a

coincidence, the low prosecutorial

rates. It’s not a coincidence so many

rape kits go untested, it’s not a

coincidence that our responses to

policing sexual and domestic violence

are so horribly victim blaming. It’s

because the culture itself is tainted by

abusers who have tremendous power

and impunity. In the UK there are

people working to make sure that the

police do the right thing by firing

perpetrators of domestic and sexual

violence. We don’t yet have any idea

how that will improve our responses

but we can safely say that not having

are free of this biased influence. That

means independent bodies which have

the authority to investigate patterns of

behaviors of those who hold power and

control over our ability to seek justice

and safety.

M: I have a big issue at the moment

with the message that is out there

saying go and report coercive control,

you will be supported and you will get

help. I have countless women contact

me to say that they have reported and

have provided evidence but have been

told that there is nothing there and

there is nothing they can do and come

back if something else happens. It is

hugely frustrating that there is this

message which is conveyed and then

that is not acted upon.

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" The immense trauma of systemic failure

cannot be discounted."

R:. The immense trauma of systemic

failure cannot be discounted. When

you have an individual who is

perpetrating against you, it’s an

individual but when you have an entity

which is supposed to bring justice and

safety, colluding or supporting that

perpetrator or even perpetrating

against you, then your trauma

increases exponentially.

M: And it’s not just the police. I’ve

been contacted by many women who

have gone to the services that are there

to support them and they’ve either

been treated very badly or they have

been turned away and feel very badly

let down.

R: That’s why we created the Ally

Guide because there are many women

who cannot safely use those services,

who do not want to use their services

because they’ve had very bad

experiences with bias and perpetration

in those entities.

M: I look forward to reading that.

Thank you so much for this interview

Ruth, it’s been really informative.

R: Thank you so much Min, I hope

survivors feel seen, heard and

acknowledged by this. We must do

better collectively. We want to be

deeply connected to their voices and

partner with them to change our


The Family and Friends Ally

Guide and a host of resources

and information can be found



Details on the podcast:

Partnered With A Survivor

Episode 30 - 4 Ways the

Concept of Trauma Bonding

Works Against Survivors

Making The Invisible Visible

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