power and control wheel

Taking a Spin Around the Power and Control Wheel

We recently debunked the myth that abuse can be described as a cycle. If we can’t describe it that way, is there a more accurate way to talk about abuse?

Yes! It’s called The Duluth Model, and at its core is the Power & Control Wheel.

Relationship violence is a combination of a number of different tactics of abuse that are used to maintain power and control — which are the words in the very center of the wheel. The center is surrounded by different sets of behaviors that an abusive partner uses in order to maintain this power and control.

These sets of behaviors are:

  • Coercion and threats
  • Intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Minimizing, denying and blaming
  • Using children
  • Economic abuse
  • Male privilege

A lot of these behaviors can feel subtle and normal — often unrecognizable until you look at the wheel in this way. Many of these can be happening at any one time, all as a way to enforce power within the relationship.

Think of the wheel as a diagram of the tactics your abusive partner uses to keep you in the relationship. While the inside of the wheel is comprised of subtle, continual behaviors, the outer ring represents physical, visible violence. These are the abusive acts that are more overt and forceful, and often the intense acts that reinforce the regular use of other subtler methods of abuse.

How and why do we use the power and control wheel?

Our advocates use the wheel to help teach callers about the dynamics of an abusive relationship. It shows a victim that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, and that these tactics of maintaining power and control are common to abusers.

We also use the wheel to help other callers like friends, family members or even someone who may identify as abusive to better understand the complicated components of abuse and the many forms it can take. This can be really helpful in explaining the difficulties and dangers of leaving an abusive relationship.

To learn more about the Power and Control Wheel, visit the Home of the Duluth Model online.

abuse isn't a cycle

Is Abuse Really a ‘Cycle’?

We use many different words when we’re describing abuse: systematic, power, control, pattern, purposeful. One word we don’t use when talking about abusive relationships is cycle.

This way of describing abuse began in the 1970s and today, the “cycle of abuse” is still talked about in courtrooms, therapist sessions, in the media and more. Here at The Hotline we don’t use that descriptor, for a variety of reasons. Here’s why:

To describe abuse as a cycle makes it seem like there are four predictable, repetitive steps of what is going on in any relationship at any given time:

1)    Tension-building

2)    Incident — often a physical altercation

3)    Reconciliation

4)    Calm

If abuse was a cycle, it would be predictable — you could know what to expect and when to expect it. But the reality about domestic violence is that it doesn’t happen that way. While there may be recognizable patterns going on in a relationship (ex. you know your partner tends to get more confrontational after going out drinking) the violence rarely occurs in a predictable cycle.

An important reason why we don’t use the term “cycle” is because it’s sometimes used to blame victims for the continuation of abuse.

In her essay “Reframing Domestic Violence Law and Policy,” Professor Leigh Goodmark writes,

“Describing abuse as a cycle becomes problematic when this language is co-opted to be used against victims, particularly in a court setting — ex. “Why didn’t you leave during the calm stage?”

No one ever asks to experience abuse. The fault lies with the abuser, not the victim, so it’s important that we don’t use language that blames the person suffering abuse.

The model that more accurately describes what occurs in an abusive relationship is The Duluth Model and its Power & Control Wheel. It explains the many tactics an abusive partner uses at any one time to establish and maintain power and control over their partner.

To learn more about why we don’t refer to abuse as a cycle, check out the video below of Ellen Pence, co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, speaking about the creation of a new model of understanding abuse.

Pence also helped to create the Power & Control wheel, which was developed through listening to the stories of people who had experienced different types of abuse.

On Monday we’re taking a spin around the Power & Control Wheel, which will shed some light on a more accurate way of describing what’s happening within abusive relationships.

Head back to the blog next week to learn more!