SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – We’ve all heard the term “control freak,” and usually it’s used in jest, but WSAV is taking a look at how it applies to domestic violence. It’s a critical part of the pattern of abuse, and one that is not often talked about.

The United States Justice Department defines domestic violence as a “pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over another” It’s important to realize that abuse happens to people of all races, ages, genders and religions regardless of socioeconomic or educational backgrounds. Also, it’s not limited to intimate partners. Domestic violence can apply to parents/children, siblings, the elderly, and even roommates.

To better illustrate how abuse works, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project created this “Power and Control Wheel” showing a pattern of behaviors that aren’t always identified as abuse, but firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control. Advocate Karen Alston of “4 the Jewel N U” says that when it comes to child or elder abuse, neglect is a cruel behavior that can harm the most vulnerable and helpless among us because withholding food, medicine or health care can endanger a person’s life. She encourages family members, friends and neighbors to check on senior citizens and believe what they tell you, “When they say that something is not right, don’t always think it’s dementia or stuff that’s going on in their mind. If they are saying that somebody is beating them, not changing them, not feeding them… red flag!”

Another subtle form of control is financial abuse. This is when the perpetrator hyper-manages household money to the point of limiting the victim’s freedom. David Purvis of The Manely Firm often hears about this behavior from those seeking to separate from an abuser.

“This is used to keep them from having outside relationships, even something as simple as a friend asking them for coffee. They know they can’t do that without asking permission and asking for money. It’s a source of embarrassment, and so oftentimes they’ll turn down those invitations and it starts to isolate the abused person in that relationship.”

That isolation becomes another layer of control, restricting a victim’s opportunity to work or develop circles of support. Victims may end up feeling like they have no other option than to stay in a toxic relationship.

Additional ways to intimidate a victim are to threaten their parental rights, threaten their employment or immigration status and use technology to surveil a victim’s every move. If confronted, perpetrators will often minimize their behavior or blame-shift as a way to gaslight the victim into a perpetual state of denial. This also allows the toxic behaviors to continue.

Even when a victim is ready to leave, a safe exit strategy is necessary, because an abuser is not going to relinquish control without a fight.

Victims need to know that abuse is never their fault and that they are not alone. When they’re ready to leave, there are resources and services standing by to help them take back control of their life.


SAFE Shelter in Savannah 912-629-8888

Safe Haven in Statesboro 912-764-4605

Hopeful Horizons in the SC Lowcountry 843-770-1070

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233