Radio review: Chilling account of coercive control

Nuala McCann

Woman's Hour Radio 4

There are some interviews that are so chilling that they haunt you for days.

Writer Helen Walmsley-Johnson featured on Woman's Hour talking about her book: Look what you made me do: A powerful memoir of coercive control.

Go to her website and you'll discover her daily aim is: “To carpe the eff out of the diem.”

Then listen to the interview about how not all abuse leaves a physical bruise.

Coercive control is a kind of abuse that is subtle but wears down the victim.

In her memoir, she describes how her former partner chose her clothes, insisted she went to the gym and constantly corrected her posture.

Violence, she told Jane Garvey, is not the primary method of control.

“They do it so you know they can. They only need to do it, once or twice, for you to catch a look from them and know you have got to behave,” she said.

It was a relationship that went on for four years – and yes, she loved this man, even though he was sexually violent more than once, tried to strangle her and hit her.

But it was the power and control that struck a note. How it seeped into the everyday - they would be out walking and he'd give her a sharp rap because she wasn't walking properly.

Or the time in the restaurant when he warned her she wasn't breathing properly.

“You're breathing in and out when you should be breathing up and down,” he told her. Ridiculous – yes, but so menacing too.

So that you end up in a state of high alert at all times, she said, and you're ashamed because you think you're responsible.

Worse still, even when the relationship ended, things were so programmed into her that they lived on in her head, long after he was gone.

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