Downes, J., Kelly, L., and Westmarland, N. (2019)

“It’s a work in progress”: Men’s accounts of gender and change in their use of coercive control.

Journal of Gender-Based Violence, 3(3): 267-282.

Publication type: Journal Article

ISSN/ISBN: 2398-6808, 2398-6816

DOI: 10.1332/239868019X15627570242850

Further publication details on publisher web site

Durham Research Online (DRO) – may include full text

Authors from Durham

Professor Nicole Westmarland


Over the past ten years the theoretical framework of ‘coercive control’ has been increasingly applied, critiqued and now underpins a criminal offence. While many argue that it more accurately reflects experiences of victimisation, there has been little exploration of coercive control through the accounts of perpetrators. Through two phased interviews with 64 men attending UK Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes, we examine how and why men use coercive tactics and how unpicking gender norms enabled some men to recognise and reduce their use of coercive control. We argue that coercive control is more dynamic, contestable and open to change than previous research has suggested. Some men did manage to take steps away from investing in traditional masculine norms and reduce their use of coercive tactics. However, this was an uneven and contradictory process which took time – involving painful realisations of loss and harm alongside a discovery of the benefits associated with letting go of restrictive gender norms. Understanding how and why men invest in or dismantle gender norms that underpin coercive control has important implications for theory and for practice, particularly the content and focus of work with domestic violence perpetrators.