The Invisible Bruise: Recognizing Coercive Control

When we think of domestic abuse, or see it depicted in movies or shows, what usually comes to mind are harsh words that lead to bruises and broken bones.

Now, a new web series by writer, producer and director Melanee Murray-Hunt aims to raise our awareness of a serious and pervasive form of abuse: coercive control.

Like an invisible cage, coercive and controlling tactics are used to deprive a person of their freedom and sense of self, even if no one else can see the prison bars.

“Coercive control can take many forms, and each experience is different, so it can be very hard to recognize,” says Carrie McManus, Director of Innovation and Programs, Sagesse. “From the outside, individual acts of coercive control can seem small or low level, but over time, these acts instill fear.”

Sagesse worked with Murray-Hunt to help amplify the conversation about coercive control through the development of her web series, The Invisible Bruise. Captured as a series of Zoom meetings, she explores the use of coercive control tactics and how they impact all facets of life.

The series was produced in partnership with Sagesse and the Artist as Changemaker Cohort at the Trico Changemakers Studio, with the support of Calgary Arts Development.

If you want to learn more about how to recognize and talk about domestic abuse, go to 

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Canadian Party Leaders: It’s Time to Talk About Domestic Abuse

Domestic and sexual abuse prevention should be centre stage on the campaign trail

Federal Election Policy Recommendations

The COVID-19 pandemic has put domestic and sexual abuse in the headlines, as rates surged as much as 30 percent in our country and around the globe.

But while this ‘shadow pandemic’ has added urgency to prevention and intervention efforts, there’s been little evidence of it on the federal campaign trail.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O’Toole garnered some attention when he proposed new animal welfare measures, including adding animal cruelty as an aggravating factor in domestic violence prosecutions and support for pet owners fleeing abusive situations.

This announcement touches on the larger issue of coercive and controlling behaviours, which should feature prominently in all party platforms.

Definition of coercive control

Relationships where coercive and controlling behaviours are used have more frequent and severe violence, including lethal violence, that is less likely to stop.

Criminalizing coercive control would empower police and our justice system to prevent the escalation of violence. This was recognized in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ 2021 report, The Shadow Pandemic: Stopping Coercive and Controlling Behaviour in Intimate Relationships. Advancing the Committee’s recommendations is key to violence prevention.

Action on coercive control is one measure that should feature in an abuse prevention plan that must include prevention, prosecution, and protection.

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Sign a Petition Calling on the Minister of Justice to Take Action on Coercive Control

Alongside the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shadow pandemic is taking place in Canada, with rates of intimate partner violence rising by up to 30 percent.

This includes coercive control, a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life, stripping away their freedom and sense of self. These acts are dangerous, often leading to escalating violence – including lethal violence.

In a recent report, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recommended Canada criminalize coercive control, giving the police and justice system a powerful tool to intervene in domestic violence cases, and victims the opportunity to be heard and protected.

Now, Committee member and Member of Parliament Randall Garrison has sponsored a parliamentary e-petition calling on the Minister of Justice to implement the Committee’s recommendations.

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Another Step Closer to the Criminalization of Coercive Control

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Tables Recommendations

Canada is another step closer to criminalizing coercive control with the tabling of a unanimous report by the tabling of a unanimous report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The Committee and experts agree that the criminalization of coercive control is a critical step to addressing domestic violence. We encourage the government to act on the report’s recommendations and use it as a roadmap for adding coercive control to the criminal code. The report makes five recommendations:

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Informal Supporters and Social Service Support Key to Clare’s Law Success

On April 6, the Calgary Herald published a column by Catherine Ford with commentary on The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act.  While we agree with some of the points Ford makes, we would like to provide further context and information on the topic. Read our response from Carrie McManus, our Director of Innovation and Programs, below. 

RE: Ford: “Time for men to take up the challenge of eradicating domestic violence

We completely agree with Catherine Ford on one point: men are essential to violence prevention. But Ford also argues that “Clare’s Law is aspirational and well meaning, but largely pointless.”

While Clare’s Law is not a cure to all difficulties, it does provide several avenues for violence prevention.

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Clare’s Law Comes to Alberta

New Legislation Provides Crucial Window of Opportunity to Prevent Violence

On March 30, Sagesse’s CEO, Andrea Silverstone, was pleased to take to the stage with representatives of the Government of Alberta, the TsuuT’ina Police Service and a domestic violence survivor to discuss The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act, which will come into effect April 1, 2021. Watch a clip from Silverstone’s statement, or read her full comments below.

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Connecting with Calgarians in Crisis

Before Sagesse joined Community Connect YYC, an online booking tool empowering Calgarians to find and access support from multiple agencies, Andrea Silverstone, executive director of Sagesse, could personally attest to the immense value it provides.

“A friend of mine in the U.S. called me to share the news of the tragic loss of her brother, who lived in Calgary, in an accident. His family needed help, but with COVID-19 restrictions, his extended family in the U.S. couldn’t travel to support them. I knew Community Connect YYC could help.”

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Help us get Enrico home

When Anna Barbosa left her relationship, she also left her dog, Enrico, with her ex-partner. After she moved out, he decided he no longer wanted the pet, so Anna was looking for a temporary housing solution for the dog until she could move into a new place that allowed Enrico to live with her. In the meantime, her ex-partner, who knew that Anna wanted to keep the animal, released Enrico to the Calgary Humane Society without Anna’s knowledge.

“I wanted to keep my pet with me,” explained Anna. “I love Enrico and would have taken him with me if I could have at the time. My ex knew this would hurt me, and he gave away my dog to show me that he still had control over me even though I left. Someone out there has my dog, and I’d really just like him back.”

Anna reached out to the Calgary Humane Society to explain the situation and attempt to get Enrico back from them. But, it was too late. The dog had already been adopted by another Calgary family.

“This is a form of domestic abuse called coercive control,” explained Andrea Silverstone, Executive Director of Sagesse. “It happens in places we don’t often think about, like pet ownership, and it can leave a lasting impression of loss of control and fear. There is a family out there who has this dog. I don’t understand how this family can, in good conscience, keep a dog that they know was given away as a form of domestic violence control.”

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Coercive Control: This Changes Everything

Coercive control is subtle but harmful

When is exerting control part of the give-and-take of a relationship, and when is it abuse? Is wanting your partner to let you know where they are at all times, or insisting on a strict budget, domestic violence?

If it is a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life, it may be. It’s called coercive control, and it is a common and harmful form of abuse.

“Coercive control seeks to strip away a person’s freedom and their sense of self,” says Andrea Silverstone, CEO, Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society.

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Why We Use Aromatherapy

Sagesse’s Use of Aromatherapy

By: Denise Watson, Allira Aromatics

Aromatherapy can be a very useful tool in life’s most challenging moments. Good quality essential oils are one of the only natural products that can be used to cross the blood/brain barrier (where the essential oil molecules go from the blood stream into the brain) and have a physical effect on our central nervous system and the limbic system (in the brain).

Our central nervous system is what connects our brain and spinal cord and is the pathway in which our brain tells our body what to do.

Our limbic system is where we store all our memories and the emotional responses we have. The olfactory bulb (sense of smell) is the first stop in the limbic system; therefore, memories attached to smells are quite strong. Our sense of smell is the fastest recall to our memories.

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