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On the latest episode of the Life Changes Channel podcast, host Deena Kordt engages in a powerful and enlightening conversation with Sagesse’s CEO, Andrea Silverstone and our director of innovation and programs, Carrie McManus. The episode, Hope in Hell: Sagesse, delves into the critical issue of domestic abuse, coercive control and the innovative programs offered by Sagesse to empower people who have been impacted by abuse.

Coercive control a complex issue

In the podcast, Silverstone reflects on her personal journey, starting from experiencing domestic abuse to her current role as a fierce advocate for change. She emphasizes the pervasive nature of coercive control in society and the evolving awareness around naming and addressing it.

“I believe that everyone deserves to have peaceful, healthy, respectful relationships, and I want to be a part of the action to make that happen,” she said.

Silverstone said most people don’t recognize or understand coercive control, which is a pattern of behaviours used to take away another person’s sense of agency or their ability to make decisions in their own best interest.

There are many reasons people don’t understand, or know, about coercive control. For starters, this form of abuse looks different for everyone, making it difficult to spot. Additionally, coercive control isn’t in Canada’s criminal code, making it difficult for people experiencing it to get help from authorities.

This lack of understanding not only impacts people experiencing coercive control, but also those close to them. Statistically, victims of abuse will turn to family, friends and other informal supporters before reaching out to a formal agency like Sagesse.

“Friends and family need to know that abuse is more than a black eye or a broken bone,” she explained. “Especially because we know that most abuse doesn’t include physical abuse.”

Coercive control goes beyond physical abuse

Kordt turned the conversation towards McManus, director of innovation and programs at Sagesse, asking her to elaborate on the nuances of coercive control. McManus likens the experience to a Jenga tower, where the person experiencing coercive control never knows if the next block is going to make everything topple over.

According to McManus, there isn’t a list of red flags that indicates whether someone is experiencing coercive control – making it difficult to recognize. Each person is unique, and coercive control tactics looks different for everyone.

This is because whatever tactic being used usually involves something that’s very sacred and personal to the person experiencing coercive control. Experiences of coercive control are nuanced and could happen over seemingly meaningless, everyday differences that healthy couples experience.

For example, a healthy couple might have a conversation about laundry sitting in the dryer for a long time. In this scenario, the conversation doesn’t involve a sense of fear or intimidation. However, for someone experiencing coercive control, the forgotten laundry creates tension, anxiety and fear of repercussions or harm. In this case, the person is left feeling like they’re constantly walking on eggshells, unsure how their partner will react.

It’s important to note that while coercive control doesn’t always involve physical abuse, it is a common precursor to domestic homicide. 

McManus originally discovered the concept of coercive control at a conference. She immediately called Silverstone to tell her what she learned.

“I remember saying, ‘oh my god, this is it. This is the thing that we’ve been missing.’ This is the thing that makes the difference for all of those clients who called saying, ‘I’m not experiencing abuse,’ but and then they would go on to tell me these stories of feeling like they had no personal agency, feeling like they were in this pattern where everything that they did was wrong, and that they never knew what was happening,” she said.

“Coercive control give us the language to be able to say, ‘we see you and we hear you, and it’s really valid, and it’s really important.’”

Real Talk: changing the discourse on domestic abuse

In the podcast, Silverstone speaks about Sagesse’s Real Talk program, designed to educate individuals on recognizing domestic abuse, empathizing, asking the right questions and listening. The program equips participants to engage in real conversations and offers a toolkit, webinars, and on-site presentations to promote awareness and support.

McManus explains the Real Talk approach: “It’s about having real conversations, showing up in vulnerability – their own and the person they’re engaged with. It means saying, ‘I’m here with you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m here on this journey.’”

By learning how to properly support someone experiencing abuse and coercive control, those experiencing it have a much higher chance of getting the support they need.

Innovation at the core

The podcast explores Sagesse’s multifaceted approach to supporting those affected by domestic abuse, including intervention programs, peer-support groups and individual assistance. The organization also serves as the social service response arm of Clare’s Law, providing information and referrals to those seeking support and safety.

McManus also sheds light on Sagesse’s innovative domestic abuse screening program, developed in collaboration with partner agencies and legal professionals. This initiative aims to identify and support individuals experiencing domestic abuse during legal processes such as mediation or arbitration.

To learn more about coercive control, click here. 

Next steps: adding coercive control to Canada’s criminal code

If you enjoyed this podcast, consider getting involved! Bill-C332 is a bill to add coercive control to Canada’s criminal code, adding more protections to people experiencing domestic abuse. This vital piece of legislation is continuing its second reading in the House of Commons. Become an advocate or stay informed on Bill-C332 by clicking here.