Over the summer, Washington updated its Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO) statute to include coercive control. “Coercive control” means a pattern of behavior that is used to cause another to suffer physical, emotional or psychological harm and — in purpose or effect — unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty. Coercive control is essentially a form of emotional or psychological abuse that domestic violence advocates have long included in their definition of domestic violence.
We know physical violence almost never happens without a solid foundation of psychological abuse, demeaning, devaluing and gaslighting that leads victims to sometimes internalize a sense that they did something that warranted the violence. That tries to force victims to believe if they change something about themselves, they can make things better.
I think about this with the recent Club Q mass shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I think about it as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Dec. 5, 2022, in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, not even two weeks after the Club Q shooting. This is a case where a white woman is arguing that she wants to create a website design company but doesn’t want to have to serve same-sex couples. She is trying to challenge the state’s anti-discrimination law in a case that many worry would have the impact of essentially invalidating all anti-discrimination laws.
All states have anti-discrimination laws that say if you are going to get a business license and hold yourself out to the public as providing a service for the public, you have to provide that for the entire public.
Washington’s nondiscrimination law protects race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, families with children, sex, marital status, sexual orientation (including gender identity), age, honorably discharged veteran or military status or the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability.
These laws exist because of an awareness of the harm caused when someone is denied access to a store, a restaurant, a hotel or even a cake shop because someone holds contempt for them merely because of their identity. As the Washington law says “such discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of its inhabitants but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state.”
Anti-discrimination laws remind me of coercive control laws for domestic violence. They acknowledge the harm that exists before physical violence. These laws recognize the way in which allowing this harm to be perpetuated lays the groundwork for physical violence, including mass shootings like Club Q. The DVPO law and the anti-discrimination laws recognize we are not powerless to stop violence in all its forms.
Read more of the Dec. 21-27, 2022 issue.