Repeatedly on the news and in academic journals, I’ve been seeing reports about and concerns regarding rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) as our world is dealing with the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC (2021), intimate partner violence is defined as “physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm by a current or former partner or spouse. This type of violence can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and does not require sexual intimacy.” The focus of my doctoral dissertation was on IPV of women with physical disabilities and this blog will examine the dynamics present when men perpetrate intimate partner violence toward their female partners during a pandemic. A key takeaway from my study was that women with physical disabilities who experience IPV face a number of additional barriers to seeking help, and getting appropriate immediate and long-term assistance. Further, the signs of abuse themselves may also present differently. These same concerns and insights are relevant to examining IPV in the context of a worldwide pandemic. During the course of my study, I learned a great deal about different models and tools related to IPV. One tool that I have used for over 25 years in both clinical and teaching endeavors is the Power and Control Wheel.
Power and Control Wheel
The original version of the Power and Control Wheel was developed in 1984 by a group of mental health advocates in Duluth, Minnesota. They were working on developing two treatment program curriculums, one for men who perpetrate IPV and one for women who are abused within their intimate relationship. As they were developing content for the treatments, the staff performed extensive interviews with women who had experienced IPV. Over the course of these interviews, they identified a list of universal, commonly identified abusive and controlling behaviors or tactics used by men who perpetrated IPV and these were placed on the Power and Control Wheel. https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/
Let’s take a moment to review the Wheel itself. The outer circle of the Wheel represents the physical and sexual violence that occurs within relationships where there is intimate partner violence. The inner portion of the Wheel consists of 8 areas, like the spokes of a wheel. Each of these areas represent different tactics used by a perpetrator of IPV to achieve power and control over their partner, which makes up the innermost circle. While most intimate partner relationships may endorse the presence of an item or two from the list of behaviors under these 8 tactics, when physical and/or sexual violence takes place in a relationship it changes how these tactics play out. Specifically, men who engage in these tactics within an intimate relationship are seeking power and control over their partner.
Since its inception, the Power and Control Wheel has been released in multiple languages and expanded to be inclusive of diversity factors. A gallery with many of the Wheels may be found here: https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheel-gallery/
COVID-19 and the Power and Control Wheel
I have been wondering over the past year how COVID-19 rates and stay-at-home orders, while necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, are directly contributing to reports of IPV. In my search, I located this helpful resource put out by the Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP) examining COVID-19 TACTICS brought together through the Power and Control Wheel: https://www.bwjp.org/news/covid-coercive-control-wheel-combined.pdf
I recommend you review the BWJP source above for a complete examination of the interrelationship between COVID-19 and intimate partner violence. However, here are a few highlights from the 8 tactics areas that stood out for me:
Minimizing, Denying, & Blaming
Coercion or Threats
While the impact of the pandemic on our overall mental health will not be known for a prolonged period of time, we are beginning to get a sense of how various issues are playing out in relation to COVID-19. The focus of this blog is on women who are in violent intimate relationships and how the pandemic may add to the tactics commonly used by men who perpetrate this violence. Diverse factors such as sexual orientation, identifying as transgender, and/or being a member of a racial minority group may add to the above tactics and challenges faced by victims of IPV. For additional resources and information on preventing intimate partner violence or helping someone in a violent relationship, please visit:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Call 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Love is Respect National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
Call 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s (RAINN) National Sexual Assault Hotline
Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Erin Frick, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and Military Behavioral Health Psychologist at the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.