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Power & Control Wheel

Important Information about Domestic Violence

To reflect the fact that at least 95% of all cases reported to police or domestic violence hotlines involve heterosexual men battering heterosexual women, this website will use the male pronoun “he” for the batterer and the female pronoun “she” for the victim/survivor. This does not mean that women cannot batter men or other women, or that men cannot batter their male intimate partners.

What is Domestic Violence?

  • Battering is a pattern of behavior used by someone to establish and maintain power and control over an adult intimate partner and/or family member.
  • Battering is never an isolated incident. Abusers use a series of tactics to hold power and control over their victims.

The power and control wheel is a general guide to these tactics. These tactics are strategies, not sudden flashes of uncontrollable anger. It is important to understand that people who abuse choose to be violent.

 The Power and Control Wheel


Using isolation. One of the most effective ways to begin to overpower another person is to keep her from having contact with others. By systematically severing her relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, the batterer insures that his victim has little support. He becomes her only point of reference, thereby defining and controlling her world. Batterers can isolate their partners in a variety of ways, from excessive jealousy to restricting their access to education and jobs or controlling where they go or with whom they spend their time. For women with disabilities, lesbians, older women, immigrant women, or others who are marginalized by mainstream society, isolation takes on an increased potency.

Minimizing, denying, and blaming. Batterers often minimize or deny the abuse, or they blame their partners for provoking it. He may minimize the severity of her injuries, or outright deny that he caused them. Unfortunately, “victim-blaming” is prevalent in our society. Sometimes abusers play mind games with their victims trying to make them feel crazy. Often violent behavior towards women is justified by saying things like “she asked for it” or “she needed to be put back in her place.” In so doing, the blame and accountability shifts from the abusive behavior of the batterer to the “weakness” of the victim.

Using children. Using children is yet another way that a batterer can instill feelings of guilt and incompetence in his partner, making her feel like a “bad” mother. Some batterers will force children to turn against their mothers, or will threaten to take the children away if the victim were to try to leave. There is also evidence that in homes where there is abuse towards the mother, there is an increased likelihood of abuse towards the children. Girls whose fathers batter their mothers are 6.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their fathers than are girls from non-violent homes.

Using male privilege. In our patriarchal society, men are often raised to believe that they have been given the right to be dominating and aggressive. Being “tough” and “in charge” are accepted and expected as part of one’s manhood. It is all too often the case that batterers use this gender imbalance as a justification for violent or controlling behavior.

Using economic abuse. By controlling and limiting a woman’s access to financial means, a batterer can assure that his victim will have limited resources if she has thoughts of leaving. She may have to turn over her paycheck, leave her job, or account for every penny spent. Too often women have to choose between staying in an abusive relationship or being thrust into economic ruin or poverty.

Using coercion and threats. Threats are used to control by creating intense fear that can paralyze the victim’s ability to act or keep herself constantly on guard in an effort to protect our lives or well-being. Some common threats are suicide, threats to kill her or the children, threats to damage property, etc. The victim may also be coerced into acting in ways that contradict her values, such as prostitution or fraud.

Using intimidation. Abusers will often commit terrifying acts in order to keep their partner in a state of continuous fear. This may include smashing things, killing pets, harassing friends and family, setting fires, driving recklessly, suicide and homicide. Intimidation periodically reinforced with assault, makes violence a daily part of the victims reality and, therefore, makes her easier to control.

Using emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is the most common form of control and can often exist in relationships where there is not physical battering. This includes put-downs, insults to the victim’s intelligence and abilities, name-calling, etc. In so doing, the batterer systematically breaks her spirit and self-esteem. She may begin to feel as if the abuse is her fault or that she must deserve it.

These forms of abuse are used in multiple combinations. Constant violence and criticism leaves women uncertain, humiliated, and much easier to control.