Proprietorship: “I love you; I own you; don’t shame me”
November 13, 2023 By Matthew H. Logan
Without delving deeply into evolutionary psychology or medieval history, I would like to present a profile of an individual we typically see during the investigation of Intimate–Partner Violence (IPV) and Honour-based Violence (HBV). So called “honour killings” are often not motivated by religion but are ego driven and are related to control and ownership of another person(s).
Proprietorship is a seldom used word in this context but denotes “ownership” and total domination of another in a relationship context. It also describes the mindset of the individual who uses coercive control to dominate an intimate partner. Coercive control is a pattern of ongoing intentional domineering tactics employed by (usually) male perpetrators with the intent of governing the female victim’s thoughts, beliefs and/or conduct to punish them for resisting their rules.
This word is used almost exclusively in business or tax law but pertains to the exclusive ownership of something, and in the realm of relationships, carries with it a sense of entitlement. This exaggerated sense of entitlement and need for control possesses the following characteristics:
- A sense of superiority, as in the right of access to others’ bodies (rape, abduction, torture, control),
- The right of their space over the freedom of others, or the right of power and superior status, and
- Complete inattention to others’ reactions, showing no concern for the victims.
Lack of empathy, egocentricity, grandiosity, sense of entitlement, impulsivity, general lack of behavioral inhibitions and the need for control explain why this individual finds it so easy to victimize the vulnerable and achieve power and control over others. These are traits associated with psychopathy and although many perpetrators of violence may not reach a score of 30 or even 25 on the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R), the combination of traits is noteworthy (Hare & Logan, 2007).
In my professional experience, abusers are highly narcissistic, often psychopathic individuals, who use manipulation and cruelty to satisfy their own need for power and control. Comorbidity between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Psychopathy is high and often it is the antisocial behaviour with callous, lack of empathy and criminal versatility that sets the two apart. Narcissists typically display the charm, grandiosity and conning/manipulative elements common to psychopathy but they may not have the antisocial facet of the psychopath. Both share the selfish focus of need gratification and the desire to control others (Logan, 2018).
A highly controlling man sees a woman in relationship with him as “his wife” but also as “his property”. When the woman gathers the courage to leave him, he takes it as a deep rejection or loss of control and tries to intimidate her or cajole her into returning. Should she return, he continues to control her by demands that she always be available for him and by rigid interrogation of her every move. This leads to repeated episodes of violence followed by insincere apologies and promises to “never hurt her again”.
The violence of the sexually jealous person is not irrational, in the sense that it is committed without a purpose or without conscious control; on the contrary, it is, in most cases, a deliberate and instrumental act of violence perpetrated to gain or maintain control of the “owned object” (not “love object”). The jealous person does not love his lover; he loves himself, unfortunately, with an extremely inflamed and fragile ego (Dalrymple, 2003).
Awareness and response to violence in the name of honour must be increased with a greater awareness of identifying women and family members at risk.
Coercive control is often directed at both adult and child victims (O’Leary & Maiuro, 2001), a situation likely to continue post-parental separation.
United Kingdom’s Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence for coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships, which acknowledges this violence as “a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another” (Home Office, 2015, p. 3).
The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior … that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner” (US DOJ, 2023).
In Canada, the latest Private Members Bill before Parliament is Bill C-332 which went through First Reading on May 18, 2023. This enactment would amend the Criminal Code to create an offence of engaging in controlling or coercive conduct that has a significant impact on the person towards whom the conduct is directed, including a fear of violence, a decline in their physical or mental health or a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.
264.01 (1) Everyone commits an offence who repeatedly or continuously engages in controlling or coercive conduct towards a person with whom they are connected that they know or ought to know could, in all the circumstances, reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on that person and that has such an impact on that person.
The tactics or behaviours exhibited by perpetrators of coercive control may include (Mitchell, 2011, pp. 2–3):
- Emotional abuse (e.g., victim blaming; undermining the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth)
- Verbal abuse (e.g., swearing, humiliation and degradation)
- Social abuse (e.g., systematic social isolation)
- Economic abuse (e.g., controlling all money)
- Psychological abuse (e.g., threats and intimidation)
- Spiritual abuse (e.g., misusing religious or spiritual traditions to justify abuse)
- Physical abuse (e.g., direct assaults on the body, food and sleep deprivation)
- Sexual abuse (e.g., pressured/unwanted sex or sexual degradation)
The largest predictors of intimate partner homicide (femicide) are, in fact, emotionally abusive and controlling behaviours and victim-instigated relationship separation (Stark, 2007).
Proprietorship and femicide
Awareness and response to violence in the name of honour must be increased with a greater awareness of identifying women and family members at risk. Finally, there must be a focus on those who pose a risk to commit femicide. A thorough mental-state examination by a well-trained psychiatrist or psychologist with a good background of cultural education may reveal the presence of any irrational proprietary rights, psychopathology, and clearly identifiable mental-health issues.
- Dalrymple, T. (2003). Black-eyed monster. The Spectator. Archive July 26, 2003.
- Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1992). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel. In, J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby, Eds. The Adapted Mind. Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. p. 289-322. Oxford University Press. New York
- Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1990). Killing the competition. Human Nature, 1, 83-109.
- Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988b). Homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Hare, R.D. & Logan, M.H. (2007). Introducing psychopathy to policing. In M. St-Yves & M. Tanguay (eds). Psychologie de l’enquête: Analyse du comportement et recherche de la vérité. Quebec : Editions Yvon Blais.
- Home Office (2015). Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship: Statutory Guidance Framework. London: Home Office. [Google Scholar]
- Logan, M.H., (2018). Stockholm Syndrome: Held Hostage by the One You Love. Violence and Gender Volume 5, Number 2: 67-71.
- Mitchell, L. (2011). Domestic Violence in Australia—An Overview of the Issues; Canberra: Social Policy Section, Australian Government.
- Daniel K. O’Leary, and Ronald D. Maiuro (2001). Psychological Abuse in Violent Domestic Relationships. New York: Springer Publishing. [Google Scholar]
- Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]
- United States Department of Justice. “What Is Domestic Violence?” Available online: http://www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence (accessed on Oct. 03, 2023).
Matthew H. Logan, Ph.D., is a retired RCMP officer and psychologist.
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