Power and Control

Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behavior used to maintain power in a relationship by one partner over the other.

While women are disproportionately victims, men are also victim of domestic violence. While each case is unique, abusers use a range of abusive behavior to control their patterns including physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse.

Isolation from friends and family, using children as bargaining tools, and threatening deportation and/or using a victim’s legal status as a means to keep her in an abusive relationship are also common patterns of domestic violence abuse. Often, it is difficult to identify various forms of abuse, particularly when they are indirect or not as obvious as physical and/or sexual violence.

The Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program from the experience of battered women in Duluth who had been abused by their male partners. It has been translated into over 40 languages and has resonated with the experience of battered women world-wide.

Physical and sexual assaults, or threats to commit them, are the most apparent forms of domestic violence and are usually the actions that allow others to become aware of the problem. However, regular use of other abusive behaviors by the batterer, when reinforced by one or more acts of physical violence, make up a larger system of abuse. Although physical assaults may occur only once or occasionally, they instill threat of future violent attacks and allow the abuser to take control of the woman’s life and circumstances.

The YWCA Power and Control Wheel diagram is a particularly helpful tool in understanding the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors, which are used by a batterer to establish and maintain control over his partner. Very often, one or more violent incidents are accompanied by an array of these other types of abuse. They are less easily identified, yet firmly establish a pattern of intimidation and control in the relationship.


The Healthy Relationship Wheel

The YWCA Healthy Relationship Wheel is what a healthy relationship would look like, one based on respect, trust, and nonviolence. For instance, instead of using coercion and threats, a partner would resolve conflict or disagreement based on negotiation and fairness. The Equality Wheel was developed not to describe equality per se, but to describe the changes needed for men who batter to move from being abusive to non-violent partnership.Compare and contrast the Power and Control wheel with the Equality Wheel use them to learn more about the many forms of domestic violence.

THE Healthy relationship WHEEL


Forms of Domestic Violence

Abusing hierarchy of privilege. Treating her like a servant. making all the big decisions. Acting as the “master of the castle”. Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles

Preventing her from getting/keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Blaming her for any financial gaps. Taking her money. Limit or remove access to family income

Manipulating religious texts to demand obedience, justify beating, limiting physical movement. Coercing partner to have sex by citing it is a God-given right for husbands

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions

Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it

Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away

Acceptance of in-law abuse (physical, emotional, and financial). Using cultural norms as a tool to limit physical movement, justify beating, demand subservience. Limit the role of the woman to “wife” and “mother” and prevent her from working. Prevent her from possibly remarrying by accusing her of adultery as a way to impact her honor and/or chastity

Threatening to deport her and/or her children, report her to INS, not fill out her paperwork to file for citizenship/ permanent status. Intentionally withdrawing paperwork once it’s been filed to jeopardize her legal status. Not allowing her to learn English. Isolating her from anyone that speaks her language

Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide. Making her drop charges. Making her do illegal things

Making her afraid by using looks, actions, gestures. Smashing things. Destroying her property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons

Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating her. Making her feel guilty

FAQs about the Power and Control Wheel

(From The Duluth Model)

Why was the Power and Control Wheel created?
In 1984, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) began developing curricula for groups of men who batter and victims of domestic violence. They were looking for a way to describe battering for victims, offenders, practitioners in the criminal justice system and the general public. Over several months, they convened focus groups of women who had been battered. They listened to stories of violence, terror and survival. After listening to these stories and asking questions, they documented the most common abusive behaviors or tactics that were used against these women. The tactics chosen for the wheel were those that were most universally experienced by battered women.

Why is it called the Power and Control Wheel?
Battering is one form of domestic or intimate partner violence. It is characterized by the pattern of actions that an individual uses to intentionally control or dominate his intimate partner. That is why the words “power and control” are in the center of the wheel. A batterer systematically uses threats, intimidation, and coercion to instill fear in his partner. These behaviors are the spokes of the wheel. Physical and sexual violence holds it all together—this violence is the rim of the wheel.

Why isn’t the Power and Control Wheel gender neutral?
The Power and Control Wheel represents the lived experience of women who live with a man who beats them. It does not attempt to give a broad understanding of all violence in the home or community but instead offers a more precise explanation of the tactics men use to batter women. We keep our focus on women’s experience because the battering of women by men continues to be a significant social problem–men commit 86 to 97 percent of all criminal assaults and women are killed 3.5 times more often than men in domestic homicides.

When women use violence in an intimate relationship, the context of that violence tends to differ from men. First, men’s use of violence against women is learned and reinforced through many social, cultural and institutional avenues, while women’s use of violence does not have the same kind of societal support. Secondly, many women who do use violence against their male partners are being battered. Their violence is primarily used to respond to and resist the controlling violence being used against them. On the societal level, women’s violence against men has a trivial effect on men compared to the devastating effect of men’s violence against women.

Battering in same-sex intimate relationships has many of the same characteristics of battering in heterosexual relationships, but happens within the context of the larger societal oppression of same-sex couples. Resources that describe same-sex domestic violence have been developed by specialists in that field such as The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse, www.nwnetwork.org

Making the Power and Control Wheel gender neutral would hide the power imbalances in relationships between men and women that reflect power imbalances in society. By naming the power differences, we can more clearly provide advocacy and support for victims, accountability and opportunities for change for offenders, and system and societal changes that end violence against women.

The wheel makes the pattern, intent, and impact of violence visible.