• Claire Verney

Power and Control: Using the Duluth Wheel in Practice

In this post, we discuss the Duluth Model's Power and Control Wheel and how it can be used in domestic abuse practice.


The Power and Control Wheel

The Power and Control Wheel was developed in the 1980's by the American Domestic Abuse Intervention Project and, as an early example of trauma-informed practice, used focus groups of female victims/survivors to compile a list of the types of abuse most commonly used against them. Nobody understands the reality of being abused by an intimate partner and the tactics abusers can use better than someone who has lived through it, so the wheel represents the lived experiences of women in a relationship with an abusive male partner.


The wheel only addresses cases of male to female violence and does not attempt to give an understanding of all types of domestic abuse.


Copies of all the wheels produced by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project can be found on their website here


What does the Wheel Show?


Domestic abuse against an intimate partner is characterized by a pattern of behaviour that an abuser uses to intentionally control or dominate his intimate partner. That is why “power and control” is in the center of the wheel.


A domestic abuser systematically uses threats, intimidation, and coercion to instill fear, these tactics are outlined on the spokes of the wheel with examples of specific types of behaviour used. The types of abuse featured on the wheel include:

  • Using intimidation (making her afraid)

  • Using emotional abuse (putting her down)

  • Using isolation (limiting outside involvement)

  • Minimizing, denying and blaming (saying abuse didn't happen or blaming her)

  • Using children (using contact to continue to harass)

  • Using male privilege (treating her like a servant)

  • Using economic abuse (Restricting access to household finances)

  • Using coercion and threats (threatening to report her to social services)


How can the wheel be used in practice?


When working with victims/survivors the wheel can be used to point out the behaviours that have been used against them and name the abuse. In many cases victims can be unaware that the controlling behaviours used against them are abuse. This is most common where financial and emotional abuse have been used. By talking through the abusive behaviours identified on the wheel it is clearer to see that the behaviours used in the relationship were abusive. It is also helpful to know that they are not alone in their experience and help and support is available for them.


The wheel can also be used for male perpetrators to identify the tactics they are using and draw their attention to the fact that these behaviours are abusive. For those who are motivated to change, the wheel can be a useful tool to hold a discussion about the pattern of behaviour that has been used so that the beliefs that contribute to their behaviour can be explored. The wheel can also be used alongside the Post Separation and Equality Wheel's to help group perpetrators see alternate ways of being in a relationship with a woman, free of violence and controlling behaviour.


The wheel can also be used in a variety of settings to describe abuse to professionals particularly in social work, family law and criminal justice training. Domestic abuse activists have also used the wheel on social media to highlight abusive behaviours and reach those who are trapped in an abusive relationship.


What about Coercive Control?


Perpetrators can seek to maintain dominance over their partner through psychological abuse and control. This type of abuse, coercive control, is a criminal offence in the UK and describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim. The term 'coercive control' is relatively new and was not in use when the wheel was produced. However, the wheel does cover a number of abusive behaviours that would be described as coercive control, particularly in the sections Using Emotional Abuse, Using Isolation and Using threats and intimidation.


For further information on what constitutes coercive controlling behaviour please visit our posts: Coercive control and the pandemic and How to recognise coercive control


What support can DV-ACT provide for domestic abuse practice?


DV-ACT experts are available to provide expert assessments and treatment programmes for cases in child protection measures including cases in court proceedings. We also provide training, consultancy and public speaking for events, conferences and the media. Contact us at info@dvact.org for further details.


This blog clso contains helpful tips, research and best practice guidelines for working with families, use the search bar above or use these links for helpful posts related to this article:


How to Work with Families Living with Abuse: Top Tips from the Experts

Coercive Control: Management and Safety Planning Guidance for Social Workers

The Post Separation Abuse Wheel

How to Complete Safety Planning with a Family Living with Domestic Abuse

How DV-ACT Assessments Safeguard Children in Care Proceedings


Resources


Duluth model wheels can be found at - https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wheels/

Respect guidance for working with domestic abuse perpetrators - https://www.respect.uk.net/resources/163-guidance-for-domestic-abuse-safeguarding-practitioners-working-with-domestic-abuse-perpetrators



About us


DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.


​DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?

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