Covid and the Crushing Use of Coercive Control

“At the highest end, perpetrators micromanage the lives of their victims, prevent them from seeing friends and family, track their movements and force them to obey a unique set of rules.”

Can the infamous ‘Covid’ era political oppression rightly be compared to domestic abuse? My home state of Victoria is infamous for having suffered through the world’s longest and harshest ‘covid’ lockdown. During those two years, domestic abuse survivors began to point out the many government control tactics, that mirrored the pattern of domestic abuse.

Sadly, these domestic abuse survivors were prophetic about the consequences of these so-called ‘life-saving emergency measures’. Like slow forming bruises that have to be explained away, Victoria’s rates of anxiety, alcoholism, youth suicide, divorce and depression slowly revealed that the powerful who promised to protect us, were in fact, oppressing us.

Many people who suffered and continue to suffer under Premier Daniel Andrews, have found that they, like those domestic abuse survivors, have a visceral fear reaction to hearing or seeing him.  

In her award-winning book on domestic abuse, “See What You Made Me Do,” Jess Hill describes an insidious type of non-physical abuse called coercive control which occurs on a spectrum of power and control:

“At the highest end, perpetrators micromanage the lives of their victims, prevent them from seeing friends and family, track their movements and force them to obey a unique set of rules.”

Jess Hill, See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse (BlackInc, 2019), 20.

This sounds eerily similar to the methods used all over the world and particularly in Australia during the Covid19 pandemic.  In February 2021 the Queensland Premier, Anastasia Palaszczuk, wanting to address domestic violence legislatively, defined coercive control as “a form of non-physical domestic and family violence.  It includes behaviours such as controlling what someone wears, limiting access to money, tracking someone’s location, controlling who they see and persistent texting.” It is ironic then that governments seem to have employed these very same strategies of coercive control to subjugate and force their citizens into compliance during the Covid pandemic.

In “See What You Made Me Do” Jess Hill writes of a Blueprint for Establishing Power that a domestic abuser will use in inflicting his abuse (Hill, ibid, 25-41).  Though written a year before the Covid pandemic, the nine-point blueprint suggests remarkable parallels between the methods of domestic abusers and the strategies for managing an entire population, such as we have just experienced.  

1. Establish love and trust

Australians have a long history of trusting the governments to ‘look after them’ and their response to Covid measures has been surprisingly docile.  Realising that we seemed to love being governed, many of our premiers were able to turn our whole society into a prison and achieve god-like approval ratings. In his book, ‘Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men?’ Lundy Bancroft describes the domestic equivalent of how abusive men convince their partners that their mistreatment “is proof of how deeply they care.”[1]    Having long abandoned any acknowledgement of God, we were now easy prey for governments to step into the vacuum as functional saviours. Australians felt naively secure in the heavy hands of their premiers. 

2. Isolate

One key weapon in the abuser’s tool kit is isolation.  Hill explains,

“as long as the victim maintains meaningful social and emotional connections, the abuser’s influence is diluted.  To become the most powerful person in her life, he must eliminate her external sources of support and silence voices that would question his behaviour” (Hill, ibid, 26).

We have seen this as a defining impact of lockdowns.  Citizens were imprisoned in their own homes, cut off from one another and let out for little more than an hour a day to do exercise or essential shopping, for weeks, sometimes months, on end.  On those rare times when they did engage with others, mandatory masks not only kept Covid awareness high but placed an artificial barrier between a person and their family, friends, colleagues and community.

3. Monopolise perception

Separated from other more healthy and balanced input, citizens became easy targets for influence and manipulation.  Premiers, with the help of a largely complicit and paid off media, gave daily, lengthy addresses, driving up fear as well as dependence on the government to keep us “safe.” Dissenters were ignored, mocked, demonised, silenced and even arrested. In Hill’s words, “gradually the abuser draws his victim further away from the real world and into their version of reality” (Hill, ibid, 28).  Before long a great multitude was swayed and declared their allegiance to their oppressor.  Any missteps always became someone else’s fault (Bancroft, ibid, 71). When infection numbers moved in the wrong direction or a scapegoat was needed, it was easy to blame the rule breakers or the unvaccinated. 

Indeed it was the willingness of a vulnerable public that made increasing levels of tyranny possible. As frightening as the premiers’ interference and constraining of their citizens was, just as concerning was the ease with which they mobilised their citizens – and even some churches – to back, support and extend the reach of their domination.  As David Icke has well said, “Fascism is never imposed by fascists.  There is never enough of them.  Fascism is imposed by the population acquiescing to fascism.”

4. Induce debility and exhaustion – gaslighting

Gaslighting is “a type of brainwashing that makes the victim feel confused, and start to second-guess their own judgement.” In an abusive relationship, Bancroft explains:

“A woman can feel that she is losing her mind…if the obvious realties of her life, including abuse, are denied repeatedly by her partner.  The certainty and authority in his voice, with his eyes twisted up to show how baffled he is, leave her questioning herself.”

Bancroft, ibid, 72

This last sentence echoes the manner in which overconfident premiers would dismiss any challenges or unfavourable questions in their usually-supportive press conferences.  “I don’t even know what they’re protesting about!” Daniel Andrews once famously declared [2]. For Andrews, his latest direction was not just one of many possible options, but the “only choice.” Those who opposed his mandates were denigrated as ‘selfish’ and as ‘putting lives at risk’. 

5. Enforce trivial demands

“To develop the habit of compliance”, says Jess Hill,

“the abuser starts to enforce trivial demands.  Demands may … be arbitrary and spontaneous, and enforced without warning.  The victim’s actions and behaviours are measured against these rules…she must know them by heart.  This puts the victim in a hyper-alert state, her attention trained on how to anticipate and comply with the demands her abuser is likely to make” (Hill, ibid, 3132). 

The same technique was used in navigating the pandemic.  Rules would be broadcast, and then came the actual rules, which might vary markedly (often based on the public reaction to the broadcast rules).  The public were expected to keep abreast of these ever-changing and never objectively justified rules – no drinking alcohol outside, masks on children, only one parent at a playground, masks required when walking alone outside, night-time curfews and vaccinated-only picnics. 

6. Demonstrate omnipotence

“Captors demonstrate omnipotence by exhibiting complete control over the prisoner’s fate”, says Hill (Hill, ibid, 32). In Australia, like dogs waiting for a treat, people would wait on their premier’s word for when they might be allowed outside for more than one hour, or beyond the 5 km limit, or through the ‘ring of steel’, or be able to visit their own parents in nursing homes, or tragically, even on their death beds.  

Modern technology has supercharged the abuser’s ability to exert control in abusive relationships, as “the victim is subjected to relentless surveillance” says Hill (Hill, ibid, 32). Australia likewise has seen unparalleled monitoring of its citizens by the state over the last two years.  QR codes and vaccine status check-ins, transforming what were once private medical details into public property – something even a stranger in the street could aggressively demand of one. 

7. Alternate punishments with rewards

In an instant, these Premiers removed rights and freedoms that were never theirs to take and portrayed themselves as generous and fatherly for drip-feeding them back to us as “privileges” only for the “deserving” (Hill, ibid, 32).  According to Bancroft:

“An abusive man often considers it his right to control where his partner goes, with whom she associates, what she wears, and when she needs to be back home.  He therefore feels that she should be gratefulfor any freedoms that he does choose to grant her.”

Bancroft, ibid, 52.

Likewise, our Premiers expected accolades for their “benevolent” oppressiveness. 

8.   Threats

Without necessarily having to use violence, abusers often find that a sizeable threat is all that is needed for absolute compliance.  Premiers quickly learned that by threatening people’s livelihoods – their ability to feed and clothe their families, compliance would follow.  In Victoria, the threats quickly escalated from $200 on-the-spot fines for not wearing a mask to threats of $90,500 fines for individuals, and up to $452,500, for businesses, found guilty of breaching public health orders.

Forced medical procedures in the form of vaccine mandates, were achieved the same way.

No amount of prior loyalty or naturally immunity mattered. Health workers, teachers, truck drivers, checkout operators, who were lauded in the early days of the pandemic for risking their lives on the frontline of an ‘unprecedented pandemic’, lost their jobs if they refused to be injected with the new-tech vaccine. And of course, it turned out that the ‘miracle’ vaccine actually had limited and waning effectiveness, unknown long-term effects and growing data about very concerning medium-term effects. Indeed, this threat is now perpetual, as the criteria for achieving ‘fully vaccinated’ status changed from 1, to  2, and now 3 shots.  In just the last month, 2500 teachers were sacked in Victoria for not having the booster shot. One wonders how many had suffered serious adverse events to the vaccine to not comply like this.

9.   Degradation

There has been a progressive and unprecedented interference that is initially sold as ‘a limited inconvenience for a short time’ and then, once accepted, paves the way for the next assault on personal freedoms and autonomy.  As the conscience adapts to one level of cruelty the work begins on the next assault.  Those troubled in conscience speak of a little part of themselves that dies each time they are coerced or bribed to endure inhumane treatment.  Forced vaccinations for example, effectively give someone else unwanted control over their body.  There are more than a few abuse survivors who recognise these patterns of abuse and, having regained control over their bodies, are most reluctant to lose that bodily autonomy or ever be violated again by someone inserting unwanted objects into their person. 

The ‘unvaccinated’ were cast out of society, labelled as ‘selfish’ and ‘spreaders of disease’, a convenient scapegoat whenever the political oppression failed to stop the spread of the virus. Premier Berejiklian famously baulked at the idea of being “in the same room with lots of unvaccinated people.” The ‘dangers’ of sharing space with ‘the unvaccinated’ was analysed over and over in the media. Advice about how to justify and conduct the exclusion of unvaccinated people from social gatherings proliferated. “Are you double dosed?’: How to ask friends and family if they’re vaccinated.”

The NZ Prime Minister happily spoke of creating a two-tiered society where the unvaccinated were shut out and ignored. Numerous articles appeared across Australia noting skill shortages, particularly in teaching and healthcare, where unvaccinated people had been forced out of their jobs.  These same articles, however, would refuse to mention the recently sacked – as if they did not exist. They become non-persons – the other – not to be mentioned in polite society or only to be derided.

See What the Lord Sees

What are we to do with all this?  Sure, there are many who willingly, even happily, complied with the government, but there is a significant number whose consciences are troubled and who have experienced a relentless assault on their lives and livelihoods. If you have made it this far you are either a fellow sufferer or one who commendably seeks to understand them. 

So what is my advice to those in the second category? The first point is to note that for the victim, there is a reason they feel as they do.  They have been under a type of sustained and hitherto unimagined abuse. 

Like an abuser grooming those closest to the victim, governments and the media persuaded the vast majority of society, including the victim’s own family and friends to exclude, condemn and hurt them.  From their perspectives, they were abandoned by friends and family at a time of deep need.  It is important, in these times, to know that, though all may turn away, there is a God who sees and is indeed stirred up.  He calls us to wait and take refuge in him.

“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.”
– Psalm 9:9

Secondly, for those seeking to help the victim, (and many helpers have also been that victim,) we must seek to understand and then pray and work to effect change and end oppression and bring justice. The Lord speaking through Zechariah says, “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zech 7:9).  

Likewise, we should seek the Lord for wisdom and ask that He would heal those who have been traumatised and damaged during this time.  We should take particular interest in the upcoming elections to help ensure that political oppressors and their enablers are forever denied power.[3]

The world seeks to move on by disparaging and forgetting the victims. God’s people and God’s church should be cautious about being used as unwitting tools of government, instead turning with compassion to the victims of this present oppression, they are encouraged to  “speak up and judge fairly; and defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:9).

[1] “…but the reality is that abuse is the opposite of love” Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (Berkley, 2002), 64.

[2] To which a journalist clarified “you.”  

[3] “Belatedly, the Coalition has realised it is facing a tightrope election and every ballot counts, especially an estimated 1.2 million people of voting age who are unvaccinated, and many more who were coerced into taking a jab they only submitted to because the alternative was to lose their job.”

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