Evan Stark, 82, dies; Expanded understanding of domestic violence

Evan Stark, who studied domestic violence with his wife and then pioneered a concept called “coercive control,” which describes the psychological and physical domination that abusers use to punish their partners, died March 18 at his home in Woodbridge, Connecticut. 82.

His wife, Dr. Anne Flitcraft, said the cause was most likely a heart attack that occurred while he was on a Zoom call with women's advocates in British Columbia.

Through studies begun in 1979, Drs. Stark and Flitcraft became experts in intimate partner violence, raising the alarm that beatings — and not car accidents or sexual assaults — were the leading cause of injuries that sent women to the emergency room.

But in speaking with battered women and veterans who had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their military treatment, Dr. Stark began to understand that coercive control was a strategy that included violence but also involved threats of beatings, of women. victimized by friends and family and cutting off their access to money, food, communications and transportation.

“Like assaults, coercive control undermines the physical and psychological integrity of the victim,” she wrote in “Coercive Control: The Entrapment of Women in Personal Life” (2007). “But the primary means used to establish control is the micro-regulation of everyday behaviors associated with stereotypical female roles, such as how women dress, cook, clean, socialize, care for their children, or behave sexually ”.

Dr. Stark started a forensic social work practice in 1990 — a year later, he earned a master's degree in social work from Fordham University — and began testifying for victims in court.

In 2002, he was the star witness for 15 women whose children had been placed in foster care by the New York City Administration for Children's Services because they had witnessed their mothers being abused at home. A federal judge ruled in favor of the women, concluding that the city had violated their constitutional rights by separating them from their children.

In 2019, Dr Stark testified in London in an appeal against the murder conviction of a domestic abuse victim, Sally Challen, who had beaten her husband to death with a hammer; she was released from prison.

“Coercive control,” he told the court, “is designed to subjugate and dominate, not simply to harm.”

His research into coercive control helped revolutionize the field of domestic abuse.

“What sets him apart from all the others is that he took this rather dark concept that up until that point had been present in POW and cult literature and transported it into the world of domestic abuse,” said Lisa Fontes, author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship” (2015).

Evan David Stark was born on March 10, 1942 in Manhattan and grew up in Queens, the Bronx and Yonkers, New York. His father, Irwin, was a poet who taught narrative writing at the City College of New York. His mother, Alice (Fox) Stark, was a secretary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a black workers' union run by civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph.

Dr. Stark earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Brandeis University in 1963 and a master's degree in the same subject in 1967 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As a doctoral student, he helped organize a protest in late October 1967 against the campus recruitment of students by Dow Chemical, which produced napalm for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The demonstration turned bloody when police officers armed with riot sticks forcibly removed students from the campus building where Dow's interviews were taking place.

After the protests, an FBI agent visited a university official, Dr. Flitcraft said, and Dr. Stark's scholarship was soon revoked. (He later received his doctorate in sociology in 1984 from the State University of New York at Binghamton.) He fled to Canada with his future first wife, Sally Connolly, finding work there as a senior planner for agricultural and rural development. Agency in Ottawa in 1967.

After returning to the United States, he spent a year, starting in 1968, as an administrator of an anti-poverty program in Minneapolis.

In 1970, Dr. Stark helped organize the Honeywell Project, which fought to convince Honeywell Inc. to stop producing weapons.

He went on to teach sociology at Quinnipiac College (now Quinnipiac University) in Hamden, Connecticut, from 1971 to 1975. He married Dr. Flitcraft in 1977, while she was working on her thesis at Yale School of Medicine. He examined the wounds of 481 women during a month in the emergency room at Yale New Haven Hospital and found that they had been victims of physical abuse at a rate 10 times higher than that identified by the hospital.

Dr. Flitcraft and Dr. Stark together expanded the study, which was published in the International Journal of Health Services in 1979. They wrote: “In summary, where doctors saw one in 35 of their patients in bad shape, a more accurate approximation is one in four; where they recognized that one in 20 injuries resulted from domestic abuse, the actual figure was closer to one in four.”

They added: “What they described as a rare event was in fact an event of epidemic proportions.”

Dr. Stark was a research associate at Yale's Institution for Social and Policy Studies from 1978 to 1984. He was hired the following year by Rutgers University and taught in its School of Social Work as a professor of women's and gender studies until his retirement in 2012. .

In 1985, he and Dr. Flitcraft chaired the U.S. Surgeon General's Special Working Group on the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

In subsequent studies, they replicated their initial findings on a larger scale, showing that of 3,600 women treated for injuries at the Yale New Haven emergency room in one year, 20 percent had been beaten by their husbands or other male intimates.

He and Dr. Flitcraft co-authored “Women at Risk: Domestic Violence and Women's Health” (1996). On his own, Dr. Stark wrote “Children of Coercive Control” (2023).

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Sam, Daniel and Eli; another son, Aaron, from his marriage to Mrs. Connolly, which ended in divorce in 1975; three grandchildren; and a sister, Joyce Duncan.

Dr Stark's work in the field of coercive control has resonated in the UK, where he taught sociology at the University of Essex in the early 1980s, was awarded a fellowship at the University of Bristol in 2006 and was a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh in 2013. .

In a speech to the Scottish Women's Aid organization in 2006, “she convinced campaigners for the first time that a new approach to the criminalization of domestic abuse was needed,” The Guardian wrote in her obituary.

Cassandra Wiener, a legal scholar at City Law School in London and author of the obituary, said by phone that Dr. Stark's enactment of coercive control helped lead to its criminalization in England and Wales, as well as similar laws in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Last year, Ms. Wiener said, she was with Dr. Stark when he spoke to a delegation of French government officials who were considering whether to criminalize coercive control in their country.

“You could hear a pin drop,” he said, “and the head of the delegation, a judge, said, 'I get it, we need to make progress on this.'”

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