Recently, WRAL.com posted an article headlined “Nancy Cooper Case Was About Domestic Violence”. For those who are unfamiliar with the case, Nancy Cooper was a Cary woman who was found strangled to death in July of 2008 and her husband, Brad Cooper, was found guilty of her murder.
This article created controversy among people who believe that the label of domestic violence is inappropriate for Nancy Cooper’s situation. While Nancy Cooper’s parents have testified that Brad Cooper became controlling in the months leading up to her murder (including cutting her access to their bank accounts, putting her on a weekly allowance and taking the passports of their children to make it difficult for Nancy to leave her relationship), some people claim that Brad Cooper’s actions were justified to prevent Nancy from leaving the country before filing for divorce.
While it is impossible to know the dynamics of the Cooper relationship, one thing is very clear in this situation, namely that financial and emotional abuse are rarely recognized by the public as abuse. For some people, in order for a relationship to be classified as abusive, it must have a degree of physical violence present, otherwise it is simply seen as one partner being controlling, miscommunication, or just a bad relationship though not necessarily an abusive one. However, these misconceptions are problematic because they not only unintentionally invalidate the suffering that victims outside the realm of physical violence experience but also force victims to question their own judgment , as evidenced by callers to our 24-hr hotline who start the conversation with, “I’m not being hit or anything but…”.
Abuse is about control. Without ever experiencing physical violence, victims can still feel fear, lose of self-esteem and control over their own life. Limiting one’s access to finances or preventing them from getting a job is one of the easiest ways for an abuser to ensure that their victim remains dependent upon them, thus remaining in their control. In this type of mindset, it can be more difficult for victims who have not suffered physical abuse to come forward and seek help because they are not seen and do not see themselves as “real” victims.
While it may be easy to dismiss Nancy Cooper’s situation because it does not fit the stereotypical idea of what an abusive relationship looks like, it is important that we recognize that there are many different domestic violence and abuse, not just physical violence. Otherwise, victims may be pushed aside or ignored and unable to receive needed assistance to leave their situation. Remember, at Family Violence Prevention Center, our services, including our 24-hour hotline are available to anyone who is suffering from abuse, whether it is physical, emotional, financial or otherwise.