Wife 'felt like a hostage,' expert testifies

Tells murder trial of systematic abuse

Bruce Ward, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, May 30, 2008

On the night Teresa Pohchoo Craig killed her husband, she was caught in the coils of a psychological trauma called Battered Mother's Dilemma, a court heard yesterday.

Dr. Evan Stark, author of Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, testified that Jack Craig systematically isolated, controlled and degraded his wife over the course of their 12-year relationship.

Mrs. Craig faced the sort of terrible choice that defines Battered Mother's Dilemma, he said. She could either leave the marriage for her own safety and freedom or protect her son's well-being by staying with her abusive husband. He also said the dilemma was "the primary dynamic" leading up to the killing of Mr. Craig.

Dr. Evan Stark told Teresa Pohchoo Craig's murder trial yesterday that she was a victim of coercive control.

Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

"On the night, I believe Mrs. Craig was paralysed in her thinking and her actions by the dilemma she faced," said Dr. Stark. "She felt like a prisoner, in some ways, in her own home."

Mr. Craig, 54, died of stab wounds on March 31, 2006. Mrs. Craig is charged with first-degree murder.

Dr. Stark described how Mr. Craig frequently told his wife it was, "My way or the highway," and she could leave at any time.

But Mr. Craig warned his wife that if she left, he would get custody and she would never see their son again.

"She felt like a hostage," Dr. Stark said.

Over the years, Mrs. Craig was treated "like an indentured servant" to her husband. "She had become little more than an object for Mr. Craig."

The doctor said Mr. Craig timed his wife's visits to the bathroom and refused to allow her to display photographs of her family in their home. He also made every major decision and controlled the finances, taking the money Mrs. Craig earned at her job.

After the birth of their son in 1996, Mr. Craig became jealous of the attention his wife gave the baby, said Dr. Stark. He also used epithets such as "bitch" and "whore" in his constant put-downs of Mrs Craig, 51.

As a coping strategy, Mrs. Craig would walk away when her husband began arguing and shouting at her, said Dr. Stark. But each time she walked away, "a little piece of her self-respect went with her."

In a report prepared for the defence, Dr. Stark said Mrs. Craig also suffered from Battered Wife Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, although Mrs. Craig was neither sexually nor physically abused by her husband.

Mrs. Craig grew up in Malaysia in grinding poverty. She was raped at 22 by a Malaysian man in her only previous relationship before she met Mr. Craig. She met Mr. Craig when she answered a newspaper ad that said "Western man seeks Asian woman."

Although Mrs. Craig twice left her husband, she returned when he promised to change. This contrition is known as "the honeymoon phase" in the cycle of abuse, said Dr. Stark.

Dr. Stark said he always assumes the amount of abuse described by the victim is less than what occurred, because women tend to blame themselves.

Mrs. Craig was subject to a "long-standing pattern of coercive control," which Dr. Stark described as a form of psychological subjugation by abusive men.

In his book, Dr. Stark argues that coercive control can be even more harmful than physical assault. Applied systematically, Dr. Stark writes, this psychological subjugation "can be more devastating than injurious assault" over the course of an abusive relationship.

Like many experts, Dr. Stark says a woman can be at as much risk from a man who rarely assaults her as from one who often does. He also writes that most abused women who seek help do so because their rights and liberties have been jeopardized, not because they have been beaten up.

In cross-examination, Crown attorney Tim Wightman suggested that Dr. Stark was "trying to crawl inside Jack Craig's head to discern his motives."

He also said Dr. Stark had "distorted the facts" in an attempt to make Mrs. Craig conform to his theory.

The trial resumes today.