Coercive Control & Relationships

Coercive Control & Relationships

Coercive control is an almost invisible form of domestic violence. However, it is now recognised as the single biggest risk factor for domestic violence homicide in Australia. Scarily, the act of homicide is often the first act of physical violence in a relationship. Coercive control is a form of domestic violence which consists of an act, or pattern of acts of assault, threat, humiliation, and intimidation or other forms of control, that are used to harm, punish or frighten the victim. Coercive control is often designed to make a victim dependent on the perpetrator by isolating them from support, taking away their independence and regulating elements of their everyday behaviour. Sadly, victims often do not recognise that they are, in fact, victims of domestic violence. Some common examples coercive control are as follows:

  • The relationship often starts with “Love Bombing”, a period of intense attention, affection and connection. 
  • Isolation from friends and family.
  • Deprivation of basic necessities such as food, or medical care.
  • Monitoring of movement, including electronic monitoring both covert and overt.
  • Taunts and denigration designed to reduce self worth and self esteem.
  • Humiliation and degrading comments or requests.
  • Control of finances.
  • Threats to harm the victim, self harm, or to harm a loved one.
  • Intimidation.
  • Sexual exploitation.
  • Gas lighting behaviours.

Victims often describe a life of “walking on eggshells” and of feeling constantly on high alert to avoid upsetting the perpetrator. The effects of coercive control can be debilitating to a victim making it incredibly difficult and dangerous to leave a relationship.

Coercive control is not a criminal offence in Australia and police investigations are generally constrained to single instances of crime without regard to the greater dynamics at play. Singular incidents of control often seem minor when taken out of context; it is the cumulative effect on a victim which provides potency.

There is a New South Wales parliamentary enquiry due to release recommendations this month about coercive control laws, and we are keen to see what those recommendations are, and how they will be implemented. Coercive control laws were first introduced in England and Wales in 2015. In 2019 Scotland introduced Psychological Domestic Abuse laws, which are widely regarded as the “gold standard” for protecting women and children.

On average in Australia, domestic violence claims the life of one women every week, and it is no surprise that Australian federal politicians have turned to Scotland for guidance. While the laws have been introduced with success in other countries, it is important that the introduction in Australia is done in consultation with the community, particularly with indigenous and multicultural communities.

If you are the victim of coercive control in your relationship we suggest obtaining legal advice so that you can be connected to services to ensure your safety if and when you are ready to end the relationship. Even though coercive control is not a crime in Australia, it is important in the context of your family law matter that the elements of coercive control are brought to the courts attention in a considered manner so that protections can be obtained for you and your children. In some cases, the conduct may also warrant an additional adjustment of property.

If you want to learn more about coercive control, we recommend the book and docu-series by Jess Hill, See what you made me do. If you do not feel safe meeting with us in person, we can arrange a meeting by phone, by zoom and we will consider meeting in a neutral public location. We are here to help – contact us or book online.

IMPORTANT UPDATE 8th March 2024:

It is encouraging to see that QLD has passed legislation to criminalise coercive control – https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-03-06/qld-coercive-control-laws-pass-parliament/103552838.

NSW have already taken some steps towards this in November 2022, by passing the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022. The legislation will criminalise coercive control in current or past intimate partner relationships. It is likely that the offence will commence in July 2024.

Kasey Stewart
Kasey Stewart

21 Jun, 2021

The information in this article is intended to provide general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice specific to your particular circumstances, you must formally engage a lawyer or law firm. The law is subject to change, and whilst we strive to keep our content up-to-date, developments may occur after publication. The information contained on our website should not be relied upon or used as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant law. Mason Lawyers takes no responsibility for any use of the information provided. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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