Abuse can take many forms. Here, our Family Lawyers explore the concept of coercive control, and provide some advice for dealing with it in a relationship.

Coercive control: A definition

Coercive control is a form of domestic violence, albeit non physical.  Although laws for domestic violence differ across all Australian states and territories, there is no current federal definition for coercive control. Coercive control, however, can be understood as a series of behaviours and tactics which are aimed at dominating and controlling another party so as to “isolate, degrade and exploit” them. Accordingly, coercive control can be difficult to identify as the behaviours can be very subtle and often overlooked as constituting ‘abuse’.  Whilst these behaviours can be difficult to identify, coercive control is a form of domestic violence and should certainly be taken seriously and addressed.

What are the common signs of coercive control?

Some common coercive behaviours include: Firstly, emotional manipulation using threats and humiliation;Secondly, surveillance and monitoring, through phone apps or GPS trackers;Thirdly, isolation from friends and family;Fourthly, rigid rules about where a person can eat, sleep or what they can wear; andFinally, placing limits upon economic autonomy by personal spending or spending for the ‘family’.

How does coercive control affect victims?

Described as being a form of “intimate terrorism”, coercive control victims have reported feeling treated as a hostage in their relationship, living in a perpetual state of fear and always feeling like they’re ‘walking on eggshells’. For example, they may be scared to build relationships with colleagues of another sex. Or similarly, fear spending money on non-essential items.

Legal cases which explore the signs of coercive control

Despite the relatively new idea of coercive control, Courts have recognised it as a form of domestic violence for sometime. However, as behaviours of coercive control differ based upon the social and cultural context of the couple, the case law within this area is various and complex. For instance, in the matter of Shelly and Dickens [2020] FCWA 52, Tyson J noted that the father had behaved in a “controlling and coercive manner” when he “prevented the mother talking to her family by removing the telephone from her” and when “he demanded the mother answer his calls when in hospital after birth”. Duncanson J was unable to find specific incidents of violence in the matter of Ahmed and Gupta [2020] FCWA 140, however, still opined that the “father’s controlling behaviour of the mother” amounted to family violence.

What can I do if I am in an abusive relationship?

There are many steps you can take to leave an abusive relationship and many organisations who can assist you in these circumstances: For example, reach out to:a. White Ribbon Australiab. 1800respectc. Women’s Community Sheltersd. Lifelinee. Kidslinef. Centrelink Financial Assistance Leaving an abusive relationship is generally the most dangerous and difficult time for victims of domestic violence but New South Lawyers can assist you to leave safely. If you know your spouse or partner is monitoring your online or phone activity using a private browser, purchasing a new sim card or accessing help at a work computer may assist in accessing the help you need. In an emergency, obviously, please contact 000.

New South Lawyers’ communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication.

To find out more, chat with a member of New South Lawyers' Family Law Team today.