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Coercive Control: Recognising and Addressing the Hidden Epidemic in Family Law

In recent years, the field of family law has witnessed the emergence of a term that illuminates an alarmingly pervasive aspect of family and domestic violence – coercive control.

Coercive control is a type of family and domestic violence in which a perpetrator subjects a spouse, partner, or close relative to a sustained pattern of controlling, threatening, or humiliating behaviour.

Key Characteristics of Coercive Control

While physical abuse is often more recognisable, coercive control takes place covertly, leaving emotional and psychological scars on its victims. However, it is crucial to recognise that coercive control encompasses not only psychological harm but also other forms of abuse, such as verbal, economic, physical, and sexual abuse.

The following is a (non-exhaustive) list of behaviour that would constitute coercive control:

  • Exerting financial control
  • Gaslighting
  • Isolating another person
  • Denying another person their freedom and autonomy
  • Being threatening or intimidating
  • Being possessive
  • Monitoring another person’s clothing, diet or movements.

Unlike isolated incidents of abusive behaviour, coercive control operates as a systematic and ongoing pattern, slowly eroding the victim’s self-worth and independence.

Who can be a victim of coercive control?

Coercive control is a form of abuse that can occur in any relationship (intimate or non-intimate), regardless of gender, age, or background.

However, research indicates that it is more commonly perpetrated by men towards women. Approximately 80 per cent of women who seek assistance for family and domestic violence have endured coercive control as a manifestation of that abuse.

Is Coercive Control Legally Recognised?

In Australia, while coercive control is not explicitly criminalised under federal law, several Australian states and territories have taken steps to address this issue within their family and domestic violence legislation

In 2021, Victoria introduced the Family Violence Protection Amendment (Coercive Control) Act. This legislation recognises coercive control as a form of family and domestic violence and establishes provisions for victims to seek protection orders. By incorporating coercive control into the legal framework, Victoria aims to provide greater protection and support to those affected by this form of abuse.

It is crucial to acknowledge that the approach to addressing coercive control may differ depending on the Australian state or territory as criminal law is a residual power, which is a power given to each state and territory.

Where can you turn to for help?

Coercive control requires careful attention and response. If you or someone you know is in need of support, consider reaching out to the following helplines and organisations:

  • 1800 Respect: 1800 737 732
  • MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
  • Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling: 1800 011 046
  • Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14

These helplines and organisations are dedicated to providing support, counselling, and resources to individuals affected by coercive control. Remember, you are not alone, and help is available to support you through these challenging situations.

There is never an excuse for any form of family and domestic violence.

Should you wish to discuss any family and domestic violence concerns or require more tailored legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 03 9670 422 to arrange an initial consultation.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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