19 March, 2024

By CEO Natasha Rae 

After over a decade of advocacy, the Queensland Government has passed legislation to criminalise coercive control as a standalone offence.

Behaviour from adults such as verbal abuse, financial control, emotional abuse, and social isolation will carry jail sentences of up to 14 years when the laws come into force next year.

These changes will aim to address Australia’s alarmingly high rate of domestic abuse.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that 23% of adult women and 16% of adult men have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15. They also showed 58% of women and 26% of men who experienced emotional abuse from a partner were also victims of physical or sexual violence by a partner.

Think of Australia as a dinner party you’re hosting with 20 of your closest friends and family. This might include your parents, siblings, and oldest friends.

Of those 20 people sitting, chatting, and laughing around the dinner table, four of your guests would have experienced emotional abuse from their partner. Two would have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about how high that number is. It can be even more uncomfortable to talk about what coercive control looks like, and what effects it can have on victims and survivors.

But staying comfortable comes at a cost. It keeps these issues hidden, unreported, and ongoing.

‘Coercive control’ is still a reasonably young concept. Many Queenslanders don’t know what behaviour is being criminalised or how these laws will protect them.

This type of abuse can be especially harmful as it can be difficult to ‘prove’, and easy for the perpetrator to manipulate their victim into thinking they’re just being sensitive.

Controlling and manipulative behaviours may even be disguised as ‘caring’ or ‘protective’. For example, someone might demand to know where their partner is at all times and say it’s “just because they care”.

So how does the public gain enough information to know what constitutes ‘coercive control’ and report these behaviours? We need to be comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about coercive control.

Advocates of these law changes, such as the families of domestic violence victims Hannah Clarke and Alison Baden-Clay, have been heroic in their efforts to bring these issues into the public eye. And it’s time we all learn from their brave examples and talk about what behaviours might suggest someone isn’t okay.

These might include some of the warning signs someone is experiencing coercive control in their relationship, such as:

  • A lack of privacy and independence in their relationship
  • Someone walking on eggshells around their partner
  • Feeling like their partner has the “upper hand” in the relationship
  • Second-guessing themselves and wondering if they’re just being sensitive.

We also need to be prepared for these conversations to arise themselves. As these laws are enforced and cases begin to be reported, it’s likely we’ll be confronted with situations where one of our dinner guests will have experienced coercive control. Will we be well-positioned to help support that person?

Reducing coercive control in our communities requires everyone in the community to care.

We’re experiencing a domestic and family violence epidemic. It’s taking lives, and it impacts all of us. It’s time we accept the uncomfortable reality that our loved ones may not be okay.

These historic laws are a significant step in protecting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable.

But for these laws to be truly effective, all Queenslanders need to educate ourselves on what they mean, be prepared to have the tough conversations – whether that’s privately or at a dinner party – and challenge our own discomfort to be part of the solution.

You can learn more about coercive control here.


If you or someone you know is living with a controlling or abusive partner, help is available. You can call us on 1300 364 277 for guidance finding the right support for you.

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811

DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636

Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120

Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000.