Not all domestic abuse is physical, and some types of abuse can be hard to recognise. In fact, some people can live in an abusive relationship for years and not realise they’re experiencing abuse.
Coercive control is a type of domestic abuse that can be harder to identify than some other types of abuse. It refers to a pattern of behaviours used by an abuser to control their partner and create an uneven power dynamic.
Coercive control generally involves manipulation and intimidation to make a victim scared, isolated, and dependent on the abuser.
You may have heard this term in the news and media a lot recently. This is because there has been a push to make coercive control illegal under reforms to domestic violence laws across Australia. Currently, Tasmania is the only Australian jurisdiction that has laws directly addressing coercive and controlling behaviours.
In this blog post, we’ll explore some examples of coercive control and how you can get help if you live with domestic and family abuse of any kind.
Examples of Coercive Control
These are just some common ways coercive control might be used in an intimate relationship.
Isolating from friends and family
A controlling person or abuser may try to get their partner to reduce or cut contact with their support network. Keeping them away from family and friends can make the victim easier to control.
The abuser might try to prevent them from going to social events or being alone with their support network in case they talk about issues in the relationship while the abuser isn’t around. The abuser may also prevent them from going to work or school.
This might involve wanting to know where the victim is and who they’re with at all times, or calling and texting excessively when apart. It also includes reading emails, texts, and social media messages without the victim’s permission.
Extreme cases might involve placing cameras or recording devices in the victim’s home or car, or tracking them with GPS and spy software. This is also considered stalking and harassment.
The abuser’s main goal is to take the victim’s freedom and independence away from them. They might do this by removing or restricting the victim’s access to a vehicle or public transport, hiding their devices, or changing passwords on their devices and online accounts.
Controlling the body
It’s common for a controlling partner to not only want to control how their victim behaves, but also how they look. They might dictate what the victim can and can’t wear, what they eat and drink, how they groom and present themselves, and how often they exercise.
They might even comment on how much or little the victim sleeps or whether they should seek medical care or not.
The abuser will aim to damage the victim’s self-esteem in order to gain control over them and prevent them from leaving the relationship.
Abusers might call their victim names, insult them, constantly criticise how they do things, bully and belittle them. They might also put them down in front of others but pass it off as “only joking”. Over time, even small jabs will eat away at the victim’s self-worth.
Coercive control can involve financial abuse, where the abuser withholds or limits access to money. They might provide the victim with an ‘allowance’ and/or control how money can be spent.
Limiting the victim’s access to money can make it even harder for them to leave the relationship as they may feel financially dependent on the abuser. This is especially common when children are involved.
Jealousy and possessiveness
A little jealousy in a relationship isn’t uncommon, but in an abusive relationship, the abuser might constantly accuse the victim of cheating to control them. This can make the victim feel guilty about spending time away from them, or simply make them avoid going to social events because they don’t want to deal with the accusations.
Controlling partners often act jealous and possessive to reduce their victim’s contact with the outside world.
Threats and intimidation
This might involve threats to the victim’s own safety or that of their children, pets, property, friends or family.
The abuser will use threats or intimidation to scare the victim into doing what the abuser wants.
We further discuss power and control in relationships in our blog post The Problem with Power in Relationships.
How to Get Support
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, or learn about our Domestic and Family Violence Prevention service here.
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.