What is Coercive Control ?

Zane Wilde

In 2012, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) was amended, and the concept of coercive control was introduced into the definition of family violence. Coercive control is not defined in the Family Law Act but it is appreciated to be at the root of almost every act of domestic violence.

Coercive control is best understood as behaviours with the desired effect of coercing and/or controlling an individual. This definition is a bit wordy and difficult to understand. Thankfully, section 4AB of the Family Law Act provides some examples of what coercive control may look like. These examples include:

  1. Assaults,
  2. Sexual assaults or other sexually abusive behaviour,
  3. Stalking,
  4. Repeated derogatory taunts,
  5. Intentionally damaging or destroying property,
  6. Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal,
  7. Unreasonably denying the family member financial autonomy,
  8. Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support, or
  9. Unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, or his or her liberty.

When we think of violence, we ordinarily think of the obvious examples in (A)-(F). Usually, these examples may a person with a mark, a bruise, or damaged property. This makes the violence easy to identify.

But coercive control is more difficult to identify. Research has demonstrated that single instances of coercive control often may not appear to be threatening. For instance, your spouse did not allow you to purchase new clothing from the joint bank account. As a single event, your spouse’s actions may appear to be reasonable and would not appear to be coercive or controlling. However, you may look back at the history of your relationship and realise that your spouse never let you purchase clothes. This may constitute coercive control.

Coercive control can also manifest in what appears to be seemingly non-threatening ways, such when your partner tracks your telephone conversations, threatens to lose the family pet, prevents you from seeing medical professionals, controls what you wear, and controls your salary and expenses. These examples of coercive control may appear non-threatening. However, the examples in this paragraph have been taken from Australian relationships which ended in homicide.

Coercive control is dangerous in a relationship. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia takes allegations of coercive control very seriously. In fact, there are a number of additional provisions that will apply in family law matters where coercive control is alleged.

If you have been the victim of coercive control and are intending to, or already are a party in family law proceedings, please contact Hansons Lawyers so that we may provide you with appropriate advice regarding your safety and the additional provisions that will apply to your family law matter. Contact us on 02 42 222 666 or by email at family@hansonslawyers.com.au.