What is Coercive Control? Warning Signs and Exit Strategies
Updated: Jan 6
In this article, the term ‘coercive control’ is explored and defined. This form of control describes a wide-ranging pattern of intimidation and manipulation. This includes using power and authority over someone to alter or limit their choices, or behaviour. The consequence is that you become dependent on the controller. You end of relying on them for day-to-day living, or to have your basic needs met.
Coercive Control Definition
What is coercive control? Coercive Control refers to a pattern of behavior, involving power and control, used to manipulate an intimate partner.
Coercive control can occur in the form of psychological, verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. It can also include the person in control engaging in surveillance of their partner. These forms of control are used to gain power and control over a partner in an intimate relationship.
The definition of coercion is a systematic use of direct and indirect physical and psychological manipulation. This manipulation overpowers and limits an individual’s decision making capabilities and social and work relationships. It also threatens their physical, emotional, and economic security.
Coercive control is one of the most severe forms of abuse. Coercive control is not only found in relationships between men and women. Coercive control can also occur in same sex relationships.
Coercive Control Examples
Many people who experience coercive control in Australia don't realise it is happening. Passive forms of coercive control, such as surveillance and denial of privacy, are often subtle and difficult to avoid. This means victims are easily manipulated into feeling there is no better option for escape.
Physical intimidation is easier to recognise due its violent and more overt nature. Coercive control can include more than just physical intimidation such as threats, being overprotective, or abusing one's authority.
Below are some examples of coercive control:
Monitoring activity - This form of control might be checking your phone, text messages and social media, or listening to phone calls. It can also involve tracking your movements. This might be done using a mobile phone app. Another example would be monitoring via cameras installed in or around your home.
Denying independence - This involves restricting your movements and depriving you of liberty and autonomy. This can also include controlling or withholding access to education or employment opportunities. Specific examples include:
Not allowing you to go to work, study, the gym or social events.
Limiting your access to transportation,
Limiting your access to the internet or communication devices, and
Monitoring you when you are out.
Social isolation - This involves isolating an individual from friends, family and the community. Initially, strategies to isolate an individual might seem innocent. Such strategies could include:
Sharing phone and social media for convenience,
Moving away from family and friends,
Spreading rumours about you,
Monitoring your phone calls, or
Turning you against your family and friends.
Defining your role - This involves telling you what your role is in life, or the home. It can involve applying traditional roles or stereotypes. Remember, each person has the right to decide what their role is in life, and the home. A good partnership will respect individual goals.
Control your health and habits - This can include controlling or withholding access to health care and wellbeing opportunities. This can also involve controlling:
What health practitioners you see,
What medications you take,
What time you sleep,
If and when you exercise, and
What you eat and so on.
Insults and demeaning comments - Malicious comments, name-calling and criticisms are forms of bullying behaviour. They erode your confidence and sense of self-worth.
Gaslighting - Gaslighting is a form of psychological control and manipulation. This is a psychological strategy that leads you to questioning your own memory, and sometimes even your own sanity. Through denying, lying, accusations and deflections the gaslighter makes you feel like you are always wrong, or worse paranoid. It reduces your self-esteem and makes you more submissive.
Withholding or controlling access to resources, including money - Such behaviours as controlling money and limiting access to vehicles restricts your independence and freedom. It also can help prevent your ability to leave a relationship. You are effectively held hostage. This can involve:
Limiting your access to money (financial abuse),
Creating an excessively tight budget,
Hiding financial resources,
Preventing you from have a credit card, or
Rigorously monitoring your spending.
Splitting - Splitting involves turning friends and family, against you. It can even involve weaponising the children against you.
Sexual coercion - Abusers might demand sex or even force you to have sex. They might also make you do things you do not want to do, including having sex without a condom.
Threatening Behaviours - This involves threats and the creation of a climate of fear. This can include:
Making threats against you, or towards your children, family and pets,
Creating a fear that the children or pets might be harmed or abducted, or
Threatening to report you to child protection services and making false allegations.
Signs of Coercive Control
This kind of violence is often ignored because it occurs in private, such as in the home. It might not be committed in public, such as in a workplace.
In a relationship that involves coercive control, one person in the relationship controls the other through fear, intimidation, or psychological abuse. Coercive control can limit the victim's life to a specific schedule and routine. This might include behavior, diet, where they live and what they do.
The abuser uses social control tactics to isolate and terrorise the victim. One way they do this is to inform him or her of how they perceive that person’s actions are wrong.
If you think you might be experiencing coercive control ask yourself:
Do you constantly feel on edge in your relationship and feel like you are 'treading on eggshells'?
Do you feel you are able to express your opinion in your relationship and be respected?
Have you lost self-esteem, independence or autonomy since being in your relationship?
Compare yourself to your friends. Do you feel you have been able to grow and develop in your relationship like they have?
Are you experiencing conflicting thoughts about your relationship? Do you feel like you are pretending your relationship is alright in public? In private, are you are anxious and unhappy about the relationship?
Coercive Control NSW
Recently, NSW implemented new coercive control law. The NSW Government’s Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 will create an offence of coercive control. It will also introduce appropriate safeguards in the Crimes Act 1900.
The stand-alone offence will carry a maximum sentence of seven years in jail. It consists of five elements to be proved beyond reasonable doubt:
An adult engages in a course of conduct repeatedly and continuously.
The course of conduct is ‘abusive behaviour’. It involves violence, threats, intimidation, coercion, or control, towards the victim.
The accused intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person.
A reasonable person would consider the course of conduct would be likely to cause the other person to fear:
Violence will be used against them: or
A serious adverse impact on their capacity to engage in some, or all, ordinary daily activities.
The course of conduct is directed at a current or former intimate partner.
How to End a Relationship
The cycle of violence that is present in domestic abuse involves periods of crisis, often followed by grooming. During the grooming phase the abuser engages in behaviours that can make you feel good. It might appear that the abuser is remorseful for their actions. They might buy gifts to make up, and even promise they will change.
Alternatively, the grooming is more subtle. The perpetrator of control and abuse might have no insight. They might not be able to see the harm they have caused nor the inappropriate behaviour they have displayed. They fail to see the control they have exerted, or the fear they have created.
The victim of coercive control is maintained in a hostage like situation. Unable to escape due to fear of consequences or just the inability to live independently due to perceived financial constraints.
Although leaving an abusive relationship is necessary, it can be difficult. To ensure safety, planning may be required. Here are some simple steps you should take:
Maintain open communication with your support network - Ensure your trusted family and friends know about your situation. Keep their contact details are up to date.
Call 1800 RESPECT - This is a support hotline established to provide appropriate support and advice to people in Australia.
Establish a safety plan -
Identify safe places for you and your children to shelter or meet in times of crisis. Safe places might include:
A friend's house,
A hospital waiting room (where security services are present)
A business like McDonald's that is open 24/7, or
Establish a code word to communicate to your children when they need to shelter in a safe place. Also teach them to call Police, in case it is ever needed.
Create an escape plan - When ready to leave, make sure you have a safe place to go. This place should be safe and unknown to the abuser. Think about how you will support yourself. You can also speak with government agencies like Services Australia and Child Support Services who can assist with advice and finances.
Seek psychological support from a registered psychologist.
The psychological impact of domestic violence and coercive control should not be underestimated. A psychologist can assist you and your children navigate through the minefield of separation.
The process of divorce, child custody arrangements and property settlement can be long and harrowing. Psychological support can help build your resilience and optimise outcomes.
If in immediate danger call the police by dialling 000, or visit your local Police station.
If you are not able to contact or visit police, then safely remove yourself from danger. Then, if safe, seek support from a neighbour or local business who can call police.
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing difficulty with your relationship or partner, support is available. Please contact iflow psychology today or book an appointment.
You can book an appointments online, or by calling my friendly admin staff on 02 6061 1144.
iflow psychology offers in-person, telehealth and telephone counselling. We are registered psychologists. We also offer Medicare Rebates when you have a doctors referral and Mental Health Plan. We would love to be part of your journey.
Location Details: iflow psychology is located in Leichhardt Inner West Sydney NSW Australia
The information provided in this article is for information purposes only.
It is always advisable to speak with your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives before making decisions.
This is particularly important if you have: health concerns; existing mental health or medical conditions; or feel you are not coping.
(c) 2022 Dean Harrison