The term Coercive control has increasingly been in the media in recent months as policymakers respond to increasing calls to make this phenomenon illegal across Australia (1). Much of this push emerges from increased awareness and understanding of how family violence is experienced by partners of abusers following many years of public debate led by dedicated campaigners and support organisations, for example the 2015 Australian of the year, Rosie Batty (2), and 1800 Respect (3).
Coercive control can be considered a type of family violence that is often, although not always, experienced in intimate partner relationships. It can be harder to recognise than other forms of family violence and typically consists of actions that are intended to exercise power and control over the recipient. Sometimes these actions are so subtle that people can live in such a relationship for considerable lengths of time without realising the extent of the control they are experiencing.
Here are some of the ways in which coercive control might show up in a relationship:
- Financial Control: limiting access to money which can include having to make requests to the abuser for resources; having no access to financial information; having an “allowance” or strict limits on expenditure. This can leave the affected person with limited resources to help them to leave the situation.
- Social Control / Jealousy: Isolating from access to friends and family by pressuring or threatening them to avoid social contact or situations where the affected person might talk with others about their situation. This can include accusations of having affairs or preferring the company of others to the abuser.
- Degradation / Controlling the body: Using humiliating language and criticism to erode the affected person’s self-esteem and increase reliance on the abuser. This might also emerge as putting the affected person down in front of others, passing it off as “a joke” if challenged. It can also present as pressuring the affected person to look or dress a certain way.
- Monitoring: This can include things like interrogation on returning home about where they have been as well as more sophisticated forms of technology facilitated stalking and abuse. This can include monitoring social media, installing monitoring software on phones, and hacking into emails. More information on e-safety can be found at: https://www.esafety.gov.au where you can access a helpful e-safety check quiz to determine your personal level of risk of being monitored without your knowledge (4).
- Control of religion / Cultural beliefs – This can take the form of restricting the affected person’s freedom to pursue their religious or cultural beliefs and practices or could be the imposition of religious or cultural expectations which are unwanted or not shared.
This brief outline highlights just some of the ways in which coercive control can be experienced as an attack on autonomy, equality, and freedoms. However, this form of abusive and controlling behaviour can change over time and be influenced by events such as pregnancy and the birth of children, family problems, and financial stress, making patterns even more difficult to identify.
Labels can be highly intimidating, and it can be difficult to recognise patterns of coercive control that may have existed over long periods of time and to consider yourself as a victim or your partner as a perpetrator. However, a 2020 survey of Australian women conducted by the Australian Institute for Criminology (5) found that coercive control is “a very common feature of women who experience any form of violence or abuse within their relationships”.
If you are a professional working in, or seeking to work in this area, or are otherwise interested in learning more, this webinar hosted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in January 2022 will expand on some of the ideas presented here: https://aifs.gov.au/webinars/power-understanding-patterns-coercive-control.
If you feel that you are currently experiencing coercive control in your life, help is available. A good place to start is by calling 1800 Respect on: 1800 737 732 who can inform you of support services in your local area.
Our Blog Author
This blog was written by Ian Clark – Clinical Psychologist at YMM.
Ian is a Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years experience in private practice. He enjoys working with adolescents and adults presenting with a range of difficulties, including mood disorders, anxiety, stress related to school or work, and has years of experience supporting victims of domestic violence. Ian believes it is essential to the therapeutic process to provide a welcoming, safe, and non-judgemental environment in which to carefully explore ways to help people to make positive changes in their lives.
To learn more about Ian, check out the “Our Team” page on our website! https://yourmindmatters.net.au/our-team/