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Coercive control

Coercive control

If you have a partner who is acting in a bullying, abusive or controlling manner, then you may be a victim of domestic abuse. This is because domestic violence isn’t always physical and can also take the form of coercive control.

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is a pattern of threats, humiliation and actions that are intended to intimidate a victim. Each of these acts aims to harm, punish or frighten the victim so that the perpetrator can assert their authority over them.

In addition, this coercive behaviour is also intended to make the victim become dependent on the perpetrator. This is done by isolating the victim from their current support group, exploiting them, depriving them of their independence and regulating their behaviour.

In this sense, through their coercive behaviour, the perpetrator essentially creates some ‘invisible chains’ for the victim. This then means that the victim may live in fear or become dependent on the abuser but feel they are unable to leave.

Essentially, coercive behaviour limits a victim’s ability to control their own life. They may lose their liberty and become unable to take any action to free themselves from the situation. As a result, being the victim of coercive behaviour is almost like being taken hostage in your own home.

Who commits coercive control?

Controlling people are often incredibly manipulative and will take advantage of the people they are closest to. Overall, you’re most likely to experience controlling behaviour from your:

  • Boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife;
  • Ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex-partner, ex-husband or ex-wife;
  • Family, such as your parent or guardian;
  • Adult children;
  • Carer or paid support worker;
  • Anyone else that you either live with or see often.

Although these people are close to you, they have absolutely no right to have any form of control over you. If you think that a person you love or trust is using their position to control you, then you should speak to an experienced family lawyer immediately to discuss your rights.

Who can obtain a Domestic Violence Order to stop coercive control?

Domestic or family violence refers to violence, abuse and/or intimidation between people who are currently or have previously been in a ‘relevant relationship’.

In order to apply for a Domestic Violence Order in Queensland, you need to be in a ‘relevant relationship’ with the perpetrator (known legally as the defendant). These relationships are defined by the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, which states that relevant relationships include:

  • Spousal relationships, including de facto relationships, biological parents of a child and same-sex couples;
  • Family relationships, including relations by blood or marriage and cultural relationships;
  • Informal care relationships, including unpaid carers who assist with day-to-day living arrangements.

If you are not in a ‘relevant relationship’ and do not qualify for protection under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, there are other options available to you for seeking protection and we would encourage you to contact the police to discuss your options. If you are in a ‘relevant relationship’, you should speak to an experienced family lawyer who will be able to explain your rights and outline how you could possibly free yourself from the situation with the help of the law.

Coercive control signs

Unlike physical abuse which is marked by scars and bruises, coercive control can be much more difficult to spot. Similarly, coercive control is also wide ranging, but common examples of coercive control include your abuser:

  • Isolating you from your friends, family and social circle’
  • Depriving you of basic human needs, such as food or access to the toilet;
  • Monitoring how you spend your time or what’s in your diary;
  • Continually checking your online presence, such as your emails and your social media profiles;
  • Depriving you of access to essential services, such as healthcare;
  • Controlling your finances and refusing to give you money for things you would like or need. Your abuser may even use your money for things they need;
  • Refusing to allow you to visit certain places or see certain people;
  • Controlling what you can wear;
  • Verbally assaulting you. This may include purposefully putting you down, humiliating you, degrading you or dehumanising you; or
  • Threatening you or intimidating you.

Although coercive control doesn’t leave a physical scar, the effects of this controlling behaviour can be hugely damaging. This is even the case if your abuser’s actions are subtle (some people don’t realise that they’re in a toxic relationship until years later). As a result of your abuser’s coercive behaviour, you may find that you experience damaged confidence, fear, depression or anxiety. However, you must remember that this isn’t your fault and you should never blame yourself for your abuser’s actions.

Leaving an abusive relationship

Coercive behaviour is a form of domestic violence. If you’re a victim of controlling behaviour, and you want to learn about the protections available to you under the law, then our experienced family lawyers can help.

Scott Richardson

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