The Legal Situation in Australia
Tasmania was first Australian state to create legislation that prohibits coercive control. Their Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas) defines controlling behaviour as being “designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.“
Examples of coercive control include:
- forbidding access to bank accounts
- providing only a small ‘allowance’
- not allowing the victim-survivor to work or have a job
- forcing the victim-survivor to sign documents or make false declarations
- using all the wages earned by the victim-survivor for household expenses
- controlling the victim-survivor’s pension
- denying that the victim-survivor is entitled to joint property
- blaming the victim-survivor for all problems in the relationship
- constantly comparing the victim-survivor with others to undermine their self-esteem and self-worth
- sporadic sulking
- withdrawing all interest and engagement (for example, weeks of silent treatment)
- emotional blackmail and suicidal threats
(Note: Coercive control in group settings has the identical features to the above examples in domestic settings.)
In Queensland, coercive control was brought to public awareness when Brisbane mother, Hannah Clarke, and her three children were killed by their father in 2020. This final act of harm was recognised as being an extension of a long standing pattern of behaviour that was considered non-physical violence. Subsequently, Queensland introduced coercive control laws for domestic settings in May 2022.
The Parliament of New South Wales has begun the process of criminalising coercive control in domestic relationships. Committee findings can be found here. Also see:
Coercive control in intimate relationships to be criminalised in NSW
Requests by individuals and support agencies (CIFS) to include group-based coercive control in the NSW legislation were rejected.
Many advocacy groups in Australia are working towards educating the broader public about coercive control. For example, Advance Diversity Services has resources in multiple languages:
Coercive control brochures aim to reduce abuse
The Legal Situation Overseas – United Kingdom
n the United Kingdom, legislation recognises the criminal aspect of coercive control as having the net effect of victims becoming “isolated from any support and deprived of their independence”:
Gloucestershire organisations launch campaign to raise awareness of coercive control
The Bigger Picture
Australia’s absence of nation wide coercive control laws is a serious issue that needs to be rectified.
Women’s advocacy groups have been instrumental bring coercive control to public awareness and, collectively, their efforts are a tremendous step towards promoting respectful relationships.
To further the efforts of work already done it also needs to be acknowledged that coercive control can and does occur elsewhere in Australian society. By creating legislations that support the stereotype of a vulnerable, weak woman being coerced by a domineering husband reflects a grouse misunderstanding of contributing factors and its far reaching ramifications. Victims are not *just* character-deficient females who did not choose their partners wisely, as some policy makers appear to believe. Such thinking lends itself to victim blaming rather that holding all perpetrators of coercive control accountable for their actions.
While certain populations have particular vulnerabilities to being victims, (e.g., women, young adults, individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds, and individuals with intellectual (e.g., Autism) and mental health conditions), perpetrators of coercive control have been known to delight in wearing down the boundaries of more “challenging” victims, e.g., intelligent, strong-willed, independent individuals (male, female, or other).
Ultimately, coercive control is a systemic issue that is not limited to domestic settings; men can use coercive control over other men, and leaders (of any gender) in group situations are equally capable of manipulating members with psychological abuse.
The recognition of coercive control beyond family scenarios highlights the issue as being a systemic problem, and in doing so may help to alleviate its occurrence in domestic settings.
In 2022, the Australian Federal Government issued a public consultation into National Principles to Address Coercive Control. There findings, which includes principles to be addressed by each state and territory can be found here: https://consultations.ag.gov.au/families-and-marriage/coercive-control/