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Amplify Blog - Abuse in the shadows: Recognising and responding to coercive control

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Amplify Blog - Abuse in the shadows: Recognising and responding to coercive control

Amplify Blog

By a QFCC Youth Advocate

WARNING - This blog discusses themes of domestic violence and may be confronting for some readers


He’s not abusive. He doesn’t hit me.

She’s not controlling, she is just protective and wants to know where I am.”

They are just better at money than me, so they control the finances.”

It feels like I am constantly walking on eggshells.”


Love is magical. Love is kind. Love is respectful. Love is about being in an equal partnership.

So, what does it mean when love doesn’t feel like that?

In recent years, there has been growing awareness and understanding of domestic violence in its many forms. Whilst physical violence leaves behind physical scars, bruises and broken bones, domestic violence extends beyond physical abuse.

Coercive control lurks in the shadows of domestic violence, having a significant impact on a victim-survivor’s health and wellbeing whilst being nearly impossible to detect. Although it may not leave visible scars, coercive control can have severe and long-lasting psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a victim-survivor.  It can leave victim-survivors in an abusive relationship for years without realising they are being abused.

Whilst there have been significant strides into the criminalisation of coercive control, with it set to be criminalised by the end of 2023, we still have a long way to go in raising awareness and understanding of coercive control.

So…what is coercive control?

Coercive control is a specific form of abusive behaviour or actions used by a perpetrator to maintain power and control over another person. It involves a range of tactics and strategies that gradually erodes a victim’s sense of self, autonomy, and independence. Coercive control operates as a sustained and systematic campaign of dominance that chips away at a victim’s sense of safety and independence, hence why it is sometimes referred as “intimate terrorism”. You can read more about the definition of coercive control on the Queensland Government website here.

Coercive control can show up in many ways and is not exclusive to intimate partner relationships. However, some common signs and tactics may include:

  • Isolation: A perpetrator may try cutting their partner off from, or limit contact with, friends, family or support networks by not allowing their victim to leave the house without them, turning people against their victim, or restricting their victim’s access to their cars, mobility aides or other forms of transport.
  • Coercion and threats: A preparator may use verbal or physical threats to cause fear and intimidation by threatening to hurt or kill their victim or victim’s children, other family members or pets, spreading false or unfavourable information, or making threats of suicide or self-harm if their victim leaves them.
  • Intimidation: A perpetrator may control their victim by forcing them to live in a constant state of fear and anxiety by making them feel like they are “walking on eggshells”, destroy their victim’s property, deliberately causing harm to their victim’s pets, displaying weapons or slamming doors, banging tables, hitting walls or throwing items at their partner.
  • Emotional abuse: A preparator may use emotional abuse to lower a victim’s self-esteem or confidence by calling their victim names, insulting them, constantly criticising how they do things, and bullying and belittling their victim. A perpetrator may gaslight, minimise, or deny and blame their victim to confuse and manipulate them.
  • Privilege and gender stereotypes: A perpetrator may use expectations around gender roles to control what their victim’s responsibilities in the household or what they wear or demand sex or sexual acts.
  • Economic abuse: A perpetrator may limit a victim’s access to money, bank accounts and credit card to make it harder to leave and create financial dependence. A preparator may also force their victim to take out loans and debts in their name.
  • Technology, stalking and monitoring: Preparators may use technology to coerce, stalk or harass someone by harassing them with constant text messages or phone calls, tracking their victim’s movements, limiting their use of technology, or checking their victim’s private technology or social media.

These present only some of the signs and tactics that may indicate coercive control, but a commonality across coercive control is that it stops a victim’s sense of self and autonomy. Coercive control can leave a victim feeling trapped, confused, embarrassed, scared or lonely.

The effects of coercive control by itself can be profound and long lasting on a victim-survivor’s emotional, psychological and physical health, and the particularly insidious nature of coercive control makes it is difficult to detect even when you’re deep in it. Often times, coercive control can also occur in conjunction with other forms of abuse, including physical violence.

As Queensland moves towards a legislative model that recognises coercive control as a criminal offence, it is vital that this is coupled with the necessary education and awareness to ensure that people can recognise the signs of coercive control and understand its impact, including educating the community, law enforcement, social workers and health care providers. It is also vital that victim-survivors are not expected to bear the burden of preventing domestic violence and that education and awareness efforts are linked with proactive measures to prevent and deter perpetrators from offending or reoffending.

Coercive control represents a deeply harmful and often invisible form of abuse, capable of inflicting significant psychological, emotional and physical harm on victims. It functions and flourishes in the darkness, working behind the scenes to ruin a victim’s life, autonomy and sense of self. For too long, victim-survivors of coercive control have had to suffer in silence as legal and political frameworks catch up with the concept of coercive control.

It is finally time to bring coercive control out of the shadows.

Support options

Support is available for anyone impacted by any form of domestic and family violence, including coercive control. If you need support, you can contact the services below:

  • 1800 Respect: 1800 7373 732
  • DVConnect Womensline (24/7): 1800 811 811
  • DVConnect Mensline (9am to midnight, 7 days): 1800 600 636
  • Mensline Australia (24/7): 1300 78 99 78
  • Kids Helpline (24/7): 1800 55 1800
  • Lifeline (24/7): 131 144
  • In an emergency, always call triple zero: 000