Updated: Feb 23
Question: How familiar you are with coercive control?
Domestic violence continues to be a major problem in our communities. Initially, many will conjure up visions of physical abuse and violence. Whilst physical violence continues to be a major contributing factor, domestic abuse runs much deeper and is harder to spot.
Last week (Feb, 2021) the NSW Parliament held an inquiry on coercive control in a domestic relationship, with a view to consider its inclusion in the Crimes Act.
Coercive control, in a nutshell, is a collection of behaviours designed to strip someone of their sense of self-worth and autonomy. These controlling behaviours include actions such as isolating a partner from friends and family; monitoring their time, movements, social interactions (in-person & online); gaslighting; controlling, limiting, hiding or taking away your finances; rules to be obeyed; controlling choices including what you wear; generally, controlling all aspects of your day-to-day life. Coercive control doesn’t rely on physical violence rather a deliberate instilling of fear, humiliation and threats should a person not heed to a perpetrator or worse still - leave. The list of coercive controlling behaviours is lengthy, not definitive and full of grey area. Some people may identify with with a few of these descriptors in their own [safe, happy, functioning] lives, others may tick every box. That’s what makes coercive control difficult to spot, hard identify and complex to call out.
Coercive control does’t happen over night. In fact, coercive control of a partner builds over time. Relationships will start off rosy. Perpetrators will win over the trust of their partners, friends and family with charm, love and all the characteristics we look for in ‘Mr Right’. Over time, victims become entrapped within their relationship. They will find it difficult to identify the controlling nature of their partner and ultimately find it extremely difficult to escape a toxic and unhealthy relationship.
Coercive control in a relationship can vary and fluctuate in severity. Some may feel they are stuck in a shitty relationship, whilst at the other end of that spectrum are victims like Hannah Clarke. Hannah Clarke was stalked and brutally murdered by her ex-partner in Feb, 2020. Hannah and her 3 children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were doused with fuel whilst in their car and burned alive. Hannah’s story is not isolated. In March 2019, Sydney dentist Preethi Reddy agreed to meet her ex-parter at a restaurant and later in a hotel room. She was stabbed, murdered and her body hidden in a suitcase. At least one woman is murdered every week at the hands of an intimate or former partner.
Domestic abuse is not an easy topic to talk about. Actually, it’s much easier to change the subject and walk away. It doesn’t affect me and it doesn’t affect my friends or family. Or does it? Perpetrators rely on friends and other support persons to fade away. They rely on people not wanting to ’stick their noses in to other people’s private lives’ as much as they rely on their victims not to reach out and air their own dirty laundry.
So where to from here?
To the victims of coercive control, I hope this post will be the beginning of your journey to a better understanding of what you are going through. It’s not your fault. You are not in the wrong, nor is it normal. Help is available. Seek out support, re-engage with family and friends and stay safe. Life is too short to feel unhappy, unfulfilled or entrapped.
To everyone else, check in with your mates: friends, sister, daughter, grand-daughter. Are they really ok?
Jess Hill, an Australian investigative journalist and author, writes about domestic abuse and coercive control in her award winning book “See what you made me do”. Her book shares the stories of people who have suffered from this type of domestic abuse and provides deep insight into the topic. Well worth the read!
1800 737 732 (1800 RESPECT) - a 24/7 national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experience, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence.
Men’s Referral Service - 1300 766 491 This service offers assistance, information and counselling to men who use family violence and domestic abuse.
Mensline Australia - 1300 789 978
Lifeline - 13 11 14