Coercive Control: Recognising,

Understanding, and Combating Abuse

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse that often goes unnoticed, yet its emotional and psychological impact can be devastating. This insidious and manipulative behavior is characterised by a pattern of domination and intimidation aimed at maintaining power and control over a victim. While it may not always involve physical violence, it can be equally damaging, leaving deep emotional scars on those who experience it.

In this article, we will delve into what coercive control is, identify its signs, explore its impact, and shed light on those who experience it.

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Coercive control is a form of psychological abuse in which an abuser employs various tactics to exert power over their victim. Unlike physical abuse, coercive control primarily focuses on emotional, mental, and social manipulation. These tactics often include:

  1. Isolation: Abusers may isolate their victims from friends, family, or support networks, making them entirely dependent on the abuser for social interaction and emotional support.
  2. Monitoring and surveillance: Abusers might constantly check their victim's whereabouts, phone calls, emails, and online activity, invading their privacy and making them feel constantly watched.
  3. Threats and intimidation: Perpetrators use threats, both explicit and implied, to keep their victims in fear. This can include threats to harm the victim, their loved ones, or themselves.
  4. Controlling finances: The abuser often restricts the victim's access to money or controls their financial resources, leaving them financially dependent and powerless.
  5. Gaslighting: Abusers manipulate the victim's perception of reality, making them doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and memories.
  6. Emotional and verbal abuse: Coercive control often involves relentless criticism, belittlement, and humiliation designed to break down the victim's self-esteem.

Recognising the Signs

Recognising coercive control is crucial for helping potential victims. Some signs of coercive control may include:

  1. Isolation from friends and family, often justified by the abuser as "protecting" the victim.
  2. A victim who frequently apologises for their partner's behaviour.
  3. An imbalance of power in the relationship, with one partner making all major decisions.
  4. Unexplained or frequent absences from social events or work.
  5. Emotional distress, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem in the victim.
  6. A feeling of constant surveillance, with the victim's every move scrutinized.
  7. An inability to make independent choices or access finances freely.

The Impact of Coercive Control

The effects of coercive control can be profound and long-lasting. Victims of this form of abuse often suffer from:

  1. Anxiety and depression: The constant fear, emotional abuse, and isolation can lead to severe mental health issues.
  2. Low self-esteem: Victims may come to believe the negative narratives that their abusers create, which can erode their self-worth.
  3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): The emotional trauma endured can lead to symptoms resembling PTSD.
  4. Physical health problems: Chronic stress and anxiety can take a toll on the victim's physical health.
  5. Alienation from friends and family: The isolation imposed by the abuser can result in strained or severed relationships with loved ones.

Who Experiences Coercive Control?

Coercive control can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. However, women are statistically more likely to experience this form of abuse, often as part of a broader pattern of domestic violence. Men can also be victims of coercive control, but they are less likely to report it due to societal stigma.


Coercive control is a harmful and often unrecognised form of domestic abuse, with far-reaching psychological, emotional, and social consequences for its victims. Recognising the signs and understanding its impact is essential for both individuals and society as a whole. It's vital to support those affected by coercive control, offering them resources and a safe space to escape the cycle of abuse. By increasing awareness and fostering a culture of empathy and support, we can work to combat coercive control and help those in need find the strength to break free from its grasp.

From July 2024, coercive control will be a criminal offence in NSW when a person uses abusive behaviours towards a current or former intimate partner with the intention to coerce or control them.

The criminal offence will capture repeated patterns of physical or non-physical abuse used to hurt, scare, intimidate, threaten or control someone. The law will only apply to abusive behaviour that happens after the law starts.