Coercive Control

The term “coercive control” has become a more prominent term in recent years and is something that the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has accepted as domestic violence and is taken seriously in family law matters.

Coercive control is a “strategic pattern of behaviour designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate.” A victim of coercive control will have their every day life “micro-managed” by the abuser. The abuse can be very subtle and over time a victim may feel that they cannot leave the relationship or they may not accept that they are a victim at all.

We often hear victims say “he/she never hit me” but they go on to explain that the abuser’s behaviour included, swearing, insults, yelling, destroying household items, derogatory comments, threatening to physically assault the victim or other family members, threatening to kill themselves if the victim left, controlling who the victim spent time with, controlling finances, controlling what the victim wore or how they looked, jealousy, and more.

Unfortunately, this behaviour can escalate, but, even if it doesn’t escalate, this behaviour causes victims to feel extremely fearful of their abuser and can be damaging to children who are exposed to such behaviours.

Unfortunately, clients often tell us that when they gained the courage to report their abuser’s behaviour to the police (which risks an escalation in the abuser’s behaviour), the police have been reluctant to follow up on incidents and patterns of non-physical abuse, or take steps to protect the victim.

Baker Love often represents clients where police have been reluctant to act, and our lawyers have been successful in imposing restraints and injunctions on abusers in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia which is often a big relief for victims.

Although police can be reluctant to act, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia does not take evidence of coercive control lightly. In the case of Rafala & Debonay [2021] FCCA 1509 sole parental responsibility was given to the mother, who was a victim of coercive control, and the fathers time with the child was limited to 4 occasions per year at a supervised contact centre. Importantly, in this case, there was absence of police action despite multiple reports made by the mother. Although the fathers case heavily relied on the lack of action by police, the court relied on a report written by a family consultant who said:

coercive controlling family violence […] can have a detrimental impact on the safety and wellbeing of children. Coercive controlling family violence can be associated with limited parenting capacity of parents in their ability to meet a child’s needs, separating a child’s needs from their own needs, tolerating and managing age appropriate behaviour and inappropriate use of authority or discipline methods which can escalate to physical abuse…children who are exposed to prolonged parental conflict may experience difficulties such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, low self-esteem and school problems” and that awareness of “significant high parental conflict” undermines a child’s sense of safety and stability in their relationships with their parents and in the parenting arrangement”

Presence of coercive control can have a significant impact on family law matters because it can cause harm to children who are exposed to such behaviour. Our team at Baker Love is experienced in family law matters that deal with coercive control. If you or someone you know is being abused, contact the police immediately


[1] https://www.laurarichards.co.uk/coercive-control/

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