Coercive Control – What We Need To Look Out Fo

Recently I finished watching the 3-part series by investigative journalist, Jess Hill, called ‘See what you made me do’. The documentary title is taken from the comment made by many perpetrators of domestic abuse who blame their victim – their current or ex-partner – for the violence they have inflicted upon them. The implication is “if you hadn’t made me angry by doing or saying that, then I wouldn’t have treated you so violently.”

Many of us are horrified when we read about the latest woman murdered by someone she had been with. Fifteen minutes ago, my partner told me of another woman killed, along with her 6-year-old child. Both were stabbed to death. Her 10-year-old child managed to run away, and I can only imagine the horrific Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) she will have. Like so many victims, she had tried to enlist the help of the police. Her killer was known to them, he was in their computer system.

Hill’s documentary outlines the complexity of domestic violence. What became clear is that we usually hear about the abuse via the media when a shocking incident, like a woman’s murder (and possibly her children as well), has taken place. However, this type of incident is just the tip of the iceberg. Prior to this, women have experienced another form of abuse called coercive control.

What is Coercive Control?

This is a form of abuse that involves a pattern of behaviours fostering a power imbalance to control one’s partner. These behaviours involve frightening, intimidating, and manipulating one’s victim leaving them terrified, dependent on their abuser, and also isolated from others. 

What are The Signs of Coercive Control?

  • Degrading partner’s sense of self or self-esteem

This can be via insults, name calling, belittling, or bullying them. They chip away at their victim continuously reducing their self-worth until they feel worthless. This makes it harder for the victim to leave as they believe they have no value and no-one else would want them.

  • Jealous or possessive behaviour

Without them knowing or admitting it, an abuser is extremely fragile and fearful of their partner choosing to leave them or choosing to be with someone else. They are often possessive and jealous, wanting their victim to themselves. Abusers often control and manipulate their victim by frequently accusing them of cheating. Victims often alter their choices to not upset their abuser or not feel guilty about doing the wrong thing by their abuser.

  • Isolating the victim from others

A coercively controlling partner will try to isolate their victim from those closest to them. They may try to separate their victim by having them move away from their social and support network. They may tell lies about the victim’s network or fabricate lies to the network, so they cut the victim off. They don’t want their victim to talk to others about what’s happening in the relationship and want to always have control. They can even stop their victims from engaging in school or work.

  • Monitoring activity

Coercive control often involves constant monitoring of their victim. They may want their victim to feel their watchful presence or be secretive about it. This could be through social media, emails, phone messages or sophisticated spying software or generic mobile phone tracking devices. They may stalk their victim by following them or using voice recorders or cameras in the home or car that the victim may or may not know about. They use physical tracking devices hidden in or under the car.

  • Controlling the victim’s body

Abusers often attempt to control how their victim looks. This may be their clothes, hair, makeup, what they consume in food and liquid, and their level of exercise. Some deny medical attention or medications to their victim. Abusers may make sexual demands. This could be in the frequency of sex, the sexual acts performed, what they do to the victim’s body without seeking permission, such as photos, videos or unprotected sex.

  • Restricting victim’s autonomy

We know the abuser want to have control of their victim. This means they may prevent them going to school, university, or work. They may try to remove access to their car or transport, so their victim has their movements restricted and decreases their independence. They may hide their devices, change passwords on their victim’s devices, banking or online accounts.

  • Financial control over victim

This removes the victim’s ability to be independent and make their own decisions. It also prevents their ability to leave the relationship. This could be through monitoring victim’s expenditure, enforcing a strict allowance withholding sufficient funds to cover the essentials, not allowing the victim a credit card and hiding money from them.

  • Threats and intimidations

These can be threats or intimidation towards the victim’s family, friends, children, pets, or property, and they are used (misused) to keep the victim in line.

Getting out safely

Victims need to take care when leaving a coercive controlling abuser. It can be done, yet without care and planning it can be dangerous, or even fatal, to the victim.

If you are unsure whether you are a victim of coercive control or you need help to leave safely, contact a helpline below:

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If you, your children, or extended family are in immediate danger, contact 000.

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