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  • LIVEfree Project Team

What is coercive control and why has QLD criminalised it?

You may have read in the news recently that the Queensland government has made coercive control a criminal offense by 2023.

Why is this motion being passed?

We know that domestic and family violence is not a new issue, statistics indicate that every 9 days a woman is killed by a current or former partner. Furthermore, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 15.

This motion has been many years in the making. As family members of QLD victims of violence, such as Hannah Clarke, who was murdered by her husband alongside her three children in 2020, have been advocating for the reform for many years.

This is only one of the many actions that the QLD government is taking to implement the recommendations made by the Women’s Safety Task force. This taskforce was established in March 2021 in response to the QLD government’s election commitment to legislate against coercive control.

So what is coercive control exactly?

Coercive control is the key tactic used by perpetrators of family violence.

Family violence, also referred to as ‘domestic abuse’, is defined as a pattern of behavior in a relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner, usually through using fear tactics. This abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that are used to influence the other person. This can include any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone.

Coercive control, is described by the Women’s Safety Task force as “a pattern of ongoing and escalating behaviours that destroy a woman’s self-agency, her sense of safety and her ability to seek help.”

A common misconception of family violence is that it only includes physical abuse. However, it is important to understand that there are many forms of family violence, such as coercive control, that don’t involve physical abuse at all, but still have a damaging impact on the victim’s self-esteem, sense of safety and ability to seek help.

Examples of coercive control include:

  • Isolating the victim from their friends and family.

  • Monitoring their activities - reading their text messages, listening to their phone calls, tracking their phone GPS or placing recording devices in their home without their knowledge.

  • Controlling their activities - dictating what the person can and can’t wear, eat, drink, places they can go or people they can see.

  • Degradation - calling them names, insulting them, constantly criticizing them, putting them down in front of others. Over time these behaviors degrade the victim’s sense of self worth.

  • Financial control - limiting their access to money, stopping someone from working, not contributing to household expenses, incurring debts in someone else’s name.

Coercive control is a defining feature of all family violence

These tactics of coercive control are used by perpetrators to instil fear in victims, wear down their self worth, sense of identity, independence and entrap them in the violent relationship by closing off their options for accessing safety and support. Coercive control is complex and can often include subtle behaviors or actions, such as a deliberately chosen word, that instils fear in the victim but is hard for others to identify.

Coercive control and the fear it instils in victims is one of the many reasons it can be so difficult for victim survivors to leave a violent relationship. There are many misconceptions surrounding family violence, including this idea that those experiencing it can leave at any time. This is summed up in common phrases such as ‘it can’t be that bad or she would have just

This kind of unhelpful language oversimplifies the situation the victim is experiencing and fails to recognise the amount of power and control and level of fear the perpetrator has instilled in them, making it incredibly difficult to leave. Perpetrators often threaten victims that they will kill them if they tell anybody of the abuse or play into their fears by saying things like ‘Don’t bother going to the police, they won’t believe you anyway’.

There are many reasons people do not leave the relationship, including:

  • Fear that no one will believe them

  • Lack of finances

  • Nowhere to go

  • Shame

  • Fear of losing their children

  • Social and physical isolation from friends and family

  • Fear of retaliation from the perpetrator

Evidence based research shows that people experiencing violence are in fact at their highest risk of extreme violence when they are trying to leave or have recently left the perpetrator. As when the perpetrator senses they are losing control over their victim, they may increase the frequency of or intensify their violence.

Domestic and family violence is a complex and prevalent issue within Australian society and it requires a community approach to change. Family violence is not a ‘private issue’, it's everyone's issue. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home.

You can be a part of the change by knowing the signs of violence and knowing what to do if you see them. Most importantly, if someone is brave enough to share with you that they are experiencing violence, believe them.

Further information:

Respond to disclosures of violence (video):



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