Coercive control is an umbrella term that refers to an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behaviours that pervade an individual’s daily life with a devastating impact. These behaviours may include physical, sexual, psychological, financial and emotional abuse and intimidation, used as tactics by a perpetrator to gain power, control and dominance over a victim/survivor. A key to the understanding of coercive control is that it is typically a course of conduct made of up of a series of incremental incidents where a single act may appear trivial, but together they form a broader pattern of abusive behaviours that serve to reinforce and strengthen the control and dominance of one person over another over time.
The abuse can occur in person as well as online and may involve the use of systems to inflict abuse. While the legislative attention on coercive control has centred largely on intimate partner violence, it is important to note that these patterns of behaviours can be present across a range of non-intimate partner relationships where individuals are in close contact, including in caregiving roles.
In order to produce this paper, AWAVA’s team undertook a literature review and held meetings with our Advisory Group members to better capture positions on the issue within our membership. While there is a consensus among our members and other experts on violence against women that coercive control is a serious and foundational part of sexual and gender-based violence against women, there are diverse views on how best to prevent, address and respond to it. Differences in legal, historical and policy contexts between jurisdictions as well as intersectional lived experiences of violence among diverse groups of women are among the reasons for different stances on the criminalisation of coercive control. This paper provides an outline of the current political and legislative landscape along with existing evidence.