What is coercive control?

    Coercive control is when someone intentionally tries to control you or make you behave in a certain way by doing or saying things that make you feel afraid, ashamed, anxious, unsure or upset. 

    It is a pattern of behaviour that can involve many different forms of abuse. It isn't necessarily violent. 

    This can include (but is not limited to): 

    • making it hard for you to see your friends and family
    • always needing to know where you are and what you are doing
    • telling you what you can and can't wear, or where you can and can't go
    • not letting you have control over your own money, or where you work
    • checking your phone, your computer and social media 
    • not letting you practice your faith or spirituality in ways that you want to
    • any actions or behaviours that make you feel like you're being watched, or like you can't act like yourself because you'll be punished
    • any actions or behaviours that make you feel forced into doing something you don't want to do, including sexual things. 

    Read our Criminalising Coercive Control community guide for more.

    Why do we need to criminalise coercive control?

    Coercive control may be subtle or hard to detect, but it is still a form of abuse. 

    It can cause significant negative consequences for victims, including: 

    • poor mental and physical health
    • lowered financial stability
    • decreased self-confidence
    • reduced ability to seek assistance and support. 

    Coercive controlling behaviours can also have a devastating effect on children. 

    It has also been shown that coercive control in a relationship is a risk factor for intimate partner homicide. 

    What will the draft Bill criminalise?

    The Criminal Law Consolidation (Coercive Control) Amendment Bill 2023 criminalises a pattern of behaviour that a reasonable person would see as having a serious controlling impact on a partner that is intended to control that person or cause them serious apprehension or fear. 

    In the Bill, this pattern of behaviour is called a 'course of conduct'. 

    Prosecutors must prove the defendant intended to have a controlling impact on the other person, or cause them serious apprehension or fear.

    While coercive control can happen in many different kinds of relationships, the Bill focuses only on coercive control against spouses, domestic partners or intimate partners (‘intimate partner relationships’).

    We are taking this approach to focus on the area of highest risk.

    What does 'controlling impact' mean?

    A course of conduct has a controlling impact when the partner is restricted in one or more of the following ways: 

    • Freedom of movement (eg your partner locks you in the house or threatens to hurt you or your children if you leave)
    • Freedom of action (eg you don't have control over how you spend your time or the way you perform household tasks)
    • Freedom to engage in social, political, religious, cultural or economic activities (eg your partner's behaviour makes it very hard for you to see your friends or family, or to work in a job you choose)
    • Bodily autonomy (eg you don't get to choose whether or not you use birth control)
    • Access to necessities, support services or property (eg your partner decides when you can and can't go to the doctor). 

    A controlling impact can also be direct or indirect. 

    Direct restriction: the perpetrator places a lock on the fridge to stop the victim accessing food. 

    Indirect restriction: there is no physical barrier to the person accessing food, but if they eat food the perpetrator deems unacceptable, they will be subject to verbal abuse and intimidation. The other person is coerced to restrict their food intake to avoid the abuse and intimidation. 

    Read our Criminalising Coercive Control community guide for more. 

    What will the Bill not criminalise?

    The Bill does not criminalise relationships where both people freely adopt traditional gender roles. 

    This includes for cultural or religious reasons. For example, one partner taking primary responsibility for the family finances with the genuine free consent of the other partner is not an offence. 

    It is normal and healthy to negotiate difficult issues in a marriage or intimate partnership (such as where to live, how to raise children, family finances). The Bill does not criminalise attempts to influence a partner's choices through persuasion in reasonable ways.

    There are also some cases where it may be reasonable to deliberately restrict a partner. 

    See the Criminalising Coercive Control community guide for more. 

    How have we got here?

    A lot of work has taken place to get the Bill to its current form, including stakeholder engagement and consultation with a range of community groups. 

    The former Government consulted on a Bill to criminalise coercive control in 2021, the Criminal Law Consolidation (Abusive Behaviour) Amendment Bill 2021. 

    When the current Government was elected, they committed to criminalising coercive control, and have pursued legislation that focusemore on the intent to control the other person rather than specific acts of abuse. 

    In developing the current Bill, the Government has built on important discussions that had already started with the sector and the broader community. 

    In late 2022 and early 2023 stakeholder roundtables were held to seek community input with the following groups: 

    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities  

    • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community leaders 

    • Embolden Voices for Change Lived Experience Group 

    • Young people and organisations that work with young people 

    • LGBTIQA+ community members and organisations  

    • Disability sector community members and organisations  

    Roundtable participants provided feedback on what the offence should look like once drafted, as well as initiatives to implement the legislation, such as community education and training for justice system authorities. 

    See the Attorney-General's Department website for more detail about previous consultation.