Real Life

Join the dots: how to recognise the signs of coercive control

Many women in controlling relationships have no idea they’re being abused – here’s how to recognise the signs.
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While domestic violence is a prominent issue in Australia, coercive control is only illegal in one state: Tasmania. Defined as a series of non-physical behaviours including threats, humiliation, monitoring and isolation from friends and family, coercive control can strip a person of their autonomy and self-worth, making it difficult for them to recognise they are being abused and leave the relationship. Women often describe these non-physical forms of abuse as being severely damaging to their self-esteem, independence and wellbeing.

Here, we list some of the most common signs of coercive control to help you identify if you (or someone you know) is in an abusive relationship:

Isolating you from your family and friends

If your partner actively discourages you from seeing or talking to people in your support network, this is a red flag. He might monitor your calls, move you away from family and family so you can’t access them, or try and convince you your loved ones do not want to see you.

Monitoring your activity

If there are cameras set up around your house in areas like the bedroom or bathroom, or your partner is actively spying on you, this is a major cause for concern and an infringement of your privacy. He may also take away your phone to stop you contacting anyone and regularly read your messages and emails.

Woman standing in front of window

Restricting your finances

This is a tactic to make you entirely dependent on your partner for money and therefore make it impossible for you to leave him. He may cut off access to your accounts, force you to quit your job or restrict your access to transport.


While it sounds harmless enough, name-calling is actually malicious, bullying behaviour that might also be done in front of other people as a guise to make it seem innocent. If your partner displays a clear lack of respect towards you, it’s a sign of coercive control.

Telling you what to wear or how to look

If your partner gives you specific outfits to wear or makes you change into what he wants, this is cause for concern. He might also tell you what makeup to wear or how to do your hair.

Disregarding your health

Your partner might restrict the amount of food you eat every day, or withhold important medications as a form of punishment. Alternately, he may force you to exercise or give you medications you don’t need.

He threatens to harm your children or pets

This step is often regarded as a precursor to domestic violence and can have fatal consequences.

If you recognise any of these signs within your relationship, or suspect a friend might be in trouble, please call 1800 RESPECT.

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