The media is increasingly reporting acts of extreme family and domestic violence throughout Australia. In almost all cases of intimate partner homicide, coercive control has been part of the dynamic of the relationship.
Coercive control is an insidious pattern of behaviours which may be difficult to recognise outside the controlling relationship. Although coercive control is not exclusively gender-based abuse, in most cases the perpetrator is a male exercising coercive control over a female victim. Many scholars believe that gender inequality is fundamental to the dynamic that allows this type of devastating abuse to occur.
Cumulatively, the behaviours may result in the perpetrator isolating the victim from friends and family, controlling their finances, subjugating the victim, forcing them to perform certain tasks, and degrading the victim’s self-confidence in ways that prevent them from seeking help. This type of abuse is often not physical and may be exercised using digital technologies such as mobile phone tracking or hidden cameras. Control to intimidate is also common in the treatment of prisoners of war.
If victims do seek help and/or attempt to leave the relationship, they are often at great risk of suffering violent consequences, as the perpetrator may retaliate to punish the victim. Even if this is not the case, victims may be left with no financial resources and effectively homeless.
Rural and remote victims of coercive control are particularly vulnerable. Geographic separation may already limit the amount of social support and contact with others outside the relationship. Furthermore, seeking help may be complicated in rural and remote communities where the perpetrator is well known and respected. This issue is exacerbated when victims are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and may not be well known and/or the perpetrator purposefully destroys the victim’s reputation in the community.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) would like more action to reduce the incidence of this damaging type of abuse and ensure women in rural and remote areas maintain the right to be in safe, respectful relationships. Through our advocacy work we have been highlighting the need for the following measures:
- Increase awareness of coercive control in our communities and provide more training for health practitioners and community members to be able to identify and support victims.
- Provide more evidence-based interventions to prevent disrespectful behaviour towards women.
- Improve internet connectivity and digital literacy to enable those who seek help to get it.
- Provide sufficient translators and language resources to build community awareness in culturally and linguistically diverse groups.
- Enable victims of coercive control to see a psychologist without a mental health diagnosis via a dedicated MBS domestic violence item number.
The National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) can provide confidential information, counselling and support for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. The services include a 24-hour phone line, online chat and a directory of services.
MensLine Australia offers support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence, substance abuse and healthy relationships. Call 1300 789 978 or visit www.mensline.org.au