Coercive control in intimate relationships – what is it and how can we save lives?

25 NOVEMBER 2022

Coercive control in intimate relationships – what is it and how can we save lives?

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 passed the NSW Parliament (assented 23 November 2022). It aims to create a new offence relating to “abusive behaviour towards current and former intimate partners”.

A lawyer and Lecturer in Law in the Charles Sturt University Centre for Law and Justice Ms Lisa Coates outlines what coercive control is and how we can recognise it sooner, for healthier, safer relationships. 

Saving lives: What is coercive control?

It is unusual for someone on a first date to threaten, make derogatory taunts or otherwise abuse the other person. If they did, there would be no second date.

Coercive control is central to domestic violence. “It is insidious domestic abuse involving systematic patterns of behaviour with the cumulative effect of denying victims their independence and autonomy.”

Coercive control is more common than you might realise

It is estimated that 11.8 million Australian adults have experienced domestic violence from a partner. It is a social, cultural and legal problem that is highly prevalent across every level of society, yet carries social stigma. Victims are silenced often out of fear for themselves and their children.

The current laws in NSW do not specifically address coercive control to the extent of the Bill.  Section 11(1)(c) of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 includes in its definitions an offence which, “is intended to coerce or control” as a domestic violence offence.

While domestic violence affects all genders and children, women are disproportionately victimised. According to Destroy the Joint; between 50 - 70 women die each year in Australia resulting from intimate partner violence. In the Bathurst NSW LGA, domestic violence related assaults in 2021 were the second most prevalent criminal offence after malicious damage to property, with 332 reported offences for that year.

The Bill

The new proposed legislation aims to increase protection from abuse in intimate relationships. In its current form, it criminalises a “course of conduct” committed intentionally or recklessly in either current or former intimate relationships.

Mr Mark Speakman, NSW Attorney General, noted in his Second Reading Speech to Parliament:

The abuse could be physical, sexual, psychological or financial… Of 112 intimate partner domestic violence homicides that occurred in New South Wales between 2008 and 2016, the Domestic Violence Death Review Team found that there was intimate partner abuse using coercive controlling behaviours towards the victim in every case bar one.

The benefits beyond saving lives, are exponential. For example, there are high costs of lost productivity to Australia resulting from domestic violence. Women are also three times more likely to descend into poverty than men following separation or divorce.

Key findings

The NSW Attorney-General called on the legislative assembly in his Second Reading speech to be brave and pass the first coercive control legislation of its kind in Australia. They did. The next steps involve an implementation taskforce to be established by the Police Minister by 12 December 2022 to provide education and training on the new laws and the offences to be implemented no later than 1 July 2024.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Ms Lisa Coates, please contact Trease Clarke at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0409 741 789 or

Image supplied: Lisa Coates copyright

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