What are the signs of coercive control?

Coercive control can be hard to spot because it often starts slowly or builds up over time.

Coercive and controlling behaviours can be subtle, and the abuser often tries to hide what they are doing from others.

The signs of abuse

These are just some examples of coercive and controlling behaviours. Coercive control can involve any ongoing and repeated pattern of behaviour which hurts, scares, or isolates another person to control them.

Emotional abuse

Deliberately harming a person’s mental health or emotional wellbeing. 

This may include:

  • constantly putting a person down, shaming and humiliating them, making them doubt themselves or their abilities
  • using tactics that pressure or punish the other person, for example by withholding affection, giving the ‘silent treatment’ or ignoring them
  • denying, changing or manipulating the truth of a situation to make the other person doubt their memories, perceptions and experiences. This is known as gaslightling
  • using grand gestures, excessive or over-the-top gifts, compliments, and affection to manipulate or trap the other person. This is called love bombing.
Shaming, degrading or humiliating

Doing things, or making someone do things, to take away their dignity and self-respect, or make them feel ashamed.

This may include:

  • making hurtful or humiliating posts on social media about the other person or from their account
  • belittling someone or making jokes at their expense to harm their self-esteem and dignity
  • shaming someone in their community, family or social group by sharing private information about them
  • doing things to take away someone’s dignity like forcing them to sleep outside or making them beg for things they need, like food, money or medication.
Violence and intimidation

Using violence or the threat of violence to hurt, control or intimidate someone, so they feel afraid.

This may include:

  • physically hurting a person in any way, including pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, punching or choking them
  • threatening to physically hurt a person
  • throwing or breaking things, punching walls, or driving recklessly to make someone feel unsafe or scared, even if they are not physically hurt.
Making threats

Threatening someone to make them behave a certain way or comply with demands.

This may include:

  • threatening self-harm as a way of controlling or manipulating the other person
  • threatening to make false reports to child protection services or the police
  • using someone’s visa or immigration status to threaten them or make them afraid
  • threatening to damage someone’s reputation in their community, family, social group, or at work
  • threatening to disclose information about a person’s sexuality, gender, body or HIV status.
Social isolation

Isolating a person from friends, family, and community, and limiting their ability to build connections.

This may include:

  • making jealous accusations whenever the person communicates or spends time with friends or family
  • insisting on going with the other person when they spend time with friends or family and creating tension or discomfort to damage the relationship
  • controlling someone’s communications by taking away or monitoring the use of their phone or the internet
  • preventing someone from participating in their community.
Limiting freedom or controlling choices

Controlling someone’s day-to-day choices or doing things to take away their freedom and independence.

This may include:

  • making rules a person must follow and threatening punishment if they break the rules. This may include rules about how much they exercise, what they can eat, or what they can wear
  • denying a person access to basic needs including food, clothing, sleep, toilet or medical care

  • taking away or not allowing a person to have disability supports, aides and equipment they need

  • preventing a person from leaving the house or going out alone
  • preventing a person from visiting their home country
  • stopping someone from expressing their gender or sexuality.
Financial abuse

Controlling or limiting someone’s access to money or their ability to make money, or building up debts in their name. 

This may include:

  • providing a small allowance and strictly monitoring what a person spends
  • not allowing an adult to have a bank account as a way to restrict their access to money and financial independence
  • stopping someone from working outside the home and earning their own money, so they are financially dependent
  • maxing out credit cards in another person's name or taking out loans in their name.
Harassing, monitoring and stalking

Monitoring or tracking a person’s activities, communications or movements, by physically following them or using technology, or harassing them in any other way.

This may include:

  • texting or calling excessively and demanding the other person reply immediately
  • accessing a person's emails, text messages and social media to monitor their activities, relationships, behaviour and location
  • monitoring a person's location, for example through tracking apps on their phone or attached to their vehicle,or hiding cameras or listening devices in their car or home.
Cultural and spiritual abuse

Stopping someone from making or keeping connections with their culture, spirituality or community.

This may include:

  • belittling someone’s spiritual or cultural beliefs or practices
  • stopping someone from participating in cultural or spiritual events and ceremonies
  • not allowing someone to speak their cultural language
  • stopping someone from making connections or remaining connected to their spiritual or cultural community.
Sexual abuse

Pressuring, tricking, threatening, or forcing someone into any type of sexual activity.

This may include:

  • making rules or demands about when someone must have sex with them or the types of sexual activities they must perform
  • forcing someone to participate in any type of sexual activity
  • taking photos or videos of someone naked or engaging in sexual activity, with or without their consent, and using them to threaten or humiliate them. 
Reproductive abuse

Controlling someone’s reproductive choices or reproductive healthcare.

This may include:

  • restricting access to or forcing someone to use birth control, such as condoms, birth control pills or contraceptive implants
  • forcing someone to get pregnant, keep a pregnancy or get an abortion against their will to hurt, trap or control them
  • limiting or controlling access to pre-natal or post-natal care by restricting access to money, transport or support services.
Child abuse

In the context of coercive control, child abuse includes:

  • using a parent or caregiver’s emotional bond with a child to control or intimidate them
  • abusing the parent or caregiver in front of the child so they see, hear and experience the abuse
  • other forms of abusive behaviour aimed at the child directly, including threats, humiliation, monitoring, and physical abuse of the child.

This may include:

  • not allowing a parent or caregiver to provide care to a child, including medical treatment, disability support, food, clothing or emotional support
  • belittling, criticising, shaming, humiliating, threatening or hurting a parent or caregiver in front of their child or to the child
  • asking a child to monitor or spy on their parent or caregiver, or making them participate in the abuse of the parent.
Systems abuse

Using systems, services and processes to threaten, manipulate or control another person.

This may include:

  • making false reports to the police, child protective services, health services or immigration services to harass, intimidate, discredit or control the other person
  • making another person scared or distrustful of support services so they are less likely to reach out for support
  • exploiting a person’s disability or medical condition to make decisions about their care, without their consent, to disempower, control, discredit or humiliate them.  
Animal abuse

In the context of coercive control, animal abuse involves using the emotional bond a person has with an animal to intimidate or control the person. 

This may include:

  • intentionally letting a person’s pet out of the house or yard
  • selling or giving away a person’s pet without their permission
  • hurting or threatening to hurt someone’s pet
  • killing or threatening to kill someone’s pet. 

While there are some patterns and behaviours to look out for, each person’s experience is unique. If you think you or someone you know is experiencing coercive control, find out how to get help.

“He would come in to work all the time, if I was 10 minutes late from work he would ask why. I had to eventually leave my employment, was sick all the time and mentally exhausted. I wasn’t allowed to have my own opinion, everything I said was wrong or stupid.”1Victim-survivor.
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