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Understanding how coercive control can affect people with disability

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These factsheets provide further information about coercive control and its impacts.

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What is coercive control?

Coercive control is when someone uses patterns of abusive behaviour against another person. Over time this creates fear and takes away the person’s freedom and independence. This dynamic almost always underpins family and domestic violence.

Coercive control can be used against anyone, but is mostly used by men against women.

Coercive control can happen in intimate partner relationships, even after they’ve ended. It can also happen in family relationships. For example, a person can use coercive control against a family member they are caring for.1

Nobody has the right to control you, hurt you or make you live in fear.

Recognising the signs

Coercive control can be hard to spot because the abuse can be subtle and targeted. People experiencing coercive control may not realise they are being abused.

People who use coercive control might convince others that what they are doing is a normal part of caregiving.

Coercive control can involve a range of different behaviours, including physical and non-physical abuse.

Some of the signs of coercive control against people with disability include someone:

  • Taking away, not giving or blocking access to the support and care you need, such as your medication, mobility and disability equipment, food or drink
  • Making threats, including threatening to put you in a care facility, have your children taken away or harm your pets
  • Not letting you make decisions, or not including you in decision making, for example about your care or finances
  • Forcing you to have sex or do sexual things you don’t want to
  • Making decisions about your reproductive health, like controlling if you get pregnant or forcing you to end a pregnancy
  • Regularly criticising you, or manipulating or blaming you so you doubt yourself and your experiences, or are made to feel like you are a burden
  • Limiting your access to medical, disability and other social services.

You might feel:

  • Scared to ask for what you need
  • Trapped in a relationship because you depend on the person for your care
  • Like you don’t have control over your life.

1 Coercive control can be perpetrated by someone who is not an intimate partner or family member; however, such relationships are out of scope of the National Principles to Address Coercive Control in Family and Domestic Violence.

Case study

Quinn and Charlie live together and have two children. Quinn has a disability that affects her mobility and she requires a carer to help her with day-to-day tasks. When Quinn’s carer quit, Charlie said he should take over caring duties full-time to save more money.

Over time, Charlie has started saying he is frustrated and bored with caring for Quinn. He has stopped doing many of his carer duties and will sometimes withhold Quinn’s medication when he is feeling irritated.

Charlie sees himself as the ‘boss’ of their family and will often speak for Quinn when they are in public. He makes comments to their friends and family about how Quinn is ‘helpless’ without him, which makes Quinn feel embarrassed and invisible.

When Quinn asks Charlie about the money that is being saved by the new care arrangement, Charlie tells her that it’s none of her business, and hides Quinn’s mobility aids to ‘punish her’.

What can I do?

Everyone deserves to live free from family and domestic violence. If you think you or someone you know might be experiencing coercive control, contacting a confidential support service for advice is a good first step.

In an emergency, call 000.

For support contact:

1800 737 732 (available 24/7)

National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline
1800 880 052

Men’s Referral Service
1800 943 539

For more information about coercive control and the National Principles to Address Coercive Control in Family and Domestic Violence on the Attorney-General's Department website.