WHAT IS CONTROLLING OR COERCIVE BEHAVIOUR?
One person using power or influence over another, or forcing them to act against their will, is known as controlling or coercive behaviour. Controlling behaviour encompasses a variety of activities intended to make a victim-survivor subservient and/or reliant by:
depriving them of the tools necessary for independence, resistance, and escape;
cutting off their access to sources of assistance;
taking use of their resources and capacities for personal gain.
Coercive behaviour is a pattern of assault, threats, humiliation, intimidation, or other abuse that is designed to hurt, punish, or intimidate the victim-survivor. People typically need money and economic resources, such as access to transportation and housing, to confront controlling or coercive behaviour. It is challenging to leave an abuser without these. Economic abuse is a tactic used by those who engage in coercive or controlling behaviour to restrict their victim’s options.
WHEN IS CONTROLLING OR COERCIVE BEHAVIOUR A CRIME?
Controlling or coercive behaviour is a crime mentioned specifically in the Domestic Violence Amendment Act if the following circumstances apply:
The behaviour might take place repeatedly or continuously over time,
Such conduct harms, or inspires the reasonable belief that harm may be caused to the complainant;
It takes place in intimate or family relationships. The victim and perpetrator must be ‘personally connected’ or ‘in a domestic relationship’ at the time, meaning:
they are or were married to each other, including marriage according to any law, custom or religion;
they (whether they are of the same or of the opposite sex) live or lived together in a relationship in the nature of marriage, although they are not, or were not, married to each other, or are not able to be married to each other;
they are the parents of a child or are persons who have or had parental responsibility for that child (whether or not at the same time);
they are family members related by consanguinity, affinity or adoption;
they are or were in an engagement, dating or customary relationship, including an actual or perceived romantic, intimate or sexual relationship of any duration; or
they are persons in a close relationship that share or shared the same residence.
A ‘substantial adverse effect’ on the victim could include:
not being able to socialise, or a change in the way they socialise
a deterioration in physical or mental health
needing to make a change to routines at home, including routines associated with mealtimes or household chores
effects on school attendance record
putting in place measures at home to safeguard themselves or their children
changes to work patterns, employment status or routes to work
Coerced debt refers to non-consensual, credit-related transactions in the context of an abusive relationship. Coerced debt destroys the victim’s credit rating, making it difficult for her/him to obtain future loans, rent an apartment and even get a job.
Coerced debt includes:
Applying for credit cards, obtaining loans, or opening other financial accounts in a victim’s name
Forcing victim to obtain loans
Forcing victim to sign financial documents
Use of threats or physical force to convince victims to make credit-related transactions
Refinancing a home mortgage or car loan without a victim’s knowledge
Other forms of economic abuse include:
Intentionally withholding necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene products and/or medication
Refusing to pay court-ordered child or spousal support
Stealing and/or destroying the victim’s belongings
Requiring justification for any money spent and punishing the victim with physical, sexual or emotional abuse
Repeatedly filing costly lawsuits
REPORTING ECONOMIC ABUSE TO THE POLICE
Abuse that doesn’t leave bruises can be harder to prove. Proving that abuse took place will require evidence.
The following may help prove economic abuse:
• copies of emails, phone records or text messages
• evidence of abuse over the internet and social media platforms
• photographs of the household
• records of interaction with support services, such as debt counselling
• witness testimonies from family, friends and neighbours
• bank records to show financial control
• records from housing services, such as complaints from other tenants or records of damage to the property, such as holes in walls
• an account given to the police as evidence of isolation