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  • The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW) was passed by NSW Parliament in late November 2022 criminalising coercive control.
  • Coercive control consists of a pattern of behaviour where one person uses his or her power to dominate another, depriving the victim of his or her own autonomy.
  • Coercive control has been considered in a number of recent family law cases; context is critical when determining what acts and behaviours may constitute coercive control.
  • Domestic violence literacy is vital to support victims who have experienced coercive control.

In November 2022, the NSW Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW) (‘Act’). The Act amends the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and has the effect of criminalising the act of ‘coercive control’ in the context of current and former intimate partner relationships. These provisions are expected to commence mid-2024 (see section 2 of the Act).

This legislative change has brought the concept of coercive control into the fore of mainstream media; however, the family law jurisdiction has been dealing with the concept for some time. This article will look at how coercive control has been considered and approached in recent family law case law.

What is coercive control?

While there is no overarching definition of ‘coercive control’ in the family law system, the concept has been extensively discussed in the social sciences. American Professor Evan Stark suggests coercive control is, on the part of the perpetrator, ‘a pattern of domination that includes tactics to isolate, degrade, exploit and control’. Stark suggests that coercive control is a ‘liberty crime’, rather than a ‘crime of assault’ – its essence being a ‘deprivation of liberty’ (see Evan Stark, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (Oxford University Press, 2007)).

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