Last updated 14 March 2022

Domestic and family violence (DFV) is a pattern of behaviours intended to control, establish power or cause fear by one person against another. This behaviour and control can manifest in a number of ways. It can be physical or non-physical, and the behaviour is aimed to set up a devastating power imbalance. Even when there has been no physical assault, DFV is dangerous and frightening. There is always a risk that the violence will escalate. Domestic and family violence does not end on separation of a couple—in fact there may be an increased risk at this time.

Coercive control is a term used to describe a pattern of behaviours aimed at dominating and controlling another (usually an intimate partner, but it can be other family members) and is almost exclusively perpetrated by men against women (see ANROWS policy brief Defining and Responding to Coercive Control). It is not necessarily physical violence but it is aimed at limiting the autonomy, liberty and equality of the victim or survivor, which makes it particularly dangerous and subtle. 

With coercive control, a perpetrator uses non-physical tactics (and sometimes physical tactics) to make the victim inferior and maintain their dominance and control over every aspect of the victim’s life. The attack on the other person’s autonomy can involve strategies such as: 

  • physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse
  • psychologically controlling acts
  • depriving the woman of resources and other forms of financial abuse
  • social isolation
  • using systems (e.g. the legal system) to harm the woman
  • stalking
  • deprivation of liberty
  • intimidation
  • technology-facilitated abuse
  • harassment.