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Coercive Control (NSW)

From July 2024, a new family violence offence will exist in New South Wales. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 will make coercive control a standalone offence that is committed when a person engages in a course of conduct designed to coerce or control an intimate partner. This offence is being introduced in response to longstanding pressure on legislatures to amend family violence laws to better reflect the realities of how such violence commonly plays out. This page outlines the new offence of coercive control in New South Wales.

What is coercive control?

The new offence, which is contained in section 54D of the Act, makes it an offence for an adult to:

  • engage in a course of conduct against another person that consists of abusive behaviour; and
  • the adult and the other person are or were intimate partners; and
  • the adult intends the conduct to coerce or control the other person;
  • a reasonable person would consider the course of conduct to be likely to cause either (a) a fear that violence will be used on a person or (b) a serious adverse impact on the person’s capacity to engage in ordinary day-to-day activities.

The offence is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

What is abusive behaviour?

Under section 54F, abusive behaviour means behaviour that consists of:

  • violence or threats against a person; or
  • coercion or control of the person.

Examples of behaviour that may amount to coercive control are:

  • behaviour that causes harm to a person if demands are not complied with;
  • financially abusive behaviour, such as withholding financial support necessary for meeting a person’s reasonable living expenses, preventing or restricting a person from being employed or having access to their income or financial assets;
  • behaviour that shames, degrades or humiliates;
  • behaviour that harasses a person or monitors their activities;
  • behaviour that damages or destroys property;
  • behaviour that prevents a person from maintaining their connection with family or from participating in cultural or spiritual practices;
  • behaviour that injures or kills an animal;
  • behaviour that deprives a person of their liberty.


Under section 54E, a person has a defence to a charge of coercive control if their conduct is reasonable in all the circumstances.

Discussion paper on coercive control

The move to criminalise coercive control in New South Wales follows the tabling of a discussion paper on coercive control in October 2020. The discussion paper noted that family violence is often characterized by a pattern of coercion and control used to undermine a person. It noted that subtle controlling behaviour that is difficult to detect from outside of the relationship has been described by victims as the ‘worst part’ of family violence and the most difficult part to recover from. Research has also found that the occurrence of coercive control is a predictor of intimate partner homicide, which occurs in Australia at a rate of one every nine days (where the victim is female) and one every 29 days (where the victim is male).

In the past New South Wales criminal laws have been able to prosecute coercive control behaviour only through the offence of intimidation/stalking. This offence is effective in criminalizing some, but not all, forms of coercive control.

The introduction of a standalone offence of coercive control was proposed as a way to address a destructive aspect of family violence that had previously fallen outside of the scope of the criminal law at an early stage. It would also allow for offenders to be held responsible for the full extent of their abusive behaviour rather than only for individual instances.

The discussion paper also noted the challenges of legislating against coercive control, including the difficulties of assessing at what point behaviour should be criminalized and of capturing the nuances of controlling behaviour. Offences relating to ‘a course of conduct’ are also more complex to investigate and prosecute than offences relating to a single incident. They may require witnesses to give evidence about events that occurred over long periods.

The Bill introducing the offence of coercive control passed the state parliament in January 2024. While Tasmania has two offences that can be used to address situations of coercive control, New South Wales is the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce it as a specific offence.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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