Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Controlling behaviours

The facts and getting support

The use of controlling behaviours, abuse and violence is a gendered issue.

Use of controlling behaviours:

  • 1 in 4 Australian women have experienced emotional abuse from a partner, compared with 1 in 6 men.
  • 1.8 million Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a previous partner of the opposite sex, compared with 1 million men.
  • 47% of women experiencing emotional abuse reported that the abuse happened all or most of the time, compared with 34% of men.
  • 69% of these women had been constantly insulted and humiliated, compared with 38% of these men.


Both genders engage in emotionally controlling and abusive behaviours, but men are more likely to use the behaviour as a means of control over their partner.

  • 59% of women experiencing emotional abuse said their previous partner tried to control where they went or who they saw, compared to 44% of men.
  • 45% of women experiencing emotional abuse said their previous partner tried to stop them contacting family, friends or their community, compared to 34% of men.


Threats as a means of control:

  • 18% of women experiencing emotional abuse reported that their previous partner threatened to harm their family or friends, compared with 6% of men.
  • 8% of women who had been emotionally abused by their previous partner reported that their pets had been harmed.


Use of violence

  • Almost 40% of women continued to experience violence from their partner while temporarily separated.
  • Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.
  • Australian women are almost four times more likely than men to be hospitalised after being assaulted by their spouse or partner.
  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to have experienced fear or anxiety due to abuse or violence from a former partner.


For more information see:


What does the law say?

The law recognises that controlling behaviour in intimate relationships can have serious impacts on the victim, and attempts to identify ongoing patterns of abuse sustained over a period of time.

Australian law makes it an offence to:

  • cut a partner off from their family, friends, culture, or religious ceremonies
  • harm pets
  • deny a partner their financial independence
  • threaten to withhold medication
  • insult them in defamatory ways such as racism
  • harass them online (texts, emails, chat) or via phone
  • stalk or follow them in public or outside their work
  • prevent a partner from being able to pay for reasonable living expenses
  • fail to accept a breakup, loiter.


The law also protects victims from threatening behaviour via digital means:

  • using a mobile phone to make a threat, menace, harass, or cause offence
  • using a postal service to make a threat, menace, harass, or cause offence.


To find out more about what the law is in your state or territory, you can visit the Youth Law Australia site.


Getting support to leave safely

Deciding to end a relationship can be a dangerous time when conflict may escalate.

Sometimes the use of violence or abuse increases at the time of separation, as one partner takes out their anger and frustration on the other or tries to use violence, threats or coercion to get their partner to stay.

Support services are very experienced in assessing the risks within a situation and can help a person experiencing abuse understand the risks involved in their situation and help them to create a safety plan.

Safety planning is when the partner who is experiencing violence develops a specific plan for leaving the relationship to try to minimise the risk of harm to themselves or others. Every plan will be different as it will depend on each individual’s circumstances. The best way to make a safety plan is with the help of a support service such as 1800RESPECT.

1800RESPECT is a confidential service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

They provide support for:

  • people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, sexual assault, domestic or family violence
  • their friends and family
  • workers and professionals supporting someone experiencing, or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence.


Making the decision to leave a situation that is unsafe is hard and scary. For someone living with violence or abuse, having the support of a friend or family member can be one of the best ways to increase safety.

Support services are located in most communities and can offer 24/7 assistance to people experiencing abuse and violence.

If someone is in immediate danger or feels unsafe, the police should be the first point of contact.