COVID-19 lockdowns, intimate partner violence and coercive control

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Australian Journal of Social Issues


2020 was a year like no other, with the COVID-19 virus upending life as we know it. When governments around the world imposed lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, advocates in the domestic and family violence (DFV) sector recognised that these measures were likely to result in increases in violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV). IPV can take many forms, including physical, emotional, psychological, financial, coercive controlling behaviours, surveillance and isolation tactics. Lockdown conditions provide fertile ground for the exercise of coercive control by encouraging people to stay at home, limiting social interactions to household members, reducing mobility and enabling perpetrators to closely monitor their partner's movements. However, media reports and awareness of IPV are generally dominated by a focus on physical violence and lethality, which are easily defined and measured. By contrast, coercive control as a concept is difficult to operationalise, measure and action in law, policy and frontline interventions. This paper discusses the challenges inherent in measuring coercive control and engages with current debates around the criminalisation of coercive control in NSW. Such reflection is timely as the conditions of COVID-19 lockdowns are likely to lead to an increase in coercive controlling behaviours.

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