Calling out coercive control of older people

What is ‘coercive control’ and what can our lawmakers do about it?

Key Points

  • NSW Parliament is looking at criminalising coercive control
  • One submission claims 65% of abuse of older people is perpetrated by a son, daughter or other relative of the victim
  • Intimidation and harassment are just two symptoms

Domestic violence is very much in the news. However, the discussion tends to forget that older Australians are vulnerable to and experience unacceptable levels of coercive behaviour and control.

The NSW Parliament is inquiring into whether to criminalise coercive control — patterns of non-physical abusive behaviour designed to exercise domination and control over another person in a relationship.

The NSW-based Seniors Rights Service has submitted that 65% of abuse of older people is perpetrated by a son, daughter or other relative of the victim. The submission also seeks to ensure that unlike in some overseas legislation, definitions of coercive control and who may exert it are not limited to partners or ex-partners in a relationship.

“A greater range of relationships should be included as we see older people being subjected to coercive control by their adult children, grandchildren and other relatives or live-in carers, as well as by intimate partners,” the submission says.

It gives examples of abusive or controlling behaviours by family members, such as isolating the older person by denying access to phones, money, medical care and home care; or by characterising them to friends or family as having severe cognitive decline and thus being unable to speak, receive visits or read letters.

There may be intimidation and harassment through ongoing verbal abuse, standing over an older person, staying in the older person’s home without contributing financially and refusing to leave when asked; threatening to place the older person in an aged care facility; playing on an older person’s fear of cognitive decline with comments such as “You’re losing it” or gaslighting by claiming something never happened.

Neglect and withdrawal of care are further abusive behaviours. These may include refusal to help with bathing, dressing or other personal care; withholding access to glasses, hearing aids or walking aids; withholding suitable clothing, leaving only nightclothes; or withholding food, drink or medications.


If you have concerns about potential or actual elder abuse, call the national 1800 ELDERHelp line on 1800 353 374. This service provides information on how you can access help, support and referrals in your area.

If you are experiencing a crisis and need to talk to a trained professional, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you believe a person is in immediate danger, call Police on 000. 

Source: Seniors Rights Service