Extended Q&A for: How to support clients exposed to technology-facilitated coercive control

Content type
Event date

15 February 2023, 1:00 pm to 1:30 pm (AEST)


Evita March, Niamh O’Connor, Kristen Poel, Jasmine B. MacDonald, Melissa Willoughby





If you require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional about the issues described in this paper, please call: 

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Sexual assault and family violence service: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

If you believe someone is in immediate danger call Police on 000.


About this webinar

Our December 2022 webinar covered what technology-facilitated coercive control looks like in practice and strategies for supporting victim-survivors. During the webinar we received a lot of interesting questions that we didn’t have time to address.

This extended Q&A is an opportunity to hear again from our webinar panel, as they answer more of your questions from the December 2022 webinar.

The introduction of this webinar will summarise some key discussion points and highlights from the December 2022 webinar. If you have not seen the December 2022 webinar, we recommend you watch it before this Q&A session to get the most out of this session.

Please note: This pre-recorded Q&A session runs for 30-minutes instead of the usual 60-minute webinar format. There will not be live facilitation, presenters, or question time.

This webinar will be of interest to practitioners who work with children and families in a range of settings including mental health and wellbeing.

Information about the December webinar

Coercive control is the overarching context that intimate partner violence occurs within. Coercive control involves ongoing, repetitive and cumulative tactics that impact the victim-survivor’s autonomy, liberty and equality.1

In technology-facilitated coercive control, various forms of technology are used to extend the perpetrator’s ability to monitor and maintain surveillance of the victim-survivor. Technology also provides avenues to harass, threaten and shame victim-survivors, manipulate their social relationships and ensure compliance with demands.

Victim-survivors commonly experience a combination of technology-facilitated and face-to-face psychological, physical, sexual and/or financial abuse. An important consideration for practitioners is that victim-survivors may not know that what they are experiencing is abuse and may not have the ability to access support because they are being monitored.

Drawing on the latest research and practitioner insights this webinar:

  • Describes what technology-facilitated coercive control looks like in practice.
  • Provides examples of the different ways that victim-survivors might experience technology-facilitated coercive control.
  • Suggests strategies for face-to-face and telehealth practice.

1 Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2021). Defining and responding to coercive control: Policy brief (ANROWS Insights, 01/2021). ANROWS.

Audio transcript (edited)

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Hi there, welcome everyone to today’s webinar. This is the second part of December’s webinar, about how to support clients exposed to technology facilitated coercive control. During the first part we had a lot of really interesting questions that came through, but not enough time to get through all of them. So, that’s what today is for, we have taken some extra time with the presenters, to record the responses to some of your questions.

Hi, I’m Dr Jasmine B MacDonald. I’m a senior research officer here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, or AIMS, within the Child and Family Evidence and Evaluation Team.

MELISSA WILLOUGHBY: Thanks, Jaz. Hi, I’m Melissa Willoughby. I’m also a senior research officer in the Child and Family Evidence team with Jas. We would like to start today by acknowledging the Wurundjeri, Woi-wurrung and Bunurong people from the Kulin Nations, who are the traditional custodians of land, on lands which we are on here today in Melbourne. We would also like to pay our respects to the Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to other Elders and indigenous Australians who may be online with us today.

So, in our team here at AIMS, we aim to create evidence-based resources to support practitioners working with children and families in Australia. Our work is informed by your responses to our needs impact survey, where we asked you what areas of practice you need more information on, and also what challenges you are currently facing in your practice. Domestic and family violence is a common theme that comes through on these surveys, and more recently, we’ve had a lot of requests for resources on coercive control.

So, in response to this, we have conducted an evidence synthesis on coercive control, and also produced a webinar that focussed on technology facilitated coercive control, as Jas has mentioned was released in December.

So, technology facilitated coercive control, is the use of digital media and technologies, to coercively control a former or current intimate partner, or children. in this type of coercive control, technology is used as a mean to extend the perpetrator’s ability to monitor and obtain surveillance, harass, threaten, and shame victim survivors, manipulate their social relations, and ensure that they comply with demands.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: So, if you haven’t already watched the December webinar, or you just want a refresher, feel free to go back and watch that one. You’ll be able to find it on the AIMS website.

But what we wanted to do now was to give you a bit of a recap of the webinar and some key points, and our three wonderful presenters. So, the first presenter that we had was Dr Evita March, a senior lecturer of cyber psychology at Federation University. One of Evita’s areas of expertise is online intimate partner violence, including cyber stalking and cyber dating abuse. Evita told us about what the research looks like in this space, and interestingly it’s pretty muddy. She talked about definitions and measurements being pretty broad and inconsistent. And for example, one of the studies she talked about had something like 22 different definitions and measures of coercive control. And that’s problematic, right, because it means we’re not sure that we’re talking about the same thing when we say coercive control.

Evita also provided a lot of really interesting context in research more broadly. But one thing that kind of stood out to me as particularly interesting was, when she was talking about victim survivors of tech facilitated coercive control, and when they go to seek support, sometimes from police or other services, sometimes feeling like maybe they are not kind of taken as serious as victim survivors who have experienced face to face violence. It’s pretty problematic, because it impacts whether or not people will reach out for support, but it also obviously is going to impact them in terms of their experience of service and support.

MELISSA WILLOUGHBY: Yeah, it was really interesting to compare what Evita was saying with the practitioners who are also presenting in the webinar, such as our second presenter Niamh O’Connor. Niamh is a counsellor with the Therapy Services Team at Relationships Australia. Her previous role was the group facilitator in the Got Your Back Program for young people aged 12 to 25 years, who have been impacted by family and domestic violence.

Niamh highlighted that when working with young people, we need to consider how this type of coercive control is not only in intimate partner relationships, but also with their parents. Or they may be coercive controlled in the family context. One thing that I found really interesting from Niamh’s presentation, was when she was talking about how normal every day, and age-appropriate behaviours, can be become risky or dangerous in the context of coercive control. She gave the example of Snapchat and the location services within Snapchat, and how this is a normal expected activity for young people to be using. But if a young person is also experiencing this type of coercive control, then Snapchat can be exploited to monitor and track them.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: I found that really interesting as well, like thinking about these tools that young people use, but from this abuse perspective is really fascinating.

Another practice issue that we focussed on was that increasing expectation on service providers, to be providing services online. And that this is a potential time, or a potential way of increasing risk for people who experience coercive control from it, within the tech context.

And yeah, so we had our third awesome presenter, which was Kristen Poel, to help us unpack that issue. And Kristen’s a regional service manager at Better Place Australia, who’s worked in the delivery of family and children counselling, as well as family dispute resolution. And that, I will come back to that, that was particularly interesting. But she has a focus herself in her work on the use of tech in the context of family violence.

So, Kristen was talking about how separations in relationships, and then practitioners working in family dispute resolution, this is actually a time of increased risk of experiencing coercive control, and the tech aspects of that. And she provided a lot of really practical tips and advice about, whether or not you are working face to face with someone, or if you are working in an online context, what are some of the things that should be in the back of your mind, to reduce the risk for that person or that family. And some of the, just thinking about things that are really practical, like how do we schedule appointments, how do we do follow-ups for appointments, how was the session actually run. I thought all that stuff was really fascinating.

MELISSA WILLOUGHBY: I agree, I think the presenters provided a lot of great tips, and also great resources for people interested in this area to go look at. So, we’ve tried to put all these together in a resource sheet that’s available on the AIMS website. This research sheet compiles a list of online resources, and also more information on how to support clients who may be experiencing this type of coercive control. So, that brings us to the end of this session, but we hope you enjoy the upcoming session where we go through your questions that came up in the webinar. We’d also like to thank our presenters, and everyone involved in the day, and thank you very much for joining us.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Okay, so one of the questions that we’ve had come through is, if someone disclosed to you that they’re experiencing tech facilitated coercive control, how can practitioners support this person?

KRISTEN POEL: I’m happy to kick off in this area if you like. I think for practitioners, it’s really important to be mindful of what this is, what this means for them, but also have access to excellent resources, referral sources. But in that point that you’re engaging with the client, being able to have a conversation with them about what the behaviour is, what the potential consequence for that behaviour is, but also some skills in risks and safety screening for them, and safety planning is really important for them. So, you may not be able to engage them in a specialist service that day or that week, so how can you then put some plans in place to ensure they are staying safe through that gap in between.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: Yeah, absolutely Kristen. I think it’s important that we, on receiving a disclosure, we’re assessing risk as best we can. So, similar kind of risk assessment questions for technology facilitated coercive control, as for any kind of domestic and family violence settings. So, questions around stalking and harassment, around isolating you from your friends and family, around trying to control you, and excessively jealous behaviour – sexual behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable, can all be kind of linked into online behaviour and offline behaviour. So, making sure we’re assessing that, making those specialist referrals where we need to. And yeah, absolutely safety planning, and as I said before, being guided by the victim in that.

So, it might not be as simple as turning off your location or changing your password on this account or blocking that person. So, being open to creative ways to create safety around that person, and being guided by them and what they want from you.

And I think obviously again with any disclosure that we receive, validation, acknowledgement that this is really tough. Thinking about other safety as well if it was children involved, and yeah just letting them know that this is a subject that you are open to speaking about with them, that you don’t have all the answers, and no-one does. Because often times when we work with domestic and family violence, there is no quick fix. So, understanding that what you will do with them is, you will sit in the messy middle while they navigate it, and you’ll support them. I think that’s the most you can do with anyone when you receive a disclosure.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: The two of you have touched on safety planning. One of the resources that we’ve linked to in our resource sheet, is the 1800 RESPECT site. And they’ve got some really great information there around yeah, what a safety plan is, and how to set one up with people that you are working with.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: Absolutely.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Sorry Niamh, go for it.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: The eSafety Commissioner’s website also has a tech specific safety plan template, as does the Tech Safety Australia website by WESNET. And so, there’s some really good resources out there if practitioners need a bit of support with creating that type of safety plan.


KRISTEN POEL: And each state will have their own based family violence services that will have resources as well that people should be able to access.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Lovely, yeah. All right, we might move on to our next question. Another one we have here is, are there other online behaviours that overlap with tech facilitated coercive control? I think this comes back to a range of the questions that we’ve had come through, where people are a little fuzzy on different definitions of tech facilitated coercive control, and there’s been things coming through around how is this different from bullying or trolling. So, I think I’m going to throw to you Evita, on this one.

EVITA MARCH: I think that people are right to be a bit fuzzy on this. Even a lot fuzzy, because I think the research is also incredibly fuzzy. And that is because as we’ve discussed so far in the webinar, technology has moved so fast. And the research has attempted to keep up with this, but there’s been some stumbles along the way. And because of that, it has I suppose, become a bit fragmented in terms of all the different behaviours and definitions that are associated with different behaviours, so it can be quite tricky to navigate. It’s tricky to navigate in the research space, let alone if you’re standing from the outside, you’re wondering what is all of this, how do I know how this differs.

Bullying is defined as a repetitive harassment and aggression online, but repetition is an important element of cyber bullying. But an element of cyber bullying could be threatening to do something, to share secrets or spread a rumour, or disseminate pictures of somebody, unless they do something that you want them to do. So, that coercion is there, getting them to behave a certain way that you would like them to behave. And they’ve deployed a credible threat, that they’re going to do this, if they don’t do what they say. That’s outside of an intimate relationship, but that could still occur.

In other forms, and we’ve also discussed how it may occur as a form of image-based sexual abuse. So, just disseminating intimate photos, or threatening to disseminate intimate photos, unless somebody does something that person wishes them to do, would also meet, or approximate technology facilitated coercive control.

In terms of family systems and intimate relationships, one theme that’s come across quite strongly in this webinar, is that it is very unlikely that technology facilitated coercive control would occur in a vacuum, and not occur in offline context as well. And so, I would say either it might be a reciprocal relationship, in that they’re occurring at the same time, or it is also possible that technology facilitated coercive control could preclude or lead up to more offline forms of violence as well. Because perhaps that more, the options or the anonymity – sorry, perhaps the affordances provided by the online environment, might make it easier to enact some of those technology facilitated coercive controls in the beginning, and then that may lead up.

So, I would say one way that would differentiate technology facilitated coercive control in intimate relationships, from all of the other broad very murky waters for all forms of online cyber abuse, would be that it’s probably the most likely to co-occur with those offline forms of violence in intimate relationships, and the family system.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. All right, another question we have here. How do we engage with clients who don’t realise or agree with maybe your perception, that they’re experiencing tech facilitated coercive control? Perhaps the client believes that these behaviours are normal. What do you think?

NIAMH O'CONNOR: That’s a tricky one to manage.

EVITA MARCH: I was going to say, I might flick that one to the practitioner.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: Yeah that is a tricky space to manage, and it is very common. Especially with young people where a lot of their relationships occur online, or there’s a very large online aspect to their relationships. And especially as yeah, norms around what is appropriate for intimate relationships evolve, as those intimate relationships take place online more and more.

I think again, this is kind of drawing on the existing skills that practitioners already have, around supporting their clients to develop insight around their behaviour and their circumstances. And doing that in a really non-judgemental and curious way, because I guess, it’s important again that we respect the client as the expert in their own lives. So, it’s not to say that we’re coming in, and that’s a kind of paternalistic stance of, “Well this is what’s happening to you, and I know it and you don’t.” Again, they know what is going on in their own lives, although maybe they don’t have the language or the insight to label it the same way we would. It’s taking that partnership with them, and sitting alongside them, and of helping them to see by curiosity and by psychoeducation.

And also, being mindful that we as practitioners might have a different kind of lens around their relationships, and perhaps we’re wrong. But also perhaps, that insight may take a while to develop and come. So, it might need a bit of patience from us, a bit of consistency. Sometimes in my experience, it’s been holding up that mirror for sometimes months on end, where you’re persistently wondering, explaining, drawing it out with them. And then sometimes you will have that lightbulb moment that, aha moment that goes, “Oh, maybe this is what’s going on.”

So, it’s patience and respect for your client on where they are at, I think is very important when you are working with clients who maybe aren’t seeing the reality of their situation.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: That’s interesting, because it acknowledges the work that they’re doing in their head, while they’re not in an office with you, or in a tele-practice appointment with you, that giving them the space to go and have those experiences after having that conversation with you. Unless there’s an immediate risk or threat, obviously that’s different. But when it’s some of this broader, some of the broader relationship stuff of highlighting that, having the conversation and giving them space to unpack that.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: Yeah. And even sometimes where there is an immediate risk of threat, that’s the kind of nature of working with domestic and family violence. We can do the best we can in terms of highlighting that risk or threat, expressing our concerns, informing other services, like the police. But at the end of the day, as with a lot of work with domestic and family violence, if the victim survivor isn’t in a place where they’re ready to or able to acknowledge what’s happening to them, sometimes they are sitting in a really high risk space. And sometimes that’s part of what it means to work with domestic and family violence, you hold risk. And that is difficult as a practitioner, it’s not a very nice feeling, but that is sometimes the nature of the work that is needed in this space.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: That’s a really good point.


That was beautifully articulated by Niamh in that space. I guess for, just to add on a bit in particularly some of the work where it may be shorter intervention, or you may not have an opportunity to engage for a longer period of time. And take on everything aboard that Niamh said, sometimes considering the impact of the behaviour, rather than just explaining the behaviour. So, talking to them about what that behaviour has meant for them, how it’s impacted their life, what may have been restricted, what they may or may not be able to do because the other person’s behaviour, is something to consider.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Thank you. Okay, so another question we have here is, because this is an emerging space, and we’ve talked a lot about fuzzy definitions, and the complexity for the people that we are working with, and how that translates to complexity in practice. One of the questions we’ve had come through is, what are the broader research and practice ideas, or standards, or practice – what is that kind of scaffolding of ideas and practice that you use in working in this space to fill those gaps?

EVITA MARCH: I’ll start with the research perspective. I think as researchers now, a bit of attention has been turned to not so much what experience is like, but why people are enacting this behaviour. And so, a bit more focus has turned to perpetrators, and what might be the motivations for this, and what might also be the intentions.

I think it’s a bit simplistic to just say the intention is for power and control, or they are motivated by power and control. There’s probably a lot more going on for the perpetrator of this. And so, in the webinar I mentioned building that psychological profile – and I think it’s also important to note that there’s not just going to be one psychological profile. It won’t be, “Oh okay, these are the indicators and that’s it.” It’s going to really differ across different context, different age group, different diverse groups, but also, in people’s own background. So, it is such a dynamic area.

But I think the more that we learn about why this behaviour occurs, the better equipped we will be to actually implement some real management and prevention of this online. And one way to understand why it occurs, is to actually shift the focus more towards who is doing it, rather than who is experiencing it.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: I guess yeah, the lenses that I would use in this work, like we’ve talked about tech facilitated coercive control does not occur in a vacuum – it is a pattern of behaviour alongside many other tactics of control and domestic and family violence. So, understanding domestic and family violence and the nature of that is very important. I agree with Evita, it’s not just boiling it down to that simple power and control kind of motivation, but that as a bit of a bedrock for me, understanding what, how power operates in relationships, and what is healthy use of power, and unhealthy use of power in relationships.

That bedrock of understanding healthy relationships as well is really important for me and my clients. So, in our healthy relationships, what is power sharing versus power over, what does it mean to be respectful of others, what does it mean to have a close intimate relationship where we care about each other, and want to have closeness with each other, but doing that in a way that’s not going to leave the other person feeling intimidated or controlled. And that’s a really important kind of framework for me, and it stems into tech facilitated coercive control really nicely.

Obviously feminist perspectives and understandings around domestic and family violence, and understanding the gendered nature of violence. Again, technology is a tool that perpetrators use, but it fits alongside this whole other pattern, and there is this huge kind of pattern around the gendered nature of this type of violence, the impacts of yeah, the patriarchal system on people’s understandings of power and how they relate to each other, is really important.

And then obviously having a lens again of intersectionality, and understanding that that gendered lens has to be a lot more nuanced when we are dealing with clients who are marginalised in lots of different areas of their lives. It could be through their experience of disability, gender diversity, economic marginalisation. So, understanding that kind of sense of the intersectionality of marginalisation is really important for me as well.

And then as you can probably tell by listening to me speak, I’m very person-centred in the way that I work, so I think that’s a really important framework and lens to bring to the work as well. Understanding and respecting that your clients are the experts in their own lives, particularly when they are managing risk. And we don’t know all of the tiny and intricate kind of ways that this has been so pervasive in their lives. We can never understand that and fully grasp that. So, putting them in the position of the expert, actually holds their safety in a much more nuanced way.

EVITA MARCH: It’s wonderful to hear Niamh, and it’s empowering too. If you give them the tools, as in if you really tell them what to do, “Do this, this, this, this,” then it’s not empowering, you’re not giving them the tools to find out the solutions on their own. They might enact these things, and then afterwards – it’s actually creating a form of dependence on other people, telling them how to keep them safe.

NIAMH O'CONNOR: Yep, and you want them to be able to operate their lives in a safe and healthy way, way beyond our involvement as service providers.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Do you have anything else you wanted to add to that, Kristen?

KRISTEN POEL: Look, I think that’s been wonderfully covered. I guess from my perspective, I would also consider a person’s parenting relationship in this, when we’re working with separated parents and that co-parenting perspective. And also, the impact of children in any form of family violence or abuse. And as it’s been said, tech facilitated coercive control doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and so there are often other aspects of that, that children may be experiencing as well. And so, like thorough understanding of what that might mean is really important.

JASMINE B MACDONALD: Thank you all again for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure hearing about your insights and your experiences.

Related resources

Further reading and resources about technology-facilitated coercive control

In 2020-2022, the Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) conducted a national project that examined the prevalence, victim-survivor and perpetrator experiences, and practitioner perceptions of technology-facilitated abuse. Technology-facilitated abuse was defined as “the use of mobile and digital technologies in interpersonal harms such as online sexual harassment, stalking and image-based abuse” in Australia. A webinar and three reports were developed:

The eSafety Commissioner provides professional development through online training:

They also provide broad range of technology-facilitated abuse resources that address the unique challenges experienced by:

Further reading and resources about coercive control


Dr Evita March (Senior Lecturer, Cyberpsychology, Federation University)

Dr Evita March, Senior Lecturer, Cyberpsychology, Federation University

Dr March’s research interests include interpersonal relationships, cyberpsychology and personality. In particular, Dr March is interested in how people behave online, and she has explored a range of online behaviours including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, online dating, trolling and self-presentation.

Dr March’s work on the psychological profile of internet ‘trolls’ was an Australian first study, and she has received both national and international recognition for her research on cyber abuse. Dr March is currently involved in projects exploring individual differences and the propensity for online intimate partner violence, such as intimate partner cyberstalking and cyber dating abuse.

Niamh O’Connor (Policy officer, Relationships Australia Canberra & Region)

Niamh O’Connor, Policy Officer, Relationships Australia ACT 
Niamh O’Connor is currently a Policy Officer in the Research Evaluation and Policy team at Relationships Australia Canberra & Region (RACR). Her previous role was Group Facilitator for the Got Your Back program at RACR. Niamh has worked with children, young people and their families in a variety of roles in out-of-home care and community services. She has a passion for trauma-informed and restorative practice and has worked to increase the safety of children and young people and their families through the use of restorative practice and family group conferencing. Her work has always kept people and their relationships at its core.

Kristen Poel (Regional services manager, Better Place Australia)

Kristen Poel, Regional Services Manager, Better Place Australia 
Kristen commenced her career as a generalist social worker before working in vocational rehabilitation in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Later she gained her registration as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner and was Program Manager of a Family Relationship Centre (FRC) in regional South Australia. In 2013 Kristen Joined Better Place Australia as Team Leader of the Family Relationship Centre. Kristen managed the delivery of family and children counselling services as well as family dispute resolution. Kristen’s current role for Better Place Australia is Regional Services Manager of mediation services for the South East of Victoria and she has particular interest in the impact of technology in the context of Family Violence.


Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald | Research Fellow, Child and Family Evidence

Senior Research Officer, Child and Family Evidence, AIFS (Facilitator)
Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald works in the areas of evidence synthesis and knowledge translation. Jasmine is currently leading a project to translate empirical research findings about coercive control into resources to support child and family welfare sector practitioners. Jasmine has practice experience in mental health and research expertise in trauma exposure and reactions. Jasmine is also an Adjunct Lecturer with the School of Psychology, Charles Sturt University. Jasmine has previously served as Methodological Consultant for the APS journal Australian Community Psychologist and held academic roles at Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga, NSW), Australian College of Applied Psychology (Sydney, NSW) and RMIT University (Melbourne, Vic.).

Melissa Willoughby | Senior Research Officer, Child and Family Evidence

Senior Research Officer, Child and Family Evidence, AIFS (Facilitator)
Melissa Willoughby engages in knowledge translation activities across a range of research projects related to child and family wellbeing. Melissa’s research focuses on health inequity, violence, criminal justice and gender. She has expertise in both quantitative and qualitative methods, including analysing linked administrative data. Melissa is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne examining violence-related deaths and morbidity among adults and young people involved in the criminal justice system. She also holds a Research Assistant position at the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and is an Honorary Fellow in the School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.