Some forms of domestic violence include physical, verbal, emotional, financial and/or sexual abuse. Coercive control is a form of oppressive bullying using fear and isolation to control. The abuser would limit or prevent access to money and transport, their partner’s communication with friends and family and stalk them by following them and use other tactics to control the victim.

About 80% of women who are victims of domestic violence in South Africa experience some form of coercive control. The abuser usually uses more than one of the following tactics to isolate and control their partner.

Some of the tactics include:

  1. Moving to another province or country to prevent and minimise contact.
  2. Convincing you that your family and friends are angry with you or gossiping about you and that they don’t want contact with you.
  3. Sharing your social media accounts with you so that they have control over what you say, and who you are in contact with.
  4. Changing all your passwords so that you can only use social media and your email account under their watchful eye.
  5. Lying about you to others to change their perception about you.
  6. Using GPS tracking on your car or cell phone to track your movements.
  7. Monitoring phone calls by forcing you to only use speakerphone when speaking on the phone to monitor what is being said by all parties, and control messages, even replying on your behalf or dictating the message to you.
  8. Stalking you to keep an eye on where you go, who you see and what you do.
  9. Selling your car or taking the keys away.
  10. Setting up CCTV cameras, often with sound or recording devices in every room, including the bathroom and toilet.
  11. Demanding that you acknowledge that he is always right.
  12. Manipulating you to believe that you are wrong.
  13. The abuser will use bully tactics such as name-calling, constant criticism and put-downs, often in public or in front of your children, breaking down your self-esteem and turning your children against you or he may threaten your children and/or pets safety to force you to comply with his demands.
  14. Demanding that you fulfill a traditional role as housewife so that you are solely responsible for cooking, cleaning, all the household chores and caring for the children whilst he fulfills the role of breadwinner.
  15. Demanding sex as and when he pleases and controls sexual activities that you are forced to perform. The consequences for refusal may be dire.
  16. Monitoring and controlling how much you sleep, eat, exercise, time spent in the bathroom or toilet and even control what medication you take.
  17. Controlling your hair style(s), hair colour, make up and clothes.
  18. Controlling finances to restrict your movement and ability to leave the relationship. The abuser will give you a very tight budget to work with, but he will keep all the money in his account that only he has access to. You may not have a bank account and if you do, he will control that as well. The abuser will think nothing of hiding money from you and control and monitor every cent you spend. You will probably not be allowed to have a credit card.


It may not be easy to leave the abuser, but you certainly can escape his control and abuse with proper planning and support. Do the following:

  1. Maintain contact with someone, even if you have to do it in secret. There are many ways in which to accomplish this. A second cell phone or email account that he doesn’t know about. A mere wink of an eye when your contact is with you can alert them that something is off.
  2. If you can’t get hold of a secret second cell phone, ask your contact to phone the police. The South African emergency number is 10111.
  3. If you have access to a secret phone you need to phone the police so that the abuser can be removed. It will give you time to escape to a secret location (probably to family or a friend) with your children and pets. You also have the option of a shelter for abused women.
  4. Teach your children a secret code word and share it with your contact so that they can go for help when you use it. Teach your children where to go for help and tell them to stay there once they get there.
  5. The abuse may escalate if the abuser discovers that you are trying to leave him so make sure that he is not around when you leave. Your contact should know that you intend to leave and help you to get to a safe place.
  6. The abuser will beg, plead, cry, and swear on a stack of bibles that things will be different from now on. It will not. Once he realises that you are not going back to him, he will threaten you, the children, your family, your friends, your pets etc. Do not give in.
  7. Take legal action! Lay charges against him and obtain a protection order from your nearest magistrates court, as soon as possible.
  8. Do not reveal your location under any circumstances, even if it means that you have to change your children’s school or if you are employed, your job. Abuse usually escalates once you leave the abuser, so do not reveal your location to anyone. Only your closest confidante should know where you are.


Victims of domestic violence or coercive abuse are often reluctant to report the abuse to the police, their family and friends because the victim may feel ashamed. The victim’s self-esteem will be severely impacted, and it may cause them to feel trapped and unable to leave. They often believe that they will not be able to take care of or provide for themselves and/or their children on their own.

If the victim manages to leave, the abuser often convinces the victim that things will be different once they return and the abuser will begin to court the victim, showing remorse, convincing the victim that he has changed. Once the victim returns home the relationship enters a ‘honeymoon’ phase of kiss-and-make-up, but it doesn’t last long before the abuse and coercive control starts all over again.

You and your children deserve a life that is filled with love and acceptance. The first step is to leave. The second step is taking legal action to stop him – it won’t cost you a cent unless the Sherriff of the court has to deliver the protection order – the cost is minimal. The third step is therapy for you and your children. If you can’t afford to pay for therapy, contact your nearest branch of FAMSA.

Elsabé Manning