Yet Emily says the goalposts constantly changed. “I’d meet his needs and his requirements in one situation and then the next week they’d change, and they’d get more stringent,” she says. “I felt very alone, and I felt very, very isolated.”

This feeling that she would never be good enough caused her to “give up.” “That’s when the abuse got really, really bad and physical abuse became involved,” she says.

While Emily contacted the police and secured an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO), it was the ongoing threats that gave her “constant unease.”

“I didn’t have black eyes every single day but again, he was so cunning in his behaviours that of course there wouldn’t be,” she says. “He was self-aware enough to know that if he did those things, he would have to take accountability for his behaviour.”

‘I was extremely embarrassed’

Kara admits her relationship didn’t feel right from the beginning. Her ex-partner is 11 years her senior and started pursuing her when she was still a teenager. “When we met, he used manipulation and intimidation a lot, quite early and quite intensely,” she says.

Manipulation and intimidation: key signs of the insidious nature of coercive control.

Manipulation and intimidation: key signs of the insidious nature of coercive control.

Kara wasn’t initially attracted to him, knowing the age gap was “inappropriate”, but he used love bombing techniques to control her while making it seem like love. Love bombing can be a sign of coercive control, where the perpetrator employs excessive grand gestures, gifts, compliments and affection to manipulate or trap the other person.

“This is the thing,” she stresses. “[Coercive control] is so hard to describe to anybody in words what it actually does to you and what it involves.”

Kara says her partner soon started abusing her physically and sexually. He kept tabs on her whereabouts, silenced her and isolated her from her friends. “It was just me and him, and I literally believed that, ‘wow, this is the only person for me. I don’t deserve friends.’ That’s how he made me think.”

Kara was overwhelmed with the feeling that there was “no way out.” Within a year of dating, as a teenager, Kara gave birth to the first of two children. She says this made it harder to admit to herself that she was experiencing abuse.

“I feel ashamed of bringing kids into this world, but I love my kids and I want to be the best mum I can be, so I’m just going to pretend like this is not happening,” she recalls feeling at that time. “I was in denial for 10 years.”

Seeking help and speaking up

It was Kara’s desire to have her kids “be proud of her” that prompted her to start studying and follow a career. She met new friends during work placement who urged her to seek help.

“That essentially, for me, was the driving force behind going to the police because I felt supported outside of the house,” she says. “I felt strong enough. I was no longer isolated.”

Kara says the new laws addressing coercive control in NSW are a step in the right direction. “I wished I had been told about coercive control and given resources to access if I ever needed it because I literally felt like throughout that whole time that there was absolutely nothing and no one that would help me,” she says.

Similarly, Emily says the new laws are “making a statement from a community perspective that this kind of behaviour is not socially acceptable.”

After so many years of feeling frightened to use her voice, Emily considers telling her story an act of rebellion. “Another act of rebellion is wholeheartedly getting behind this legislation change and going to my children, you know what? This stuff’s not okay and I hope that you don’t have to live in a tomorrow that’s like that.”

The NSW Government has developed a new campaign to educate the public about coercive control. Visit to view the campaign and learn more.