ARTICLE
26 March 2024

Is gaslighting illegal in NSW? What you should know about the upcoming legislation of coercive control law

JF
Justice Family Lawyers

Contributor

We prioritize clarity in all legal matters, especially in family law cases like divorce and custody. Our goal is to ensure a quick and cost-efficient outcome for our clients so they can move forward with their lives. Trust our knowledge and experience to achieve the most agreeable settlement possible, providing peace of mind and clarity for all parties involved.
What is gaslighting? Its impact & the legal developments around gaslighting behaviour.
Australia Criminal Law
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Have you ever been made to doubt your own memory? Question your sanity? If someone in your life repeatedly manipulates you into feeling like your perceptions are wrong, it might not be your imagination.

This is gaslighting, and it's a serious form of emotional abuse. Gaslighting isn't explicitly illegal in Australia. However, this is set to change in July 2024 with the introduction of new laws criminalising Coercive Control.

What exactly is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and abuse in which one person works to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, aiming to make them question their memory, judgement, and perception of reality.

The term stems from the 1944 film "Gaslight," where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she's losing her mind.

Common Gaslighting Techniques

  • Denying and Contradicting: The abuser blatantly denies previously agreed-upon events or minimises the victim's feelings ("That never happened," "You're imagining things").
  • Withholding: The gaslighter refuses to communicate, share information, or emotionally engage, making the victim feel isolated.
  • Trivialising: Minimising the victim's feelings, concerns, and experiences ("You're overreacting," "You're making a big deal out of nothing").
  • Diverting: Instead of addressing the problem, the gaslighter changes the subject, blames the victim, or questions their credibility.
  • Projecting: Attributing their negative traits or behaviors to the victim.
  • "Countering": Presenting false information or manufactured "evidence" to dismantle the victim's version of reality.

The Impact of Gaslighting

The goal of gaslighting is to make someone doubt their sanity, leading to:

  • Confusion, self-doubt, and difficulty trusting one's instincts.
  • Feeling the need to apologise constantly.
  • Second-guessing one's memories, and decisions.
  • Difficulty making choices for fear of being 'wrong'.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family as distrust in personal perceptions increases.
  • Anxiety, depression, and a decrease in self-esteem.

Is gaslighting considered domestic abuse in Australia?

Yes, gaslighting can definitely be considered domestic abuse in Australia. Here's why:

  1. Broad Definition of Domestic Abuse: In Australia, domestic and family violence isn't limited to physical violence. It encompasses various behaviors designed to control or dominate another person in an intimate or family relationship. This includes psychological, emotional, verbal, social, and financial abuse.
  2. Gaslighting as Emotional Abuse: Gaslighting aligns with the characteristics of emotional abuse. It deliberately erodes a person's self-esteem, sense of reality, and independence, creating a power imbalance in the relationship.
  3. Coercive Control: Gaslighting is often a central tool used within a broader pattern of control called coercive control. This form of abuse involves a system of manipulative and often subtle tactics to isolate, intimidate, and control a victim. In recent years, Australian states like New South Wales and Queensland have made moves to specifically criminalise coercive control.

If you're currently experiencing coercive control, it can be beneficial to consult with an expert AVO lawyer. A lawyer with expertise in AVOs can guide you through your rights and the legal options available for your protection.

Are there specific laws against gaslighting in NSW?

While there isn't a law in NSW that uses the exact term "gaslighting", there have been important recent legal developments to address this kind of abuse:

  • Coercive Control Legislation: In late 2022, NSW became the first Australian state to propose the criminalisation of coercive control specifically. Coercive control refers to a pattern of behaviours designed to dominate and control another person in an intimate relationship. Gaslighting tactics are frequently a core element of coercive control.
  • The Coercive Control Law: From July 2024, coercive control will become a criminal offence in NSW with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

Important Considerations:

  • Proving Intent: Prosecutors will need to show clear evidence that the abuser's actions were intended to control the victim. This is why keeping notes, screenshots, and any other potential evidence of coercive control including gaslighting behaviours becomes vital.
  • Not All Situations Covered: The coercive control law applies only to intimate partners. Gaslighting can occur in other relationships (workplace, etc.), which might not be as easily prosecuted under this specific law.

How are the laws about coercive control changing to protect against gaslighting?

Here's a breakdown of how laws addressing coercive control are evolving to provide better protection against gaslighting in Australia:

Criminalising Coercive Control

Several Australian states, including New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania, have either criminalised coercive control or are introducing such legislation.

These laws are intended to protect victims from the insidious and ongoing pattern of manipulation, intimidation, and controlling behaviours, of which gaslighting is often a significant component.

According to the law, beginning July 2024, it will be illegal in NSW to use violent behavior toward a current or past personal partner to control or force them to do something. This is called coercive control.

Broader Definition of Abuse

Coercive control laws challenge the outdated perception that domestic abuse is only physical violence.

They acknowledge that psychological control tactics like gaslighting can have equally devastating and long-lasting impacts.

Focus on Patterns of Behavior

Coercive control looks beyond single incidents, as gaslighting frequently operates through subtle and repeated techniques.

These laws target the cumulative effect of the manipulation, which aims to undermine the victim's sense of autonomy and reality.

Increased Awareness and Understanding

The focus on coercive control legislation raises awareness of gaslighting tactics among the public, victim support services, and the legal system.

This fosters a greater understanding of the nature of this abuse and how to seek appropriate help.

Changing the Narrative

Victims of gaslighting often have their experience minimised or dismissed.

These legal changes help validate their trauma and acknowledge that gaslighting is a serious form of abuse.

Key Points:

  • While a direct "anti-gaslighting" law may not yet exist, coercive control laws are a promising step forward.
  • The evolving legal landscape better reflects the complex, harmful nature of gaslighting and similar emotional abuse tactics.

Is Gaslighting Illegal? Answers, Understanding, and Your Rights

Gaslighting can leave you confused, isolated, and questioning your sanity. If you're enduring this insidious emotional abuse, understand that the law is increasingly catching up.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

ARTICLE
26 March 2024

Is gaslighting illegal in NSW? What you should know about the upcoming legislation of coercive control law

Australia Criminal Law

Contributor

We prioritize clarity in all legal matters, especially in family law cases like divorce and custody. Our goal is to ensure a quick and cost-efficient outcome for our clients so they can move forward with their lives. Trust our knowledge and experience to achieve the most agreeable settlement possible, providing peace of mind and clarity for all parties involved.
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