Hannah Clarke's husband told her she couldn't wear shorts or anything pink. She was barred from having her own Facebook page or spending Good Friday with her family.
Doreen Langham was threatened with the release of intimate photos online if she ever left her abusive partner.
This week, a Queensland coroner highlighted the deaths of both women at the hands of their partners followed a pattern of coercive controlling behaviour, putting the spotlight on the form of manipulative abuse - and authorities' failures in identifying the associated risks.
The cases have also fuelled calls for coercive control to be criminalised across Australia, a measure currently in place in only Tasmania but under consideration in multiple other jurisdictions.
Ms Clarke, 33, and her children - Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey - were doused in petrol and burned alive in their car by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter while on the morning school run in Brisbane in February 2020.
Ms Langham, 49, died after partner Gary Hely set alight her townhouse in Browns Plains, south of Brisbane, in February the following year.
An inquest into Ms Clarke's death was told it was clear Baxter used coercive controlling behaviour, described as an ongoing, relentless pattern designed to exert dominance - usually over an intimate partner.
Such behaviour often includes sexual and physical violence as well as other forms of abuse, such as humiliation and threats.
One Australian survey found around one in 20 women said they had experienced coercive control, but the share was close to 50 per cent in women who had recently reported domestic violence.
Coercive control disproportionately affects women and can lead to escalating acts of abuse, including homicide - as in the tragic cases of the two Queensland women.
Ms Clarke's parents Sue and Lloyd say they didn't understand the concept of coercive control, despite their family dealing with it daily.
"We didn't understand that this bad behaviour had a name, could be codified and should be illegal," they told the state's Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce.
"And, of course, we didn't know where it was leading."
Ms Clarke was only 20 and living with her parents when she met the then 31-year-old Baxter.
He tried to drive a wedge between her and her family, openly criticising her mother and refusing to allow his family to attend the parents' weekly barbecues.
Baxter often went for days without talking to her, especially if she refused to have sex with him.
He told Ms Clarke that when a former partner tried to leave him, he drove to see her with a rope in his car and a plan to kill them both. Ms Clarke said the story played on her mind, making her fearful of what Baxter was capable of.
In Ms Langham's case, Hely's acts of coercive control escalated when he moved out of the unit they shared after moving to Queensland from Western Australia.
He went through her phone, isolated her from friends and family, threatened suicide, broke into her house, coerced sex, destroyed property and assaulted her.
Professor Kerry Carrington, from QUT's Centre for Justice, told the inquest Ms Langham interacted with 16 or more police officers before her death but they "clearly did not understand how to identify coercive control".
She said police mistakenly assessed Ms Langham as not being at high risk of lethal violence even when there was compelling evidence of coercive control, stalking, threats to kill and a history of domestic violence.
Police had a singular focus on a law enforcement approach to specific incidents rather than the overall cycle of domestic violence and coercive control, she said.
In her findings, coroner Jane Bentley said urgent reforms were needed to address inadequate responses to domestic violence victims.
She noted that the Queensland government had already agreed to implement Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce recommendations, which included the creation of a new offence to criminalise coercive control.
The government has pledged to introduce new laws to combat the abusive behaviour - including changes to strengthen existing legislation by the end of the year.
Similarly, NSW announced plans in December to outlaw coercive control following a parliamentary inquiry.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the state government supported the introduction of a standalone offence to address such patterns of behaviour, noting coercive control was a "red flag for intimate partner homicide".
In Victoria, coercive behaviour is already covered under civil laws but the government has not identified any plans to make coercive control a crime.
Tasmania is the only jurisdiction in Australia to have already made coercive controlling behaviour an offence after amending its criminal code in 2004.
However, critics note the offence is rarely prosecuted and highlight problems in police understanding or being able to prove a pattern of behaviour that may involve a series of seemingly unremarkable acts when viewed in isolation.
But advocates of criminalising coercive control say the move would improve the legal response and raise community awareness of the behaviour, pointing to the introduction of national laws to combat coercive control in England and Wales.
For Sue and Lloyd Clarke, a national conversation about criminalising coercive control is needed in order to reduce violence against women - and prevent further domestic homicides.
"It's an uncomfortable conversation ... but we all need to keep this conversation 100 per cent going," Mr Clarke said this week.
Australian Associated Press
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