The war on ‘intimate terrorism’ heats up with national talks on coercive control

What is coercive control?

Coercive control is a repeated behaviour aimed at dominating and controlling another person, usually an intimate partner. It is almost exclusively perpetrated by men against women.

The perpetrator’s conduct makes the victim subordinate and “maintain[s] his dominance and control over every aspect of her life”, according to Australia’s National Research Agency for Women’s Safety.

From left to right: Hannah Clarke (31), Laianah (4), Aaliyah (6), and Trey (3), were killed by Rowan Baxter, Hannah Clarke’s estranged husband.

The pattern of behaviour by the perpetrator can involve physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse, psychologically controlling acts, financial abuse, social isolation, using systems – including the legal system – to harm the victim, stalking, deprivation of liberty, technology-facilitated abuse and harassment.

Physical violence is not always involved. Queenslander Rowan Baxter was not physically violent to his wife Hannah Clarke before the day he killed her and their three young children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey, and took his own life in 2020.

After the murders in Brisbane, it emerged Baxter had subjected Clarke to escalating forms of controlling and possessive behaviour.

The horrific murder-suicide triggered calls for a national definition of, and approach to, coercive control.

White Ribbon Australia says coercive control is “a strong precursor to physical assault and associated with 99 per cent of cases where a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner”.

Former chief justice of the Family Court Alistair Nicholson used the term “intimate terrorism”.

The NSW Domestic Violence Death Review committee found 77 of 78 perpetrators who killed their partner between 2017 and 2019 used coercive control beforehand.

How does the approach to coercive control differ in states and territories?

After Hannah Clarke and her children were murdered, Queensland and New South Wales moved to criminalise coercive control, but Victoria and Tasmania say their existing laws cover the offences adequately.

In July, the New South Wales government released a draft bill proposing jail sentences of up to seven years for those found guilty of the stand-alone offence of coercive control.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said there had been a clear “gap” in the state’s criminal law, which focused on individual acts rather than a course of conduct.

In May, the Queensland government vowed to implement all 89 recommendations of its women’s safety taskforce inquiry, including criminalising coercive control. Rolling this out is forecast to take three years, and include introduction of jail terms of up to 14 years for coercive control.

The ACT government has given in-principle support to creating new offences to address coercive control, according to a Victorian parliament research paper. Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury stated the discussion was ongoing and “we believe that the ACT’s legislation actually covers issues of coercive control”.

The WA Government announced a community consultation process relating to coercive control in March.

In the Northern Territory, members of the Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Cross Agency Working Group have agreed legal changes to address coercive control need to be considered.The group stated this could be through criminalisation, as well as amending the definition of family violence to better address coercive control.

The South Australian government announced last year it would criminalise coercive control. It’s bill is at second reading stage.

In Victoria, where billions of dollars have been spent, including on a royal commission, to curb family violence, legal definitions of family violence offences are considered by many advocates to cover the range of coercive control crimes.

Why do some women’s safety leaders say new laws bring risks?

Many stakeholders have questioned whether criminalising coercive control will produce the best results for women’s safety.

Safe and Equal, formerly Domestic Violence Victoria, has not advocated for more or tougher laws in Victoria because the state has detailed and broad definitions of the necessary crimes already covered in its criminal codes. It is among those who fear sweeping new laws might cause vulnerable women being wrongly identified as perpetrators rather than victims.

Some advocates say there’s a lack of compelling international evidence that criminalising coercive control has protected victims.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service recognises the harm of coercive control, but argues a new offence would be unlikely to protect women at risk of violence, and might even become a source of harm to the Indigenous community. It recommends better education and training to ensure victim/survivors are protected.

Safe and Equal believes Victorian law is adequate to cover coercive control, so long as those laws are implemented effectively, including by training police to recognise the impact of patterns of behaviour.

National helplines include:

  • 1800 Respect: 1800 737 732
  • Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
  • Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
  • Hotline : 1300 789 978
  • Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article