explainer

NSW has committed to criminalising coercive control. Here's what that means.

This week, the NSW government announced its commitment to outlawing the historically overlooked form of intimate abuse known as coercive control following a recent inquiry.

The news has been welcomed, especially considering the horrific and heartbreaking stories that have circulated not only in 2021, but the many personal accounts from years before.

There has also been confusion, with some unsure how exactly the government aims to criminalise coercive control.

Here is everything we know about the proposed commitment. 

Watch: Habits of highly destructive people. Coercive control. Post continues below.


Video via Queensland Police Service. 

What exactly is coercive control?

Community awareness of coercive control has increased in recent years, and is now more widely seen as both a form of abuse and a red flag in a relationship.

Coercive control is a pattern of abuse designed to dominate, oppress and trap another individual.

Though it can come hand-in-hand with physical violence, it typically involves more insidious and manipulative tactics like social isolation, intimidation, humiliation and degradation, monitoring movements and communication with others, controlling finances, and so on.

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According to NSW Mental Health and Women Minister, Bronnie Taylor, intimate partner homicide is "typically preceded by coercive control." The NSW Coroner's domestic violence death review team corroborates this.

In a recent report, the NSW Coroner found a number of cases were not preceded by an evident history of physical violence, and that some offenders actually refrained from physical violence to avoid attracting police attention.

Rather than physical violence, some perpetrators instead used "extreme manipulation and controlling behaviours" in a bid to control or limit their loved one's freedom.

The NSW Coroner's report also found that the victim-survivors rarely knew they were being abused, as many naively once saw domestic violence as purely physical. 

The inquiry into coercive control.

Earlier this year in June, NSW Parliament held an inquiry on coercive control in domestic relationships.

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It was a major step in the right direction, not only for the state but for the country as a whole said the inquiry's Chair, MP Natalie Ward.

"The enormity of this task and expectations of those with interest have weighed on me heavily, perhaps more than any other task I have been humbled to have been entrusted to undertake in this role," Ms Ward said in her foreword. 

"More important than any of us, are the women and children who walk among us and are barely surviving the domestic terrorism of coercive control every day. It is no exaggeration, it is a silent, hidden and deathly pandemic."

The findings from the inquiry.

Four of the main recommendations from the inquiry committee include: 

  • A clear and accessible definition of domestic violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour.
  • Higher maximum penalties for breaching apprehended domestic violence orders. 
  • Removing specific intent from the stalking and intimidation offence. 
  • Making coercive and controlling behaviour an aggravating factor in sentencing.

"We also know that criminalising coercive control will not immediately end all domestic abuse," Ms Ward noted. "Nor will it result in thousands of arrests and convictions. But lives just might be saved."

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The NSW government commits to criminalising coercive control.

On Saturday, Attorney-General and Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Minister Mark Speakman released the government's response to coercive control. 

The response indicated support for 17 of the inquiry's 23 recommendations. 

The remaining six have "been noted as further consideration continues".

In regards to the commitment, Mr Speakman said: "No person deserves to live in fear, and it is part of our responsibilities in government to uphold the safety and human dignity of all of our citizens."

Domestic Violence NSW chief executive Delia Donovan says making coercive control an offence presents a significant opportunity to improve the safety and wellbeing of victim-survivors across NSW. 

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How other states are responding. 

Legislation to combat coercive control is being considered or is in the process of becoming law in every state and territory in Australia.

Some already recognise coercive control under civil law.

Tasmania has had laws addressing coercive control across multiple pieces of legislation since 2004.

However, a 2017 report by Deakin University researchers published by the University of Tasmania law review found coercive control offences have "only rarely been prosecuted".

What is absolute fact is that change is crucial. 

As coercive control survivor Geraldine Bilston wrote in a piece for Mamamia:

"We are asking for a wider change: education for police, the judicial system, front line services, and our whole community. Giving victims a way to name this behaviour is important. We also need to be able to deliver a clear message to every single person in our community: that this behaviour, and the abuse of power and control in relationships, is completely unacceptable - it is criminal."

Image: Getty. If you or a loved one is experiencing family violence, support is available. Call  1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit the website to chat online.

If you are concerned about your behaviour within a relationship, call Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 to find a service near you.

- With AAP.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.