Both NSW and Queensland are expected to criminalise coercive control by the end of 2022 following parliamentary inquiries in both states. The move aims to strengthen measures to combat domestic violence, particularly as coercive control typically precedes intimate partner homicide.

What is coercive control?

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the government was consulting on introducing a stand-alone offence to address coercive control, as well as making necessary amendments to existing laws dealing with domestic violence and violent crime under the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007.

"Coercive control is. a red flag for intimate partner homicide. The Domestic Violence Death Review Team found that intimate partner homicide in NSW is typically preceded by coercive control often without any recorded physical violence," Mr Speakman said. (Please see Government to criminalise coercive control, NSW Government Communities and Justice, 18 December 2021.)

NSW Minister for Mental Health and Women Bronnie Taylor said coercive control involves patterns of abuse that have the cumulative effect of denying victim-survivors their autonomy and independence.

"This can involve physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse," she said.

Coercive control can include isolating the victim from friends and family, monitoring activities, restricting independence, controlling appearance, verbal abuse, belittling, controlling finances, jealousy, possessiveness, threats and intimidation.

Criminalising coercive control in Queensland

Criminalising coercive control has been on Queensland's agenda since the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in 2020.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the government would fully implement all 89 recommendations of a women's safety taskforce, including new laws to criminalise coercive control, with a maximum prison term of 14 years. (Please see Queensland to criminalise coercive control and probe police response to domestic violence, The Guardian, 10 May 2022.)

She also ordered a four-month inquiry into cultural issues in the Queensland police force, which had opposed such an inquiry. In future police will have to work alongside domestic violence support services.

Difficulties in administering coercive control laws

Jurisdictions which have criminalised coercive control have run into some legal and practical problems in administering the law. Some domestic and family violence campaigners have been calling for more work to be done on the NSW laws to prevent further traumatising victims. (Please see Rosie Batty voices concerns with proposed coercive control laws, The Guardian, 12 October 2022.)

Tasmania criminalised coercive behaviour with the Family Violence Act 2004, with penalties up to two years in jail, but researchers found the law against economic and emotional abuse has rarely been used.

Queensland and NSW women's support groups have said police are generally poorly trained to deal with domestic violence and coercive control, particularly in First Nations communities, and often fail to identify the perpetrator.

A UK review of six years of the criminal offence of coercive behaviour in Britain found a significant increase in prosecutions, with prison sentences being longer than for assault and stalking. Conviction rates rose to 60 per cent, with an average sentence of 23 months. (Please see Review of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, UK Home Office, March 2021.)

But the UK review found the proportion of offences leading to a charge fell from 11 per cent to 6 per cent in one year. Collecting evidence was a challenge, and in many cases caused even more harm to the victim.

Clearly there must be careful consideration in NSW and Queensland of the way these new laws are drafted. Police need to be well trained in how to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

Anneka Frayne
Family law
Stacks Law Firm

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