Joint Select Committee for Coercive Control: Coercive control discussion paper
This submission utilises ANROWS and external research to reflect upon police and criminal and civil law responses to coercive control, with a particular focus on the appropriateness of creating a coercive control offence.
The Coercive control discussion paper was released by the Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control to facilitate discussion between legal, domestic and family violence (DFV), government, and community stakeholders on how best to address coercive control. The Committee called for submissions to respond to key questions raised in the discussion paper, which included a focus on improving the current legal framework and the potential for creating a new criminal offence.
The ANROWS submission focused on the need for a consistent and appropriate definition of coercive control, existing criminal and civil law responses and opportunities for their improvement, the challenges associated with creating an offence of coercive control, and non-legislative activities to improve responses to coercive control.
The submission made a series of recommendations as follows:
- Address the need to implement a consistent definition of coercive control, and of domestic and family violence, across Australia-wide legislative and policy settings to respond to coercive control more effectively. This definition needs to position coercive control as an overarching strategy for domestic and family violence behaviours, and include a non-exhaustive list of physical and non-physical behaviours.
- Improve police and all legal actors’ understanding of domestic and family violence as involving patterns of behaviour that occur within the strategic context of coercive control – that is, tactics of physical and/or non-physical abuse that seek to deny personhood and the right to think and act independently of the perpetrator.
- Create a tool to help police assess patterns of coercive control that would detect which party is the perpetrator and which party is using violent resistance to ongoing abuse.
- Facilitate strong cross-sector collaboration by enabling the development of infrastructure which supports integration, and training that capacity-builds skills in collaboration, by implementing the recommendations set out in Working across sectors to meet the needs of clients experiencing domestic and family violence (ANROWS, 2020b).
- Legislate a social entrapment framework, and train all actors in and around the legal system in domestic and family violence and coercive control, to aid recognition of non-physical forms of violence as part of a strategic course of conduct to deny autonomy/personhood.
- Fund the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey, implemented by ANROWS, beyond 2022 to monitor progress and enable continued improvement in policy and programs aiming to reduce and prevent violence against women and their children.
- Fund research to monitor the progress and implementation of coercive control and domestic abuse offences in other jurisdictions, including unintended consequences. This should include quantitative measures of successful prosecutions under the offences, as well as examination of qualitative improvements in attitudes to violence against women, such as those measured by the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey.
- Strengthen systemic change to better address coercive control with extensive cross-sector consultation with diverse groups of women and the service providers they engage with, carefully considering alternatives to criminal justice approaches.
- Implement the recommendations suggested in Accurately identifying the “person most in need of protection” in domestic and family violence law (2020) to improve the current legislative regime governing ADVOs so it can better address coercive and controlling behaviour. This should include the provision of training for police and legal professionals; implementing alternative models of policing and investigation; the creation of a tool for identifying coercive control; the clarification of court processes regarding responsibility and accountability for determining the person most in need of protection; and clear guidance for magistrates and police prosecutors with respect to dismissing or withdrawing inappropriate ADVO applications.
The Joint Select Committee published a final report on Coercive control in domestic relationships in June 2021, which can be accessed on the Parliament of New South Wales website, as can the NSW Government’s response.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2021). Coercive control discussion paper [Submission]. ANROWS.