Everyone deserves to feel safe at home. But for so many, home is where they are most at risk.
Over the last decade, public awareness of domestic violence has grown, thanks to the tireless work of advocates like Rosie Batty. Yet despite that, at least one woman is murdered by a current or former partner every week. We need to do more to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse.
We can start by recognising the full spectrum of domestic violence and abuse in our laws.
When people think of domestic abuse, they tend to think of physical violence. But domestic abuse is often more complex than that. Many victims of domestic abuse live in a constant state of fear, in relationships marked by dangerous patterns of controlling behaviour. This abuse is called ‘coercive control’.
Perpetrators of coercive control – also called ‘intimate terrorism’ – seek to control their victims with actual or threatened harm. Whether it’s demanding that partners cut contact with their friends or family, restricting their access to money, monitoring their calls and messages, or directing their day-to-day activities, these patterns of controlling behaviour are clear and damaging examples of domestic abuse.
We know that most women who have been murdered by a current or former partner were subject to controlling behaviour before they were killed.
But the law currently doesn’t recognise patterns of controlling behaviour as a crime. Our laws need to change to protect victims of all domestic abuse and to prevent more tragic murders.
Which is why we’ve introduced a Bill that recognises these dangerous patterns of controlling behaviour for what they are – domestic abuse.
- Many victims of domestic abuse live in a constant state of fear, in relationships marked by dangerous patterns of controlling behaviour.
- Perpetrators of coercive control seek to control their victims with actual or threatened harm.
- Most women who have been murdered by a current or former partner were subject to controlling behaviour before they were killed.
- Our Bill will make coercive control a crime – but it’s just the beginning of a series of much-needed reforms to ensure that everyone can feel safe in their own home.
Our Bill means that people in abusive relationships will have the confidence to seek help before it’s too late, knowing the police will recognise the crimes committed against them.
It means that the police and other frontline organisations will have the knowledge, skills and resources to help victims of domestic abuse more effectively.
It means that our legal system will be able to give protection to victims of all domestic abuse, whether or not they are also victims of physical violence.
And it means that those who perpetrate patterns of controlling behaviour won’t be able to hide behind inadequate laws.
Domestic abuse will affect one in four women, and right now the law is failing to recognise and protect them.
With your help, we can change the law to recognise that everyone has the right to feel safe in their own homes.
NSW law currently doesn’t recognise patterns of controlling behaviour as a crime. Our laws view domestic violence as being incident-based rather than as a sustained pattern of behaviour.
Criminalising coercive control is essential to reducing intimate partner violence and preventing domestic homicides.
Our Bill borrows heavily from the recent changes to the law in Scotland — through the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 — which is widely seen by frontline domestic violence experts as the “gold standard” for coercive control legislation.
If legislated, our Bill will make it illegal to isolate, humiliate, degrade or control another person through the use of fear or threats of physical or psychological harm to them or others. It will include clauses to prevent anyone making another person dependent on them, monitoring their daily activities, preventing their access to support services or medical care, or restricting their freedom of action. The Bill deliberately puts the focus on the behaviour of the offender, not the response of their victim.
Report of the NSW Parliament Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control
In June 2021 the Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control tabled its report on coercive control in domestic relationships. The inquiry unanimously agreed that coercive control should be criminalised.
You can read the report here.
Position Paper from Women's Safety NSW
In September 2020 Women’s Safety NSW released a position paper which highlights the dangers of coercive control in a domestic abuse situation and calls on the government to prioritise criminalising the behaviour.
You can read their position paper here.
See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse by Jess Hill
In her 2019 book ‘See What You Made Me Do’, Australian investigative journalist Jess Hill has combined forensic research with riveting storytelling to radically rethink how to confront the national crisis of domestic abuse.
‘See What You Made Me Do’, which won the Stella Prize 2020, is recognised as a groundbreaking work which turns the spotlight on perpetrators of domestic abuse and the justice system which enables them.
The Guardian article: Coercive control is a form of intimate terrorism and must be criminalised
Paul McGorrery, Jess Hill, Hayley Foster, Marilyn McMahon, Annabelle Daniel and others* have written a succinct opinion article for the Guardian, published 6 October 2020, outlining why coercive control must be criminalised. You can read it here.
*Authors of this article are: Geraldine Bilston, victim-survivor and advocate; Yvette Cehtel, CEO of Women’s Legal Service Tasmania; Brad Chilcott, executive director of White Ribbon Australia; Annabelle Daniel OAM, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters; Hayley Foster, CEO of Women’s Safety NSW; Fiona Hamilton, Aboriginal victim-survivor and advocate; Jess Hill, author of See What You Made Me Do; Paul McGorrery, PhD candidate at Deakin Law School; Marilyn McMahon, deputy dean of Deakin Law School; Nithya Reddy, advocate and Preethi Reddy’s sister; Sally Stevenson AM, general manager of Illawarra Women’s Health Centre; Karen Williams, founder of Doctors Against Violence Towards Women
Sydney Morning Herald Article on NSW Parliamentary Inquiry: Her Partner Presents Well to the World but there are Cameras in Every Room
Lucy Cormack has written an article for the Sydney Morning Herald published 24 February 2021, outlining some of the evidence given to the Inquiry into coercive control to highlight the insidious and repressive control imposed on thousands of women in domestic abusive situations.
You can read it here.
The Guardian article on NSW Parliamentary Report: Coercive Control Should be a Crime to Stop Deathly Pandemic
On 30 June 2021 The Guardian published an article on the unanimous recommendations of the Parliamentary committee to create a standalone offence of coercive control.
You can read it here.
Green Left Article on NSW Parliamentary Report: Australia's Second Pandemic - Gendered Violence
In July 2021, Markela Panegyres wrote for Green Left on the pandemic of violence against women globally and in Australia. The article explains the issues facing women in Australia, and explains the recommendations of the NSW Parliamentary Report.
You can read it here.
Are Media campaign to criminalise coercive control
In October of 2020 Australian media company Are Media (formerly Bauer Media) have launched a campaign to see coercive control criminalised in all jurisdictions in Australia. You find find out more about their campaign here.
Criminalising coercive control is only one stage in the campaign to stop domestic violence and abuse. To be effective, we need a wide-reaching education program for schools, workplaces, community groups and wider society to help people understand that coercive control is domestic abuse and that it is wrong.
We need to train police officers and other first responders, as well as those within the legal and judicial system, so that they can recognise coercive control and act to protect victims. We need to increase frontline support services so that victim-survivors can get the help they need to stay safe, and we must urgently increase social housing so that people who leave abuse have access to secure accommodation.
Our Bill can’t stand on its own — it’s part of much-needed broader social change. That’s why we are continuing to work with key stakeholders to make sure we can put all the necessary pieces in place to keep people safe.