Calls for a stronger national approach to handling coercive control

18 May 2023

Calls for a stronger national approach to handling coercive control featured image

Australians who have partners that isolate, threaten, monitor, humiliate, gaslight or control them could be experiencing a form of family violence known as ‘coercive control’. Two Churchill Fellows have recently seen laws in action overseas, and are calling for Australian governments to step up Australia’s response to address coercive control and learn from the Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland. While laws criminalising coercive control were introduced in NSW late 2022, Churchill Fellows are calling for a stronger national approach.

Mary Leaker, Churchill Fellow and social worker based in South Australia, has recently returned from England, Wales and Scotland and gathered first-hand knowledge of how coercive control laws are being implemented overseas.

“Among people I interviewed in the UK, the consensus was that the criminalisation of coercive control is fundamentally important to bridge the gap between formal state responses and victim-survivors’ lived experience of domestic abuse,” said Mary.

However, Mary said “the experience of how these laws are operating on the ground in the UK, particularly for victim-survivors, contains important lessons for Australia. In the UK there is still significant room for improvement, within the criminal justice system and more broadly, in understanding, identifying and responding to coercive control.”

“It is encouraging to see Australian states taking action and learning from the overseas experience but we’re just at the beginning. Australia’s new national plan provides a critical opportunity to strengthen our responses to coercive control at a whole-systems level and to monitor outcomes effectively.” said Mary.

Kathleen Christopherson, recently returned Churchill Fellow, collected the criminal implications of coercive control from England, Ireland and Northern Ireland and Scotland including from the Shetland Islands, saying: “These laws are now in force across the UK and Ireland. I’m talking about specific offences that criminalise coercive and controlling behaviours. These nations are now prosecuting this offence.”

“Countries like England, Wales and Scotland also have trained independent domestic abuse advocates for victims. Overseas, victims are receiving critical, consistent, independent support from advocates from an early stage. Advocates and prosecutors overseas understand the distinct roles they play, and how they can work together to keep victims safe and hold perpetrators to account,”

“While a lot of careful work is being undertaken in Australian jurisdictions including in NSW and QLD, the journey is far from over. Every jurisdiction in Australia needs to combat this issue. Prosecuting authorities across Australia also need to learn about prosecuting this behaviour from the experience of those who have gone before us,”

“Coercive control is a community-wide issue. We need frameworks, training and guidance on national and state levels. Everyone in the criminal justice system and wider community need to understand the insidious nature of this abuse and how to address it – from social workers, police, advocates, lawyers, court staff and judges through to bank tellers, hairdressers and retail workers.  People need to know how to identify coercive control, assess and manage risks, and better support victims,”

“This issue is at the forefront of family violence. It needs to be addressed. We know research repeatedly underpins that coercive control patterns are the best predictor of later episodes of severe physical violence.” said Kathleen.

Adam Davey, CEO of the Winston Churchill Trust said: “Coercive control in Australia as a form of domestic violence is still behind the rest of the world, and Fellow findings will help shape and strengthen Australia’s approaches to tackling family and domestic violence,”

“It is important that Australian legislative, policy and implementation decisions are informed by global best practice, and that is precisely what Fellows are ready and able to share,” said Mr Davey.

“Other Churchill Fellows are doing ground-breaking work to address family violence, and make it easier for people to get help. For example, Chris Boyle has opened a first ever safe place in a Westfield Shopping Centre and offers StandbyU wearable protection tech.”

People experiencing issues around family violence should reach out for help and phone 1800RESPECT

Read Mary’s report here.

Kathleen’s report to be published.

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