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Australia Criminal Law Introduction of Coercive Control Offences

Introduction of Coercive Control Offences

Updated on Jan 25, 2024 4 min read 318 views Copy Link

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Published in May 01, 2019 Updated on Jan 25, 2024 4 min read 318 views

Introduction of Coercive Control Offences

In the last few years, several Australian jurisdictions have moved to legislate for a new family violence offence known as ‘coercive control’. The offence involves a pattern of domination and intimidation towards a family member that may include emotional or financial abuse, isolation and other forms of abuse but does not necessarily involve physical or sexual violence. The changes have come about in response to pressure for criminal laws to be modernised to more accurately reflect the reality of how family violence situations often play out. This page outlines the coercive control offences that now exist in Australia, and those that have been proposed.

What is coercive control?

Unlike traditional family violence offences, coercive control involves a course of behaviour aimed at controlling and intimidating a victim, rather than a particular incident.

Coercive control laws can be used to prosecute offenders for conduct consisting of:

  • threats to expose private photographs;
  • deleting contacts from their partner’s phone;
  • demanding their partner eat certain food;
  • controlling a partner’s finances;
  • inspecting a partner’s home or body for signs of infidelity.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, coercive control will become a standalone criminal offence in mid-2024 under section 54D of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022. The new offence will be committed when an adult:

  • engages in a course of conduct towards another person;
  • the other person is or was their intimate partner;
  • the course of conduct is intended to coerce or control the other person;
  • a reasonable person would consider that the course of conduct would be likely to cause fear of violence or to have a serious adverse impact on the person’s capacity to engage in ordinary day-to-day activities.

Coercive control will be punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

Tasmania

Under section 8 of the Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas), economic abuse is an offence that occurs when a person:

·       coerces a partner to relinquish control over their assets;

·       disposes of property owned solely or partly by a partner without that partner’s consent;

·       prevents a partner from accessing funds for normal household expenses;

·       withholding the financial support needed to maintain a partner or child (or threatening to do so)

Queensland and South Australia

Queensland and South Australia have also proposed to introduce standalone coercive control offences. However, these laws are yet to pass the state parliaments.

Arguments in favour of coercive control offences

Supporters of the move towards standalone coercive control offences suggest that previously, criminal laws relating to family violence have been unsuccessful in providing justice for victims of intimate partner violence. They argue that serious consequences can flow from non-physical abuse and that such behaviour should therefore be criminalised. Controlling behaviour can strip a person of their autonomy and self-worth and can make it difficult for the victim to recognise that they are being abused and to leave the relationship.

Arguments against coercive control offences

Critics of the move have suggested that prosecuting coercive control may divert resources away from domestic violence prevention and could result in women being mistakenly identified as the primary offender in family violence situations.

Sceptics have also questioned whether victims will be able or willing to involve police in investigating such offences as research has shown that victims of domestic abuse are often reluctant to engage with police, fearing an escalation in the abuse following their complaint or that they will be blamed for the abuse.

Critics of the new offences also doubt the ability of police to identify instances of coercive control and to obtain the information needed to correctly assess a series of unrelated events and the harm caused by a pattern of behaviour.

The difficulty of proving the offence of coercive control has also been flagged as a concern. Demonstrating that a pattern of abuse has existed, and that harm resulted from it, is likely to be much harder than proving that a violent act occurred on a particular occasion.

If you require legal advice or representation in a domestic violence matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Published in

May 01, 2019

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Content Editor

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
Home Australia Criminal Law Introduction of Coercive Control Offences

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Content Editor

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

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