Is Coercive Control illegal in Australia?

coersive control

 

Coercive Control has been described as a form of intimate terrorism, but is it illegal in Australia?

What is Coercive Control?

Coercive control is the term given to a series of behaviours abusers use to dominate, manipulate and micro-manage every aspect of their victim’s life. Behaviours may include

restricting access to bank accounts, isolating from friends and family, or monitoring their phone conversations and Facebook messages.

Doctor and Psychiatrist Dale Archer in an article The Dangers of Manipulative Love [2] published on Psychology Today’s website warns that most relationships with Coercive Controllers begin with love bombing where the abuser comes across as the perfect partner, generous with gifts and compliments [1]. Archer describes it as a way of conditioning a person, like training an animal and love bombing is the reinforcement.

Actions that fall under the umbrella of Coercive Control

  • Emotionally manipulating
  • Stalking, tracking, tracing
  • Pinching
  • Surveillance through continuous texts or calls
  • Limiting access to money, family, friends
  • Internet shaming and social media monitoring
  • Controlling movement such as limiting time spent away from the house
  • Isolating
  • Humiliating
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, credit, or property
  • Taunting and insulting
  • Threatening

The effect of COVID-19 on Coercive Control

A paper published by the Australian Government Department of Criminology in July 2020 [3],  revealed results of a survey of 15,000 Australian women and their experience of domestic violence during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

5.8% of women reported experiencing at least one form of abuse, harassment or controlling behaviour with two-thirds of the surveyed group having experienced an increase of violence and abuse that coincided with the pandemic.

 

Identifying factors in the increase of Coercive Control during COVID?

The findings reported in the statistical bulletin which are believed to have increased in severity and prevalence during COVID were:

  • Social isolation and restricted movement during lockdown periods
  • Financial stressors
  • Job Insecurity
  • Offenders spending more time alone with their victims [4]

 

Is Coercive Control a crime?

There are calls to make coercive control a crime nationwide, but it’s not straightforward. ABC News reported that gaps in the legislation are putting people in danger. There are moves to bring about changes to the current domestic violence law with each state taking a different tact. If South Australia’s proposed legislation goes ahead, coercive control would attract the strictest sentences throughout Australia [5]. If approved, the changes would mean offenders could receive up to 7 years in jail if convicted.

Tasmania is the only state to recognise coercive control as a crime and while in other parts of our country these types of behaviour are only punishable if there is a domestic violence application order violation [6],

 

Applying for a Domestic Violence Order

If your spouse deliberately:

  • Injures you
  • Damages your property
  • Intimidates or harasses you
  • Treats you indecently without your consent
  • Or threatens to do any of these things
  • you are a victim of domestic violence. You can get help from the law.

DA Family Lawyers can help you to apply to the Magistrates Court of Queensland for a protection order. The court will make an immediate (temporary) order if the magistrate is satisfied on the evidence submitted to court that there is a relevant relationship and the respondent has committed domestic violence. The court will make a final protection order if it is satisfied that there is a relevant relationship, the respondent has committed domestic violence and the protection order is necessary or desirable to protect the aggrieved.

 

Who can make a domestic violence application?

As of September 2012 the law provides protection from violence for people who have been in, or are:

  • An intimate personal relationship: for example, de facto, engaged, dating, married.
  • An informal care relationship: this is where a person is dependent on another for help in an activity of daily living such as cooking for them or dressing them.
  • A family relationship: of a child, your relatives, a parent or former parent.

It should be noted that the definition of ‘relevant relationship’ pursuant to the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 does not cover:

  • Neighbours
  • Flatmates
  • If children under 18 are violent towards parents. This is considered within the scope of the child protection system.

 

What is a protection order?

A protection order tells the abusers that their behaviour will not be tolerated. It details the terms and conditions that must be followed. These must be adhered to from the day the order is made. If protection orders are breached, the respondent will be charged with a criminal offence.

A standard condition of a protection order prohibits the respondent from owning a weapon or holding a weapons licence. The court may also include other conditions in the order.

There are good domestic violence support groups set up to assist victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

 

Family and domestic violence support:


1800 Respect national helpline:

1800 737 732


Women’s Crisis Line:

1800 811 811


Men’s Referral Service:

1300 766 491

Lifeline (24 hour crisis line):

131 114

Relationships Australia:

1300 364 277

Qld DV Connect Womensline:

1800 811 811

If you would like further information about what behaviours constitute domestic violence, and what to do if you (or someone you know) is experiencing it, call our office on 3238 5900 and also take the time to read our article ‘What is domestic violence, and what can I do if I am experiencing it?’

 

Reference

  1. Business Insider: Manipulative people hook their victims with a tactic called ‘love bombing’ — here are the signs you’ve been a target
  2. Psychology today: The Danger Of Manipulative Love Bombing in a Relationship
  3. Australian Institute of Criminology: Statistical Bulletin
  4. Coercive control: The ‘Panopticon Effect’
  5. ABC News: Hannah Clarke’s domestic violence murder highlighted coercive control — but has anything changed?