1 May 2024

'It's time to take action': Canberra Liberals push to criminalise coercive control

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
Violence against women protest

Coercive control is a factor in 99 per cent of intimate partner domestic violence homicides. Photo: Hayley Nicholls.

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses content that some readers may find distressing.

Laws to make coercive control a standalone criminal offence in the Territory could be a step closer with the Canberra Liberals to introduce legislation at the next sitting week.

The ACT Government provided in-principle support to criminalise coercive control in 2021, but there has been little public-facing legislative action since then.

Shadow Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Minister Leanne Castley said the time for talk was over.

“We know [from a 2022 study] that in 99 per cent of intimate partner homicides, coercive control plays a massive part, so we want to introduce a bill that makes coercive control a criminal offence,” she said.

“Enough is enough … it’s time to take action.”

READ ALSO ‘Failure to properly and appropriately investigate’ the main drivers of the ACT’s rate of low sexual assault charges

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office has defined coercive control as an action that involves perpetrators using “patterns of abusive behaviours over time in a way that creates fear and denies liberty and autonomy”.

Signs of coercive control can include isolating a person from their support system, monitoring their activity, gaslighting, limiting access to money, controlling aspects of a person’s health or body, threatening a person’s children or pets and sexual abuse.

“All of these behaviours occur in many Canberrans’ worlds, and we want to make sure that this behaviour isn’t acceptable, and we will not stand for it anymore,” Ms Castley said.

“I just don’t think we can monitor any longer.”

The Canberra Liberals will introduce an education campaign at the same time that they introduce the private member’s bill for the legislation.

Ms Castley said the party understood education was an important aspect of criminalising coercive control but questioned why the ACT Government had been thinking about this matter for so long.

“Listening to those peak bodies … even kids need to understand what this is. I don’t think waiting and doing nothing is getting it off the ground,” she said.

Both NSW and Queensland have criminalised coercive control. NSW’s laws come into effect in July. South Australia is also considering following suit.

READ ALSO ‘Murder remains murder’: Terminally ill man handed jail time for suffocation death of Jean Morley

When questioned about what the ACT Government had been doing in this space since 2021, Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Minister Yvette Berry said she had been “listening very carefully” to what local experts had been saying before taking action.

“What I’m hearing from the sector is [that] the education should come first – a clear understanding in our community and frontline responders,” she said.

“The experts have told me they want to see and develop … education and supports around what is coercive control and its impacts on domestic, family and sexual violence. It is a complex issue and we want to make sure we get it right so that when legislation is introduced it doesn’t impact on people negatively.”

Ms Berry said the government also wanted to see how the laws played out in NSW to make sure legislation introduced here was appropriate and didn’t include any aspects which could have negative consequences.

“The ACT Government is not dragging its feet. We are being very careful and considered in our approach to making sure that legislation works in the ACT context, and working closely with the sector and those experts to make sure we get it right,” she said.

“What I’ve been hearing very clearly from the services sector is: make sure you work with us, work with the experts in the sector to fully understand coercive control and what we need the community and frontline responders to understand.”

The Canberra Liberals are expected to release an exposure draft of their proposed legislation by 10 May.

Anyone impacted by sexual, domestic or family violence can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Full Stop Australia on 1800 385 578.

Local support services include the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 6247 2525, the Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) on 6280 0900, and Victim Support ACT on 1800 822 272 or 6205 2022.

If this reporting has raised mental health concerns for you, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Remember when the government coerced the public to take the vaxx

Heywood Smith3:10 pm 02 May 24

Oh yeah, them were the days… ‘sigh’.

The liberals are taking extemely complex and casting it as black and white.
Humans in a relationship are free to leave, it gets complex with kids involved, but not impossible. You could also say control/coersion applies to every organised religion. We all know they are funded with control, based in fear. Punished in the afterlife…

One has to simply look at who is driving this to see the real place this law is going to matter, where a child custody case is in play. Instead of risking it out in the family court, the mother will simply claim she felt something was controling, not enough money or he found out I was cheating, so must have been stalking etc. Once this is raised his chances of a fair chance at seeing his kids is gone.

If this law was really about protecting self worth/feelings etc, why not also make adultery illegal without consent. If we need laws to protect people from themselves we’re going to need a lot more laws. An absent parent is going to have more impact than a cheap date.

It also makes the flawed fundamental assumption that those invovled are sound of mind and reasoning enough to understand the behavour of the other person and not jump to some odd irrational conclusion.
If you have been in a commited relationship for a while and things go south in a hurry, rationality tends to go out the window.

According to many US studies: the prevalence of a personality disorder was 9.1% of the population.

You also have to question the modivation to constantly paint women as inferior, can’t see control or manipulation for themselves. Shouldn’t the message we tell our women and girls is that they actually have the strength?

Yes gooterz we should be empowering young women, however, this needs to occur from an early age and with a consistent female centred framework to guide education. Those messages can’t be expected to be sufficient and helpful at a time when women and their children are at much greater risk of intimate partner violence.

Male partners have shown they have greater tendency to react in violent and abusive ways towards their partners and children, the law and social supports must prioritise support to ensure their safety when leaving relationships or experiencing coercion.

The education and prevention work is important for both sexes, but we must also account for the risk to women and children in when relationships are strained.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.