In a huge step forward to further help tackle domestic and family violence, coercive control will be deemed a criminal offence in Queensland by the end of 2023 in the proposed legislation labelled historic by the families of domestic violence victims. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Lawyer Laura Dolan discusses the new laws and other initiatives on Radio 4CRB as part of Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month.
Changes are coming
In December 2021, a highly anticipated report from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce was tabled in state parliament to help victims of domestic and family violence identify the subtle and vicious form of control.
The task force has taken part in extensive consultation with key stakeholders across Queensland, including the judiciary, police, service providers, legal professionals, policymakers, and academics. The task force also gained insight from victims and the families of victims who have not survived domestic and family violence.
The first report “Hear her voice” makes 89 recommendations to reform the justice system and domestic and family violence (DFV) specialist service systems further to ensure they keep victims safe and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
The report highlighted disturbing failings by law enforcement, with the task force’s chair, Margaret McMurdo, detailing how “women perceived their perpetrators are emboldened by police, legal practitioners and judicial officers”.
The taskforce recommended the formation of a new offence to criminalise “coercive control”. However, the report clarified that system-wide reform is required before creating the new offence.
The Queensland Government says it will wholly implement all 89 recommendations, including introducing new laws to criminalise coercive control and conducting a four-month inquiry into widespread cultural issues within Queensland’s police service.
Criminalising coercive control has been on the state’s schedule since the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children in 2020. The 31-year-old mother and her three young children were ambushed on their drive to school, and killed by Ms Clarke’s estranged husband.
These reforms are intended to make sure the justice system repositions to recognise and respond to coercive control and domestic and family violence as a pattern of behaviour over time in a relationship.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has stated it is the government’s intention to have the new law solidified by 2023.
Coercive control is not currently deemed illegal in any Australian state.
The Government’s $363million reforms package will include expanding domestic violence courts and funding more successful co-responder programs, which involve police working alongside domestic violence support services.
The Government also intends to put further measures into place, including:
- A Commission of Inquiry into police response to domestic and family violence
- The expansion of the Domestic and Family Violence Courts
- Better support for women
- A unique strategy to tackle domestic violence for First Nations communities
- Funding for perpetrator programs
- The expansion of high-risk teams and co-responder models to ensure victim access to appropriate services
- Increased education programs in all schools for children and young people about domestic and family violence and respectful relationships.
This approach will focus on the prevention, identification and punishment of coercive control and include educational strategies to help identify abusive behaviours to better allow for early intervention.
The new legislation will tighten the offence of stalking, and $106 million will be committed to protecting victims in court.
The four-month commission of inquiry will address how police assist victims and deal with reports of domestic abuse, which make up a significant portion of policing work. The taskforce’s second report — focused on women’s experiences in the criminal justice system as survivors of sexual violence and as accused persons and offenders—will be released in mid-2022. Following this, the Queensland Government will consider the recommendations outlined in the second report and release a response.
Not all women’s safety advocates have pushed for the reform.
There has been criticism from groups who questioned the terms of reference of the inquiry and expressed concern that the creation of a new criminal offence could further criminalise certain women, particularly Aboriginal women experiencing violence.
Also, the criminalising of coercive control as the current definition in Section 8(5) of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 is very broad could be abused.
In The Act, regarding the meaning of domestic violence and coercion it states: coerce, a person, means compel or force a person to do, or refrain from doing, something.
What is coercive control?
Not all domestic and family abuse is physical, and there are forms of abuse that can be extremely hard to recognise.
Currently, coercive control is conduct that can constitute an act of domestic violence and construct the basis of a Protection Order. Coercive control is a pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviour that intimidates, isolates, and controls a person. Indications of this behaviour can include:
- financial control, for example, limiting someone’s access to funds to meet expenses
- excessive or out of the ordinary monitoring of movements such as placing cameras around the house or installing apps that track your location
- restriction of autonomy, such as restricting someone’s access to transport and phones.
These reforms are intended to make sure the justice system repositions to recognising and responding to coercive control and domestic and family violence as a pattern of behaviour over time in a relationship.
Criminalising coercive control will create a legal pathway for victims to receive earlier intervention, protection, and justice. It’s about identifying behaviour of controlling partners early to prevent the escalation of abuse.
Many of the recommendations addressed challenges in how services and the justice system work together.
The Taskforce identified that improving how the community understands and recognises domestic and family violence is a fundamental starting point to prevent its occurrence in the first place and to assist family and friends in recognising red flags. The community identify DFV early and understand how to intervene appropriately to keep victims safe.
The Taskforce’s second report—focused on women’s experiences in the criminal justice system as victim-survivors of sexual violence and as accused persons and offenders—will be released in mid-2022. Following this, the Queensland Government will consider the recommendations and release a response.
Where to turn for help
Despite the fact the system needs an overhaul to better support victims of domestic and family violence, there are various organisations that work hard to provide support to those in domestic violence situations. If you need help, reach out
- 1800RESPECT is a confidential counselling, and support service, and is available 24/7 to support people affected by sexual assault, family or domestic violence and abuse. Call 1800 737 732.
- National No to Violence Men’s Referral Line – Men seeking help for their behaviour can access live chat seven days a week at ntv.org.au/get-help/ or find out more information about support services. Call 1300 766 491.
- MensLine Australia – A telephone and online counselling service offering support for Australian men, whether using violence or experiencing violence. The service is available any time, from anywhere. MensLine Australia is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Call 1300 789 978.
- Lifeline – Access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14.
- The Family Relationship Advice Line – A national telephone service that helps families affected by relationship or separation issues. Call 1800 050 321 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm (local time).
- DVConnect Womensline – DVConnect Womensline is Queensland’s only 24 hour, seven days a week, 365 days a year crisis response telephone helpline. The service helps respond to the immediate safety needs of women experiencing domestic violence. Call 1800 811 811.
- DVConnect Mensline – DVConnect Mensline is a confidential telephone counselling, referral, information and support service for Queenslanders identifying as a male who may be experiencing or using domestic and family violence. The service is available from 9am until midnight, seven days a week. Call 1800 600 636.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers want to help put a stop to domestic and family violence
We each have a role to play to help protect anyone experiencing domestic and family violence. As individuals, a community, a workplace, and families, we can all play our part in helping prevent domestic and family violence and support those affected.
The signs of domestic violence are not always obvious, and this is especially the case with coercive control and financial abuse.
Everyone has a right to feel safe and be free from violence and abuse. At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have a dedicated team who practice exclusively in family law and domestic and family violence matters.
If you need advice, we are always available to help you understand your options and can help you take urgent action if necessary to ensure your safety. Call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071 for confidential and trusted advice.
If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.
Want to meet with our family law team at one of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne? Contact Family Law Department Manager Donna Tolley on direct line 07 5506 8241, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1800 621 071 to arrange an appointment.