The Premier’s recent announcement that there will be a taskforce set up to investigate Coercive Control laws, to be chaired by Justice Margaret McMurdo, former president of the Queensland Court of Appeal, is welcome news. Effectively the role of the taskforce is to investigate and report back on how best to introduce legislation to criminalise this behaviour.
The term “coercive control” may be fairly unfamiliar to many, however in a nutshell it is a non-physical form of domestic violence designed to intimidate, harm, frighten, or punish another. This behaviour has already been criminalised in Tasmania and the UK, and now Queensland are taking steps to do likewise.
Behaviours which constitute coercive control are broad and can include:
- Isolating another person from their family/support networks
- Imposing arbitrary rules and then punishments when these rules are broken
- Withholding resources, including financial support
- Abusing children or pets
- Gas lighting
- Restricting activities
- Monitoring another person through online means or physical surveillance
- Making threats or intimidating another person
Given the somewhat intangible nature of this behaviour, one of the greatest challenges for this taskforce will be how best to appropriately define coercive control and frame legislation in a manner in which it is accessible and achieves the desired outcome.
It is important to be aware that this is not intended to limit the current Domestic Violence laws in Queensland. The current law recognises domestic violence as being behaviour which is physically, sexually, emotionally, psychologically, or economically abusive or which is threatening, coercive, or which controls or dominates the other person and causes them to fear for their safety and wellbeing. If someone is experiencing domestic violence from a partner or family member they can apply for a Protection Order (for more information on that process, read this article). If granted, this order places restrictions on the perpetrator’s behaviour, which are outlined in the order.
However, the perpetration of domestic violence alone does not constitute a criminal offence (unless of course there are other aspects to domestic violence, such as assault or stalking). It is only if the order is breached that the perpetrator can then be charged with a criminal offence.
What is now being contemplated is how to make coercive control a criminal offence. This would mean that whilst the victim could still apply for a Protection Order to protect them from further behaviour of this nature, the police could also pursue criminal charges against the perpetrator who has undertaken acts of coercive control. Undoubtedly this will provide a far greater deterrent to anyone engaging in this type of behaviour.
The taskforce is due to report back in October 2021 and we will watch with anticipation to see the progress of this legislation. It is hoped that through this process there will be far greater public awareness of this behaviour so that there are far less tragedies, such as that of Hannah Clarke and her children.
If you believe you are in immediate danger, you should immediately contact the police on 000. There are also a number of crisis counselling services that can provide support and assistance and will help to ensure your safety, including DV Connect (1800 811 811), 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), Relationships Australia (1300 364 277), Mensline Australia (1300 789 978), and Aboriginal Family and Domestic Violence Hotline (1800 019 123).