While coercive control isn't currently a crime anywhere in Australia except Tasmania, a new bill proposed by the NSW Labor Opposition could be set to change things.
As reported by the ABC, yesterday the party proposed a maximum 10-year jail sentence for perpetrators, marking an unprecedented mainland government stance against coercive control.
Defined as a series of non-physical behaviours including threats, humiliation, monitoring and isolation from friends and family, coercive control has been found to be as damaging to a victim's mental health as physical violence. At worst, it has been likened to a form of intimate terrorism.
But currently within mainland Australia, unless perpetrators physically injure or stalk a person, they're unlikely to be charged, leaving victims with few support options. Alarmingly, coercive control has also been found to be a precursor to domestic violence, as evidenced by the tragic murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children.
"The focus on physical acts allows a distinction to be made between good and bad men," says a report by White Ribbon. "For example, some people may say that most well-meaning men do not perpetrate physical or sexual violence against women. This allows men to believe that if they are not hitting women, then they are not violent and are not the target of violence prevention efforts. In fact many women victims report that they feel most trapped and fearful when the frequency of physical violence decreases."
Coercive control is illegal in a number of countries including Scotland, the UK, Ireland and Wales, with perpetrators facing heavy jail time, but Australia is yet to provide a unified response. The 'Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2020' could change all that.
A new report released last week by Women's Safety NSW says a bill such as this one would enable authorities to intervene and stop offenders without needing to wait for abuse to escalate into physical or sexual violence. It will also better protect children present in the abuse, says NSW Labor MP Trish Doyle, adding that it had been drafted to include all intimate relationships.
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay echoed Doyle's sentiments by asking the Premier to back the bill.
"People are being intimidated, threatened and even killed," she said. "We must work together at a state and federal level to make a meaningful change across the country to keep women and children safe."
If you or someone you know needs help contact the Australian Helpline 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).