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NSW’s Pioneering Coercive Control Legislation

Clarity Coercive

Coercive control in relationships is a sinister and often overlooked form of domestic abuse that can have devastating consequences on the lives of victims.

By understanding the nature of this abusive behaviour, recognising the signs, and learning about the legal measures being taken to address it, we can support those who suffer at the hands of their partners and work towards a safer, more equitable society for all.

In this article, we will provide an overview of what coercive control is, the effect it can have on victims and recent changes to legislation that are to become effective in 2024.

Key Takeaways

  • Coercive control is an insidious form of domestic abuse characterised by a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviours that can cause long-term psychological trauma
  • Education, awareness, and legal intervention are essential for preventing coercive control in relationships.
  • Changes to the Crimes Act (1900) NSW will see coercive control become a standalone criminal offence, with NSW being the first state in Australia to do this.

Understanding Coercive Control

Controlling and manipulative behaviours are at the core of coercive control, a pattern of abusive behaviour used to dominate and control a partner, causing long-lasting trauma and emotional harm.

This form of domestic abuse is alarmingly common; in fact, research shows that controlling and manipulative behaviours are present in 99% of relationships prior to domestic homicides in NSW.

The nature of coercive control

Coercive control is a complex mix of different kinds of abuse, such as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, as well as financial control and social isolation. The victims often experience severe outcomes, such as physical and psychological harm, social isolation, and economic dependence on the abuser.

Victims may not even realise they are being subjected to coercive control, as the abuse can begin subtly and escalate over time. As physical violence is not always present, it can be difficult to recognise coercive controlling behaviours.

In some cases, coercive control can also involve child abuse, further complicating the situation and increasing the urgency for intervention. The family law system plays a critical role in addressing significant family violence issues, ensuring the safety and well-being of victims and their children.

Effects on victims

The psychological and emotional damage inflicted by coercive control can be profound, with victims often enduring long-term trauma. They may experience:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation

Struggling to cope with the constant control and manipulation from their partner could lead to other long-term consequences, like post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, and difficulty developing trust in others are some of the hardships victims of coercive control may endure.

Recognising Coercive Controlling Behaviours

Identifying and addressing the insidious form of abuse known as coercive control is heavily dependent on recognising its signs. Indicators may include:

  • Isolating the victim from their support system
  • Restricting access to friends and family
  • Managing finances
  • Tracking activities
  • Persistently criticising and diminishing the individual
  • Using threats or intimidation to maintain control

It is vital to trust one’s intuition if something seems amiss in a relationship and to seek help from a reliable friend or family member if needed. By being aware of these signs and supporting those who may be affected, we can work together to combat coercive control and create safer, healthier relationships.

Clarity Coercision

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW)

In response to the alarming prevalence of coercive control and its devastating effects, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW) will amend the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) to criminalise coercive control in New South Wales.

This is groundbreaking legislation in Australia and the first time that coercive control will be a criminal offence, sending a strong message that coercive control will not be tolerated.

Key provisions

Coercive control will be a criminal offence in section 54D of the Crimes Act.  Behaviours that will be considered an offence include:

  • Act abusively towards someone else.
  • The person being abused is a current or former close partner (the law doesn’t work for past cases).
  • The abuser aims to control or force the other person to do something.
  • A reasonable person would think this behaviour could make someone fear violence or seriously disrupt their normal daily life.

To clarify, abusive behaviour is an umbrella terms and could include behaviours such as:

  • Physical violence.
  • Threatening or scaring someone.
  • Forcing or controlling someone.
  • Hurting a child if someone doesn’t do what they’re told.
  • Hurting the targeted person or another adult if they don’t follow demands.
  • Economic or financial abuse, like holding back money.
  • Actions that shame, belittle, or humiliate.
  • Stalking or monitoring someone’s actions, communications, or whereabouts, either in person, through technology, or other means.
  • Damaging or destroying property.
  • Preventing someone from staying in touch with family and friends, or from taking part in cultural or spiritual practices.
  • Injuring or killing an animal or using an animal to threaten someone.
  • Taking away someone’s freedom or overly controlling their daily life.

To punish someone under the new coercive control law, it must be shown that they meant to hurt the victim physically or mentally with their actions, or they didn’t care if their actions would cause harm. Also, there needs to be evidence of repeated bad behaviour affecting the victim’s freedom to act.

Some people argue that proving the intent to cause harm is too difficult. However, Attorney General Mark Speakman suggests that although the law might evolve, it’s important to start tackling coercive control now. He said, “we could have kept consulting for years… but let’s start today with something that is a massive change already in NSW and build on that years to come.”

What are the penalties of coercive control?

Perpetrators of coercive control face serious consequences under the new legislation. In New South Wales, the maximum penalty for a coercive control offence is imprisonment for up to 7 years. This significant punishment underscores the severity of the crime and the commitment of lawmakers to protect victims and hold abusers accountable.

Implementation date

The new coercive control legislation in NSW is scheduled to come into effect in July of 2024. This upcoming implementation serves as a critical milestone in the fight against domestic abuse, sending a clear message that coercive control is a serious crime with severe consequences.

Support and Resources for Victims of Coercive Control

Victims of coercive control can access a range of support and resources to help them escape abusive relationships and recover from the trauma they have experienced.

Support phone lines such as the Domestic Violence Line (1800 65 64 63) and Lifeline 13 11 14, can be useful resources.

There are also ways that family lawyers can help you. We can advise and help in matters such creating parenting arrangements, helping in separations and divorce, and ensure that if children are involved, decisions that are in their best interests are made.

Preventing Coercive Control in Relationships

A multi-faceted approach encompassing education, awareness, and legal intervention is required to prevent coercive control in relationships. By educating the public about the signs of coercive control and providing resources for those affected, we can work together to identify and address this form of abuse before it escalates.

Legal intervention is necessary to safeguard victims and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (NSW) demonstrated the commitment of lawmakers to protect victims and create a safer society for all.

Summary

In summary, the changes to coercive control laws in NSW is a significant step forward in the fight against domestic abuse. By criminalising a range of abusive powers, a spotlight has been put on this often-overlooked form of abuse, affirming a zero-tolerance stance.

As we prepare for the law’s implementation in 2024, raising awareness and understanding about coercive control is key. This includes recognising its various forms, from physical and economic abuse to emotional manipulation. Education, legal measures, and support services are crucial in protecting and empowering victims.

Attorney General Mark Speakman’s remarks on the law’s evolution underscore its significance as a starting point for broader societal change. The stringent penalties for offenders reflect the seriousness of these crimes and a shift towards greater accountability.

This law is not just a legal measure; it’s a symbol of hope and a commitment to a safer, more respectful society. It’s a call to action for everyone to contribute to ending domestic abuse and supporting those affected by coercive control, paving the way for healthier, freer relationships in the future.

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Rli Samantha@2x
Samantha Miller

Samantha has been a lawyer since 2001 having followed in the steps of her father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather. No one can say she didn’t know what she was getting into!

Initially admitted in 2001 as a solicitor in NSW and Australia, Samantha moved to the UK where she was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2002. After working in several different areas of the law in large London firms, she determined that family law was her calling and hasn’t looked back.

 

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