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NSW – A step closer to criminalising coercive control 

Just days after Christine Barker, a 74 year-old, Bronte resident was allegedly murdered at home by her husband, the 37th woman this year killed by a partner or a former partner, NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman tabled a bill to establish coercive control as a standalone offence. 

The bill is an important step in recognising the full experience of intimate partner violence.  It upholds the safety of women and children and most importantly holds perpetrators to account for their choice to use family violence and abuse. 

Mr Speakman said we cannot afford to wait any longer to criminalise coercive control, insisting that the introduction of new laws through parliament could mean the difference between life and death. 

“Coercive control is complex, insidious and causes untold harm for its victims. This abuse can involve physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse.  

“No person deserves to live in fear, and it is part of our responsibilities in government to uphold the safety and human dignity of all of our citizens,” Mr Speakman said in a statement.  

The new law and pending changes to current legislation will play a role in ensuring the safety of victims and survivors across the state, especially as this form of abuse is recognised as a red flag for intimate partner homicide.  

Meanwhile, agencies and the sector will need to be prepared and supported with the resources, training and awareness raising required to adequately respond to this new law. 

NTV’s position on the Bill

No to Violence broadly supports the NSW’s governments efforts to introduce a standalone offence of coercive control. It is our view that its inclusion in statute has the potential to form improved responses to family and domestic violence, by better defining the extent of its totality and reflecting the lived experience of victim-survivors. 

Our support of the Bill reflects key amendments that will ultimately strengthen its application and implementation. This includes better recognition of how the fear of violence or actual violence towards someone known by a victim-survivor can be used as a form of coercive control, and a more nuanced depiction of technology-facilitated abuse. 

We welcome the establishment of a multi-disciplinary implementation taskforce that will provide significant guidance and oversight on the operationalisation of this offence, and support the Bill’s delayed implementation 

We also welcome the news that $4.9 million is being provided to support coercive control training for police, and to fund multiple awareness campaigns and educational resources – which builds upon a previous $0.7 million announced in the 2022-23 budget (Treasurer, Attorney General, Minister for Women, Minister for Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence 2022).  

Outlawing coercive control 

Last year the government committed to outlawing coercive control, the historically overlooked form of intimate abuse known as part of its response to a parliamentary inquiry. 

If the bill passes, it would not come into effect until 2024 which Mr Speakman said would allow more than enough time to educate frontline services on how to identify coercive control.  

Minister for Women’s Safety Natalie Ward said other countries with similar laws had demonstrated just how important it is to take time to grow community awareness about the offence.  

“This is a very different way of capturing this crime, it is not an incident-based response, it’s a pattern of behaviour over time that forms a picture,” she said. 

The bill will create a separate offence for coercive control, carrying a maximum seven-year sentence.  

Those charged could end up in jail if it’s proven they repeatedly and continuously engaged in abusive behaviour involving violence, threats and intimidation, coercion or control of the other person.  

It must also be proven the accused intended to coerce or control, their conduct was likely to cause fear of violence being used, and seriously impacted the other person’s ability to go about their lives.  

No to Violence (NTV) looks forward to working with Government and our colleagues across the sector to ensure the implementation of the offence is well managed.  

Coercive control explained

The term, “coercive control” has been talked about a lot recently and has coincided with a push to make it illegal under reforms to domestic violence laws across Australia. Coercive control describes a broad range of behaviours that one person (usually a man) uses to intimidate, humiliate, surveil, gaslight and isolate another person (usually a female intimate partner) and strip them of their sense of autonomy and self-worth so as to have control over them. 

The criminalisation of coercive control is designed to address the ongoing, sustained patterns of behaviour that underpins the unacceptable reality that a man murders his partner or former partner  every week in Australia, and millions of Australians experience emotional abuse by an intimate partner at some stage in their lives.  

Victims commonly describe coercive control as feeling like ‘walking on eggshells,’ and report they need to ask permission to do small everyday things, fearing the repercussions of not fulfilling their abuser’s expectations or demands. 

Examples of coercive controlling behaviours can include: 

• Isolating the victim from friends, family and other forms of support 
• Surveillance by continuous texts and calls 
• Manipulating the victim to create dependency 
• Controlling finances 
• Micro-managing day-to-day activities 
• Threatening behaviour, humiliation, degradation and blackmail 
• Identity theft 
• Stalking 
• Stealing possessions and 
• Depriving the victim of receiving care from practitioners. 

 There are nationwide calls for coercive control to be criminalised in Australia.  

Advocates and supporters of the new bill suggest that taking a step to criminalise coercive control could prevent the escalation of domestic violence – emphasising that making it an offence would create the wide-sweeping cultural change necessary to protect victim-survivors.