Domestic violence survivors and advocates are calling on the NSW government to criminalise coercive control as a form of domestic abuse
Women's Safety NSW released a paper on Tuesday highlighting the dangers of coercive control in domestic abuse and calling on the government to criminalise the behaviour.
The paper draws on a 2020 survey of frontline workers and domestic abuse victim-survivors.
The survey found that 100 per cent of victim-survivors experienced psychological abuse and that coercive control was frequently identified as the worst part of domestic violence.
An overwhelming 96 per cent of survivors surveyed agreed the definition of domestic violence in the NSW Crimes Act should be amended so that coercive control was criminalised.
Women's Safety NSW CEO Hayley Foster said coercive control was at the centre of domestic violence.
Coercive behaviours and tactics of fear and intimidation were used by a person to isolate, emotionally manipulate, monitor, and exploit their partner or family member over a period of time to establish and maintain dominance and control over them, she said
Domestic violence victims who were characterised by coercive control lived in a state of terror, had their independence and self-worth undermined and had very little ability to escape and were at serious risk of domestic homicide.
"People tend to think of domestic and family violence as incident based, physical violence. But in truth, it is coercive control, a deliberate pattern of behaviours perpetrated towards a person over time for purpose of establishing and maintaining dominance and control over them that is the real disabling factor for victims and the biggest precursor of severe physical violence and homicide," Ms Foster said.
Current incident-based laws failed to recognise the reality of domestic and family violence and left far too many high-risk victims unprotected, a reality which was strongly reflected by domestic abuse survivors in the state-wide survey.
"Recognising behaviours that constitute DV if implemented correctly could ensure that patterns of behaviour are picked up early and addressed," Ms Foster said.
That would mean that women don't need to be physically assaulted before police act.
Often by the time women are being assaulted they had been "completely isolated, gaslighted to the point that she does not know she is being abused", one survivor reported in the paper.
Another said: "Incident based [law] protects very few people and can actually cause harm either by not recognising the extent or through misidentification (of the perpetrator)".
Women's Safety NSW is calling for system reforms to accompany legislative change, particularly the development of tools, resources and guidelines for police, prosecutors and judicial officers, as well as training and specialisation.
""We clearly need to invest in system reforms including substantial training and specialisation of frontline police officers, prosecutors and judicial officers if we want to get the most out of these reforms," Ms Foster said.
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Australian Associated Press