Queensland government moves to legislate coercive control as a form of domestic violence

The bill would amend laws to include a ‘pattern of behaviour’ and update the definition of stalking

The Queensland government will seek to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control, as it moves towards making it a criminal offence in its own right.

The bill, introduced into parliament on Friday, would amend legislation to include a “pattern of behaviour” and update the definition of stalking to reflect modern technology.

It would also amend the criminal code to replace the term “carnal knowledge” with “penile intercourse”, and change the offence of “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child” to “repeated sexual conduct with a child”.

Other proposed changes include strengthening the court’s response to cross-application for protection orders and the court’s consideration of previous domestic violence history.

The attorney general, Shannon Fentiman, said it was “a historic day for Queensland victims of domestic violence”.

“I have just introduced a bill into parliament that will further protect women who are experiencing coercive control,” Fentiman said.

“Today marks the first significant step that really sets the scene for the introduction of a criminal offence of coercive control next year.”

Sue and Lloyd Clarke, the parents of Hannah Clarke, championed the bill.

Sue Clarke said she felt the amendments to the stalking laws would’ve helped Hannah “invaluably”.

“I think there were six or eight iPhones hidden around the house where he would listen to everything [Hannah] did,” she said.

“Just that alone would have given her a bit of ammunition to add to having a stalking offence.”

Other advocates say they’re concerned the government has moved towards criminalising coercive control before receiving the findings of a commission of inquiry into Queensland police’s responses to domestic violence.

The inquiry has revealed distressing evidence of racism and misogyny in the service.

It also heard that First Nations women were regularly misidentified as perpetrators of domestic violence.

Debbie Kilroy, the chief executive of prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside, said criminalising coercive control could cause harm to those it’s aimed at protecting.

“Police don’t charge appropriately now. So they definitely are not going to charge [appropriately] in relation to coercive control,” Kilroy said.

“It may bring some safety to some white women, privileged women. But the reality is … First Nations women are dismissed. They are invisible, they are disappeared, and deemed not worthy by the violence of policing.”

Molly Dragiewicz, a domestic violence research professor from Griffith University, said it was “curious” for the government to move ahead with plans to criminalise coercive control before the inquiry’s findings.

“A new coercive control law cannot fix the endemic problems of racism and sexism in policing,” Dragiewicz said.

Fentiman defended the government’s proposed legislation, saying the bill has strong provisions to protect the person most in need of a domestic violence order.

“When a matter comes to court, a magistrate will now for the first time get the full history of domestic violence and will also have to … determine which person is in most need of protection when looking at the context of a relationship as a whole,” she said.

“The new offence will be introduced next year but it’s important we’re doing this first so there aren’t unintended consequences.”

Nadia Bromley, chief executive of Women’s Legal Service Queensland, said while her organisation is supportive of the legislation, it needs to involve “careful consideration” of the impacts on First Nation women.

“Today is strong step in the right direction. The success will depend on both the continuing commitment of the government and a whole of community response,” Bromley said.

The chief executive of the Domestic Violence Action Centre, Amie Carrington, said coercive control required a considered and holistic approach.

“It is really crucial to address the unintended consequences of any legislative change [by] working together with our First Nations people, survivors and the sector,” she said.

The bill will be referred to the state’s legal affairs and safety committee for review, before being debated at the end of the year or early next year.

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org


Eden Gillespie

The GuardianTramp

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