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CRIMINALISING COERCIVE CONTROL


Could making ‘coercive control’ a criminal offence minimise intimate partner homicide?


In May 2022, the Queensland Government announced plans to introduce legislation making ‘coercive control’ a criminal offence. What do you need to know about coercive control, the new legislation, reforms, and criminal code amendments?


Coercive control has been common talk amongst the general public recently. This collective consciousness of ‘coercive control’ formed after the harrowing incident of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her three children, who were killed in a domestic violence act. It was evident that coercive controlling behaviours were present in the relationship prior to the fatal event.


The devastating impacts of this event not only catalysed a widespread education campaign but also introduced reforms to officially criminalise coercive control in hopes to minimise the possible developmental outcome of intimate partner homicide.


What is coercive control?


In relation to domestic violence, coercive control is a form of abuse involving emotionally restrictive boundaries. Commonly, coercive control involves harsh manipulation from the abuser to enforce an uneven power dynamic that instils fear, isolation and dependency into the victim.


Coercive control may include some of the following behaviours:


  • Making threats;

  • Jealousy and/or possessiveness;

  • Enforcing financial control;

  • Degradation (name-calling, insults, belittling);

  • Controlling the body, such as controlling what the victim of abuse can wear and lifestyle (exercise frequency, diet, sleep schedule, etc.);

  • Restricting freedom by controlling access to transport, preventing communication with other people, etc.;

  • Monitoring activity and location of the victim, monitoring communication between the victim and other people;

  • Isolating the victim from friends and family to enforce control.

This however is not an exhaustive list. There are many ways a victim could be subjected to coercive control.


What will this legislation change?


The reform was originally the result of the report by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, ‘Hear Her Voice’. This report included a total of 89 recommendations regarding domestic violence protection and amendments, including the notion of making coercive control a criminal offence.


Other recommendations include amending current laws to modern lifestyles, i.e. ‘cyberstalking’ to be included in stalking laws.


Coercive or controlling behaviours are recognised and identified in the definition of Domestic Violence under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 – and are often the basis for domestic violence order protection applications. However, the act of coercive control does not constitute a standalone criminal offence. The legislation aims to change this.


Why Make Coercive Control a Criminal Offence


Coercive control, as evidenced by high profile cases, is often a pre-cursor to fateful or severely violent domestic violence incidents. As an example, a victim subject to coercive controlling behaviours may later be a victim to assault, and currently, police action can only be made at the time of assault – not during the earlier coercive controlling behaviours. In cases such as Hannah Clarke, this far-too-late police intervention serves no purpose.

It is hoped that criminalising the behaviours that have frequently and statistically led to future assault could minimise intimate partner homicides and reduce domestic violence in the community.


If made a criminal offence, it has been recommended to carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail, and will likely be introduced to Queensland Parliament by the end of 2023.


How To Proceed


If you feel as though you require additional protection by making an application for a domestic violence order, or should you be required to respond to a domestic violence order, please contact our dedicated team of lawyers so that we can provide you with comprehensive advice as to the most appropriate way to proceed. Learn more about our Domestic Violence team of senior associates, lawyers and paralegals here.


Domestic Violence support line

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811

DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636

Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120

Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000.


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