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Australian Government Looks To Scotland To Improve Domestic Violence Laws Around Coercive Control

A Parliamentary inquiry has heard from those that played a key role in advocating for change

This year has seen a passionate cry for state and territory governments to criminalise coercive control in Australiaespecially in a year that has seen so many women and children staying at home, leading to a spike in domestic violence cases. 

Coercive control is defined as patterns of abusive behaviours that are used by one person to dominate and control another in a relationship. It usually happens gradually and can involve things such as threats, surveillance and withholding finances.

The ‘invisible abuse’, as it’s often described, strips victims of their autonomy and independence.

In Scotland, laws criminalising coercive control came into effect in 2019 and are considered to be the “gold standard” globally. Passing the Domestic Abuse Act, the country created a specific offence of domestic abuse, covering psychical, psychological and emotional behaviours. 

Now, an Australian parliamentary inquiry over the last week looked to the people who helped develop those laws in Scotland, as domestic violence continues to be labelled our nation’s “silent killer”, claiming the life of one woman a week. 

coercive control

Scottish Women’s Aid was one of the many advocating for change and played a central role in passing the Domestic Abuse Act. 

Chief Executive of the Scottish Women’s Aid, Dr Marsha Scott, said Australia’s current laws were ineffective at responding adequately to coercive control. 

“The status quo was not acceptable in Scotland, and I would suggest it’s not acceptable in Australia either,” she said in Parliament, per ABC News

“I have seen so few domestic abuse cases in which there wasn’t some element of coercion.

“It’s important not to think of coercive control as this totally separate phenomenon that happens and then physical assault happens in a different relationship, they’re all embedded together.”

While the Federal Parliament is investigating the issue, criminalising coercive control would require legislative action by state and territory governments.

At the moment, only Tasmania has laws that seek to respond to coercive and controlling behaviours.

Earlier this year, a national poll commissioned by White Ribbon showed that 70 per cent of respondents supported the idea of criminalising coercive control, following the lead of countries including Scotland, the UK, Ireland and Wales, who have all made the behaviour illegal.  

Are Media has since launched its Criminalise Coercive Control Campaign. Launched with Women’s Safety NSW, White Ribbon Australia, Small Steps 4 Hannah, Queensland Women’s Legal Service, Women’s Community Shelters and Doctor’s Against Violence Towards Women, and supported by Are Media brands marie claire, The Australian Women’s Weekly and Better Homes & Gardens, the campaign is calling for coercive control to be criminalised by July 2021.

Sign our petition calling on the government to make coercive control a crime and help us change the lives of thousands of women.

If you or anyone you know needs help or advice, contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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