PUBLISHED IN DOWNTOWN MAGAZINE, ISSUE 27
You may have heard the term intimate terrorism or coercive control in the media of late. Coercive control is a form of domestic violence used by abusers or ‘intimate terrorists’ to manipulate, surveil, isolate, and/or restrict their partners from finances and family/friends … there are often rigid rules with harsh consequences.
Coercive control is not defined by one, singular incident. It’s a strategic form of ongoing oppression. It is often more subtle than physical abuse but can be equally harmful.
I have personally experienced coercive control but at the time I didn’t recognise it, and to be honest, I felt quite foolish when a solicitor told me it was a form of abuse. I think it’s like a ship slowly going off course, you don’t realise how bad it’s got until you look back.
You remember the gaslighting, the putting you down, the rigorous monitoring of finances and limiting access to it, the jealousy regarding time spent with family/friends, the conversations your partner had with you about various friends and how they are wrong for you which makes you question yourself and the friendship and slowly you drop them one by one.
I know better now and how to spot the red flags. It’s also the reason why I joined the legal profession; so that I can be of help to others in this, scarily common situation. It’s also why I am a passionate women’s right advocate and a delegate with Asia Pacific Women’s Watch for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Conference being held virtually this year.
This is real - and it can affect anyone.
I want to encourage anyone, if you recognise these issues in your relationship or your friend or family members, please gently let them know ‘it is a thing’, it’s a form of psychological abuse. It’s serious, and whilst its impacts are more documented for women, it can affect anyone.
The NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team report, investigating murders between 2017 and 2019, found 77 of the 78 perpetrators used coercive control on their partner before killing them. Earlier research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in 2016 found women who experienced emotional abuse were 20 times more likely to subsequently suffer from physical violence.
The murder of Brisbane woman Hannah Clarke and her children in February 2020 by her ex-husband following years of control and psychological abuse, catapulted the issue to national attention with calls for urgent law reform. Unbelievably in 2021 the only state in Australia that criminalises coercive control currently is Tasmania that’s why other states such as Queensland have recently announced steps to criminalise coercive control.
There is opinion on both sides of the argument for law reform. I support the 100 plus legal centres, law firms and individuals that endorse the law reform. Of course, we must be cautious about criminalising coercive control. There are a number of important issues to consider, for example: the law must draw a line between criminal behaviour and dysfunctional relationships which aren’t coercive, and the judiciary and police would need extensive training and there would need to be availability of social services and ongoing community education.
I truly believe by criminalising this offence, it not only would help change our legal response but it will improve community awareness and enhance women’s safety and perpetrator accountability.
The wait for law reform.
While we wait for law reform, for now, its critically important to know there is help out there. There are organisations such as Women’s Safety NSW and Domestic Violence NSW. There are apps such as Penda developed by the Women’s Legal Service Queensland. There are capable Social Workers and Psychologists and there are solicitors like me who can help with property and parenting settlements if that what is needed.
If this article has triggered something in you, and you need immediate supports, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.