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Domestic violence legislation band-aid on a brain haemorrhage

Rachael Knowles -

Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

As NSW seeks to criminalise coercive control with a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment, it pulls one of the worst forms of violence into the spotlight.

The Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2020 (NSW), or Preethi's Law, remembers 32-year-old dentist Preethi Reddy, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in March 2019.

Preethi was one of 74 women lost to domestic violence in 2019. This year, so far, we've lost 37.

The NSW Coroner's review of intimate partner homicides identified that 99 per cent of victims were subjected to coercive control by their killer, previous to their death.

Jess Hill, award-winning author of See What You Made Me Do which examines domestic violence in Australia, writes:

"Coercive control trollers don't just abuse their partners to hurt, humiliate or punish them. They don't just use violence to seize power in the moment or gain the advantage in a fight. Instead, they use particular techniquesâ€"isolation, gaslighting, surveillance.

"It is a strategic campaign of abuse held together by fear."

I learnt of Preethi's Law while I was shopping at Woolworths. In that moment, between the cheese and hummus, I joined so many other women in a sigh of relief.

A sigh of relief that recognised someone, somewhere, understood what we have lived and continue to live through.

That someone was NSW Opposition whip and member for Shellharbour, Anna Watson.

Despite a lack of support from NSW Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman, Watson received full support from her caucus.

"What I really want to do is correct that flaw and make sure women who are experiencing coercive control are heard," said Watson.

"I have spoken to so many women now and they've said ... they'd rather have the bruises, the black eyes ... they would prefer that over coercive control. It is the psychological and emotional abuse that is absolute torture."

And I testify to that.

Whilst discussions continue around how Preethi's Law will work, we must ask: are we ready to criminalise coercive control?

The legal system works to sort our world into black and white, but human relationships are infinite shades of grey.

Preethi's Law asks for a verdict to be determined on the basis that the behaviour was reasonable considering the circumstance, but what determines 'reasonable'?

Someone raised in a supportive household, with access to private healthcare and quality education may understand 'reasonable' behaviour differently to someone raised in a violent household, subject to financial stress with limited access to healthcare and education.

What one considers 'reasonable' behaviour is subject to the society and culture they are raised in.

Criminalising this behaviour won't stop itâ€"it's a band-aid to a brain haemorrhage.

We need legislation accompanied by a commitment to rehabilitation, early intervention and education.

Watson knows this; she is campaigning for an awareness program through the Department of Education, place-based solutions and sustained service funding.

One service in need of such funding is the Illawarra Koori Men's Support Group (IKMSG) based in Albion Park Rail.

IKMSG facilitates Brothers Against Domestic Violence (B.A.D.V.), which began in 2007. It is a culturally safe, reactionary program supporting victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

"The Bill, while it will go to great lengths in protecting those that are affected by DV, [will] hopefully highlight the need [for] ... a commitment of support and funding to early intervention programs, [and] better education around crisis situations," said the IKMSG team.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding about what coercive control actually is, there is a huge lack of education around it. Some people who may have perpetuated this behaviour, aren't even aware that what they're doing is considered domestic violence.

"We need to provide support to those people, and education. And for those who have been perpetrators, they need a space to rehabilitate and be supported. They need a space away from the stigma, and they need the opportunity to change."

The IKMSG team supports the role of education in changing the culture.

"It all begins in school. We need our young ones to learn about healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, and consent."

"We run school student cultural mentoring programs; however, our programs are already running on a shoestring. For sustainability of our programs we need more funding and community input," they said.

But education, like legislation, is just another piece of the puzzle.

"Solving domestic violence isn't a one click fix. This is an issue that occurs as a result of many other factors, including lack of education, financial stress and hardship, lack of affordable housing, lack of safe healthcare and can be a result from trauma also," said the IKMSG team.

"You can't have one without the other when it comes to fixing domestic violence."

We can't fix this overnightâ€"cultural change takes time and commitment. A commitment to unlearning and relearning, to overhauling a system and rewriting a new one.

We need to make sure that our society empowers people to be the best they can be, and when they fall downâ€"we help them get back up.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, please contact:

Domestic Violence Line NSW â€" ‍1800 656 463

National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service â€" 1800 RESPECT

Kids Helpline â€" 1800 551 800

Dardi Munwurro Brother to Brother Hotline â€" 1800 435 799

Illawarra Koori Men's Support Group â€"

Visit for more information and to download free resources.

By Rachael Knowles


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