Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic and family violence and sexual assault. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has recommended that coercive control be criminalised despite the concerns of Aboriginal advocates.
The inquiry heard from frontline workers, advocates, police and academics, and defined coercive control as a “pattern of abuse that degrades, humiliates and isolates victims, and takes away their freedom and autonomy. It has severe psychological impacts on victims”.
The definition also noted that whilst it does not always include physical violence, “it is a common factor in intimate partner homicides”.
Delivering the final report on June 30, the inquiry committee recommended:
- Criminalising coercive control
- Improving current domestic violence laws
- Increasing public education about all forms of domestic abuse
- Increasing funding for domestic abuse and housing services
- Improving the policing of domestic abuse
- Increased education and training for frontline staff.
“The pandemic of domestic violence evidenced through statistics cannot be ignored,” the final report reads.
“It is clear that coercive control is a factor and red flag for the horrific and preventable murder deaths of Australian women and children — some 29 murders in 2020 alone NSW.”
The inquiry findings contest concerns raised by Aboriginal advocates, frontline workers and academics about the severe impact the laws could have on Aboriginal women facing domestic and family violence.
Noongar woman and human rights lawyer Dr Hannah McGlade believes criminalisation of coercive control increases the risk of incarceration for Indigenous women.
“Aboriginal women are experiencing over-policing as potential offenders, under-policing as women who have been victimised and piling a new law on top of that, which won’t address men’s offending, is not sensible and it’s really wrong,” she said.
“The risk is higher than any possible protective element.”
Dr McGlade notes the concerns regarding the misidentification of a primary aggressor, which is a common circumstance for Aboriginal women who report domestic and family violence.
She reflects on the case of Jody Gore in Western Australia who had a “shocking murder sentence despite being a victim of domestic and family violence”.
“In campaigning to free Jody, we were able to expose that there was a miscarriage of justice clearly because she was treated in a racist manner as an Aboriginal woman,” said Dr McGlade.
“She had every right to the law of self-defence, but she was denied it by a white legal system, that felt very free to be racist to Jody without challenge.”
In reporting domestic and family violence, victims run the risk of having their children removed — a consequence that disproportionally affects Aboriginal women.
“Women lose their whole family. Something we should be fighting for in law is that all courts, when considering sentencing particularly of Aboriginal women, should be considering the UN Rights of the Child provision. It says the best interest of the children should be of paramount consideration,” said Dr McGlade.
“The emphasis on new criminal laws is problematic particular in the view of child removal, the link with policing and the lack of reform to address inequality in law today.”
Head of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University and member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council informing the next National Plan to end family, domestic and sexual violence, Professor Bronwyn Carlson, shares Dr McGlade’s sentiments.
“When we talk about coercive control laws … you are putting Indigenous women at further risk to seek help for family and domestic violence and even sexual assault,” she said.
Professor Carlson says whilst the laws may have an intention to protect, they won’t work for Aboriginal women.
“These laws are put in to protect — that idea of protection doesn’t work for us … all the laws placed historically for protection have been used to harm us,” she said.
“We have huge populations of people who are impacted by past and ongoing government policy that are detrimental to us, that take away rights and restrictions.”
Dr McGlade also noted although there is the Closing the Gap target aimed at reducing the rate of domestic and family violence against Aboriginal women and children, the actions of the Federal Government can be considered “hypocritical.”
“It’s like the right hand doesn’t care what the left hand is doing. When it comes to Aboriginal knowledge and expertise, we are being devalued and disrespected,” she said.
McGlade said the Government should be dedicated to working with Indigenous women to “properly respond to violence against Indigenous women through the multi-sectorial health approaches”.
“We do want women’s healing centres, we do want men’s healing groups supported, we do want culturally-informed, trauma programs for our young people and children affected by violence,” she said.
“We want to reform the criminal justice laws to stop this racism against our women.”
If you are experiencing family or domestic violence or sexual assault, please contact:
- National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service – 1800 RESPECT
- Domestic Violence Line NSW – 1800 656 463
- Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
- Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
- Sexual assault helplines for your State or Territory – https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sexual-assault-and-abuse-helplines
Visit respect.gov.au for more information and to download free resources.
By Rachael Knowles