In December 2021, the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce (The Taskforce), led by former Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo, recommended that coercive control be criminalised, with a maximum penalty of 14 years.
The Taskforce was commenced in response to allegations of cultural issues within the police force, including regular misidentification of victims and their perpetrators, brought to light following the murder of Hannah Clark and her three children in 2020, by her estranged husband. Ms Clarke’s inquest brought the term ‘coercive control’ into the public spotlight. Throughout Ms Clarke’s relationship, she was subject to emotional and controlling abuse, a precursor to a grime fate.
On 10 May 2022, the Queensland Government announced a Commission of Inquiry would be held into police responses into the assistance given to domestic violence victims and the reports of domestic abuse. The Taskforce’s final report on women and girl’s experience within the criminal justice system as victim-survivors of sexual abuse is due in June 2022.
What is Coercive Control?
There is no recognised definition of coercive control but is broadly recognised as a form of domestic abuse, identified as a pattern of controlling behaviours an abuser perpetrates onto their partner, creating an uneven power dynamic. The behaviour usually involves manipulation and intimidation, exploiting their partners vulnerabilities to become dependent on the perpetrator. Most victims are females, who have been subject to domestic and family violence from their male partner.
The Taskforce recommend that coercive control can include:
Monitoring of movements
Micromanagement of movements, what is worn, where the victim can go and when
Threats and humiliation
Isolation from family and friends
Degrading put downs
Removing reproductive control
Is it a criminal offence?
In Queensland, coercive and controlling behaviours are recognised under the definition of domestic violence in the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 and can be a foundation for domestic and family violence orders, however, coercive control is not currently a criminal offence.
Currently, police cannot charge an offender with an individual act of coercive control such as, the exploitation and isolation of a victim until the actions constitute a criminal offence identifiable under the Queensland Criminal Code 1899. Tasmania is currently the only state in Australia which has legislation criminalising coercive control.
The Proposed Model
The Queensland Government will introduce a bill before the end of 2023, to criminalise coercive control and has allocated $336 million towards implementing 89 recommendations outlined by the Taskforce including criminalising coercive control under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 as an independent offence and reforming Queensland’s criminal justice system. The Taskforce has recommended a model similar to the offence operating in Scotland, which includes a defence that the conduct was reasonable in the circumstances of the relationship, with the onus of proof on the defendant.
Legislation will be enacted in late 2022 to modernise stalking laws, to include stalking through electronic means as an offence and to include a definition of coercive control. Changes will also be made to expand the specialist family and domestic violence courts, as well as a dedicated strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island individuals.