Coercive Control in Queensland: Now a Crime? 

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On 6 March 2024, Queensland took a significant step by passing laws that criminalise coercive control, marking itself as the second jurisdiction in Australia to implement such measures, following New South Wales. 

This pivotal legislation is set to be enforced starting in 2025, with severe penalties in place, including a maximum jail sentence of up to 14 years. This move underscores a growing recognition of the severity of coercive control as a form of domestic abuse and the commitment to addressing it with serious legal consequences.

If you’re constantly walking on eggshells, unsure of what might trigger a dispute or undue criticism, it’s important to recognise that these could be signs of coercive control, a serious form of domestic abuse. The legal understanding and framework surrounding coercive control are evolving, aiming to offer better protection and support to those affected.

This blog post delves into the intricacies of coercive control in Queensland, offering you a clear understanding of your rights and the legal support available. Whether you’re facing such a situation yourself or know someone who might be, it’s crucial to be informed and ready to take appropriate action.

What exactly is coercive control and how is it different from other forms of domestic violence?

Coercive control is a pattern of behaviours used by an abuser to exert power and control over their partner. It is a form of domestic violence, but unlike physical abuse which is often episodic, coercive control is insidious and ongoing. It involves a range of tactics, including:

  • Isolation: Limiting contact with friends and family, controlling social activities.
  • Emotional abuse: Humiliation, intimidation, gaslighting, making threats, name-calling.
  • Financial control: Controlling access to money, making the victim financially dependent.
  • Monitoring and stalking: Tracking movements, checking phone and online activity.
  • Intimidation: Threats of violence, harming pets, damaging property.
  • Manipulation: Blaming the victim for the abuse, making them doubt their own sanity.

These tactics are used to create an environment of fear, dependency, and isolation, making it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship or seek help.

While other forms of domestic violence, such as physical or sexual assault, are often easier to identify, coercive control can be harder to recognise as it doesn’t always involve physical violence. It is a form of psychological and emotional abuse that can be just as damaging in the long term.

What are the penalties for someone convicted of coercive control in Queensland?

The maximum penalty for someone convicted of coercive control is 14 years’ imprisonment. The legislation criminalising coercive control was passed in March 2024 and is expected to come into force in 2025.

However, even before the new legislation comes into effect, there are existing laws under domestic and family violence legislation that can be used to address coercive control behaviours. 

It’s important to note that the specific penalty for coercive control will depend on the severity and frequency of the behaviours, as well as any aggravating factors. Each case will be assessed individually by the court.

How will the new laws be enforced and how will victims be protected?

The enforcement of Queensland’s new coercive control laws will involve a multi-faceted approach aimed at both protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable:

1. Police Response:

  • Specialised Training: Police officers will receive training to better recognise and understand the dynamics of coercive control, ensuring they can effectively respond to reports and gather evidence.
  • Proactive Investigation: Police will be empowered to proactively investigate cases of coercive control, even without a formal complaint from the victim, using a range of investigative tools and strategies.
  • Risk Assessment: Officers will conduct thorough risk assessments to determine the level of danger faced by the victim and implement appropriate safety measures.

2. Court Processes:

  • New Offence: The creation of a specific offence of coercive control will provide a clearer legal framework for prosecuting perpetrators and obtaining appropriate penalties.
  • Evidence Gathering: Courts will consider a broader range of evidence, including patterns of behaviour and the cumulative impact on the victim, rather than relying solely on isolated incidents.
  • Protection Orders: Courts can issue Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) to provide immediate protection for victims, restricting the perpetrator’s contact and behaviour.

3. Support Services:

  • Increased Funding: The government has committed to increasing funding for support services for victims of domestic and family violence, including those experiencing coercive control.
  • Specialised Support: Services will be enhanced to offer tailored support for victims of coercive control, including counselling, legal assistance, safety planning, and financial support.
  • Community Awareness: Public awareness campaigns will be conducted to educate the community about coercive control, encouraging victims to seek help and promoting early intervention.

4. Prevention and Early Intervention:

  • Education Programs: Schools and community organisations will implement education programs to raise awareness about healthy relationships and the signs of coercive control, preventing it from occurring in the first place.
  • Early Intervention Programs: Initiatives will be developed to identify and address the early warning signs of coercive control, providing support and resources to both victims and perpetrators to prevent escalation.

By combining these enforcement and protection measures, Queensland aims to create a system that effectively addresses coercive control, holds perpetrators accountable, and provides comprehensive support for victims to rebuild their lives.

What impact will the criminalisation of coercive control have on reducing domestic violence rates?

The criminalisation of coercive control in Queensland, and potentially other parts of Australia, is expected to have a significant impact on reducing domestic violence rates, although the full extent of this impact remains to be seen. Here’s how it’s expected to contribute:

Positive Impacts:

  1. Increased awareness and recognition: Criminalising coercive control sends a clear message that this type of abuse is a serious crime, raising awareness among the public, victims, and perpetrators alike. This can help victims identify the abuse they’re experiencing and seek help sooner.
  2. Improved legal response: A specific offence for coercive control provides a stronger legal framework for police and courts to intervene and hold perpetrators accountable. This can lead to earlier intervention, potentially preventing escalation.
  3. Deterrent effect: The threat of criminal charges and penalties may deter some individuals from engaging in coercive and controlling behaviours, knowing that their actions are now recognised as criminal.
  4. Empowerment for victims: Criminalising coercive control validates victims’ experiences, recognising the harm caused by this form of abuse. This can empower victims to leave abusive relationships and seek support.
  5. Focus on prevention: The legislation prompts a greater focus on early intervention and prevention strategies, educating the community about healthy relationships and the signs of coercive control.

Potential Challenges:

  1. Enforcement and resources: Effective enforcement requires adequate resources for police training, investigation, and support services for victims. Insufficient resources could hinder the law’s impact.
  2. Evidence collection and prosecution: Coercive control cases can be complex and challenging to prosecute due to the nature of the abuse, which is often hidden and involves patterns of behaviour over time.
  3. Unintended consequences: Concerns have been raised about the potential for the law to disproportionately impact marginalised communities, including Indigenous women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Overall, the criminalisation of coercive control in Queensland is a significant step towards addressing the complex issue of domestic violence. While challenges remain, the new law holds the potential to create a safer environment for victims, deter perpetrators, and contribute to a reduction in domestic violence rates over time.

Suffering from coercive control?

Is your partner controlling your life through threats, isolation, or manipulation? You are not alone. Coercive control is now a crime in Queensland. Walker Pender Family Lawyers offer expert legal advice and support to help you escape coercive control and rebuild your life.

Don’t suffer in silence. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.

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