Coercive Control is a form of domestic violence that involves a pattern of behaviour over time which has the cumulative effect of denying victims their autonomy and independence. Coercive control, also commonly referred to as narcissistic abuse, is at the core of domestic and family violence. It is a pattern of deliberate behaviours perpetrated by the narcissist against a victim to create a climate of fear, isolation, intimidation and humiliation. The pattern of behaviour commonly escalates over time, usually when the perpetrator loses control of the victim, after separation occurs.
Coercive control may encapsulate physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse or financial abuse. Often one act of coercive control might seem harmless to a bystander. This is the insidious nature of coercive control and narcissistic abuse. Only when one views the pattern of behaviour over time does it become clear to an onlooker that the person is a victim of coercive control. The common thread between the patterns of behaviour that constitutes coercive control is that the perpetrator seeks to control the victim.
Common examples of coercive control are where a victim is isolated from their friends and family, their activity is monitored and controlled, their access to finances is restricted and they are given restrictions on what they are allowed to wear, say, and do. Often intimidation, emotional and psychological abuse is used as a means to control and dominate the victim, whose sense of reality is tested, such that they often do not know they are being abused.
Whilst coercive control has been an ongoing issue for many victims of domestic violence, and it has taken the lives of many women, it is rarely accurately identified and recognised as being a form of domestic violence by the community, due to a lack of education by members of the police force, the judiciary and the public generally.
Victims of domestic violence and families of those victims have finally seen some progress towards the criminalisation of these acts of domestic violence, with the passing of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022.
This has been a long time coming, with other states considering it and New South Wales already having passed legislation to criminalise coercive control in 2022. The Attorney General Mark Dreyfus is meeting with all state and territory counterparts at present to debate the criminalisation of coercive control nationally.
This is a significant step towards protecting victims of domestic violence and narcissistic abuse from the cumulative effects of a coercive and control, which are wide ranging, with some victims suffering from mental health issues as a result of long term abuse and with other victims being murdered by their perpetrator.
The Act is expected to come into force by the end of 2023.
This Act follows extensive enquiries into the deaths of victims of coercive control and narcissistic abuse, such as Hannah Clark and her three children, with the aim to improve the safety of women in Queensland and to identify and respond to red flags of coercive control earlier before blue police tape surrounds another family home.
What are the features of the coercive control Bill?
The Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Act, strengthens laws to address the patterned nature of coercive control, in order to protect victims, and lays the foundation to create a standalone offence of coercive control later this year.
The amendments will:
- modernise and strengthen the offence of unlawful stalking in the Criminal Code to better capture the broad range of tactics used by perpetrators;
- broaden the definition of domestic and family violence to include behaviour that occurs over time and should be considered in the context of the whole relationship;
- strengthen the court’s response to cross applications for protection orders to ensure the protection of the person most at risk;
- broaden the court’s ability to award costs to help prevent using the legal process to further abuse victims;
- strengthen the consideration of previous domestic violence or criminal history;
- bring domestic violence complainants and other witnesses within the protected witness scheme; and
- allow for the giving of jury directions and expert evidence on domestic violence.
Under the new laws, a person who repeatedly subjects their partner to physical, sexual, psychological or financial abuse may face jail of up to 7 years.
What are the actual amendments made in order to protect victims of Coercive Control and Narcissistic Abuse?
Some of the most notable amendments provided for in the Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Act, which assist in the protection of victims of coercive control, are noted below:
Offence of unlawful stalking
The Bill renames the offence of unlawful stalking in the Criminal Code to Unlawful stalking, intimidation, harassment or abuse. This will broaden the type of offending captured by the offence and better reflect the way a perpetrator might use technology to facilitate the abuse.
The additional conduct that will be captured in the offence of unlawful stalking includes:
- contacting a person using technology;
- monitoring, tracking or surveilling a person’s movements or activities e.g. through a tracking device, or by checking a person’s phone or email;
- publishing offensive material on a website or social media platform;
- giving offensive material to a person whether directly or indirectly;
- a threatening, humiliating or abusive act against a person not involving violence or a threat of violence e.g. publishing a person’s information on a website.
It will be an aggravating factor to the offence, with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment for the offence of unlawful stalking, intimidation, harassment or abuse if a domestic relationship exists between the offender and the stalked person (that is, an intimate personal/family/informal care relationship, as defined in the Domestic & Family Violence Protection Act).
The Court will also be permitted to make a protection order in favour of the victim where there is a charge of stalking, regardless of whether the person is convicted or whether the prosecution ends in another way.
The Bill also increases the maximum penalty for the offence of contravening a protection order to 3 years imprisonment. It will also be an aggravating factor to the offence, with a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment for the offence of contravening a protection order if the person has been convicted of a domestic violence offence in the 5 years before contravention of the order.
Definition of Domestic Violence broadened
The Act amends the definition of domestic violence to specifically define coercive and controlling behaviours. The new definition of domestic, emotional, psychological or economic abuse will include a reference to a pattern of behaviour over time, including individual acts which considered cumulatively, are abusive, threatening, coercive, or cause fear and must be considered in the context of the relationship as a whole.
These amendments will strengthen the system’s response to coercive control so as to shift from focusing on responding to single incidents of violence to focusing on the pattern of abusive behaviour that occurs over time.
Cross Applications for Protection Orders
The Act requires cross applications to be heard together.
The Court will be required to make arrangements for the safety and wellbeing of the person most in need of protection, for example, by enabling a witness to give evidence outside of the courtroom.
The Court will be required to identify the person most in need of protection.
The Court will only be allowed to make one order to protect the person most in need of protection, unless there are exceptional circumstances where there is clear evidence that each of the parties in the relationship are in need of protection from each other. This will help to prevent victims from being exposed to system’s abuse as it has become common for the perpetrator to make an application for a protection order against the victim.
The Court will also be at liberty to make a costs order against an applicant if the Court decides to hear and dismiss the application and in doing so, decides that the party in making the application intentionally engaged in behaviour or continued a pattern of behaviour towards the respondent that is domestic violence. That is, behaviour in which a person misuses the legal system to intentionally control or dominate another person or to torment, intimidate or harass them (i.e. systems abuse / legal abuse). This will help to prevent using the legal process to further abuse victims.
Criminal History and domestic violence history
Queensland Police will be responsible for preparing and providing a criminal history and domestic violence history to the Court in any domestic violence proceeding, to help the court to determine risk to the aggrieved and whether to make a protection order. The Court will be required to consider the respondent’s criminal and domestic violence history when making a protection order.
Criminal history is defined to include all convictions of and charges made against the person whether in Queensland or interstate.
Domestic violence history is defined to include all current and expired domestic violence orders whether in Queensland or interstate.
Expansion of protected witnesses for cross-examination
If a person is a protected witness they may not be cross examined by the defendant if not represented by a lawyer. In this instance, the court may make an order that the defendant be given free legal assistance by legal aid to undertake cross-examination.
The definition of protected witness now brings the complainant of domestic violence within the protected witness scheme. This means that where a defendant is unrepresented, the complainant cannot cross-examine the victim unless such cross-examination is undertaken by a lawyer.
Persons who are named in the order will also be covered by the protected witnesses scheme.
Are you a Coercive Control victim? Seek Help!
Many victims of these toxic relationships attend counselling with their narcissistic partner. The narcissist puts on their mask, manipulates the session, and the victim becomes re-victimised all over again.
Courtney’s legal team of narcissistic abuse specialists, advocate on behalf of victims of coercive control and narcissistic abuse who have separated from the narcissist to free themselves from the narcissist’s grip. At Barton Family Lawyers, we make sure our clients can negotiate with the narcissist on an equal playing field, free from coercion and control and without being re-victimised by the process. Our priority is to ensure that our clients achieve a resolution of all issues quickly and at the least possible financial and emotional cost.
If you are separating or thinking of separating, contact Barton Family Lawyers on 3465 9332 to book a reduced rate initial consultation with one of our experienced Brisbane Family Lawyers who have special expertise and experience dealing with coercive control and narcissistic abuse.
If you are struggling following separation to free yourself from the grips of your abuser and to take your power back, please reach out to someone you love and trust and ask for help. Your mental health is priority. You can’t be a good parent to your children until you look after yourself first.
If you want more information in relation to Coercive Control and Narcissistic Abuse and How to Communicate with a Narcissist, click the link to our videos below:
If you are a coercive control / narcissistic abuse victim and you are getting ready to negotiate your financial settlement with a narcissist, check out our Master Your Negotiation Preparation Handbook.
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