Responding to Coercive Control in Victoria – Broadening the conversation beyond criminalisation

Coercive control is one of the most complex and urgent social issues impacting communities across Australia, and victim survivors clearly need improved responses from the system and the community. Coercive control has always been recognized by the specialist family violence sector as a defining feature of family violence that significantly impacts on the safety and wellbeing of all victim-survivors. Safe and just outcomes for victim survivors requires a whole of systems and community response – where everyone has a shared understanding of what coercive control is and looks like, and how to assess and manage associated risks. Domestic Violence Victoria (DV Vic) and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre (DVRCV), the peak body for specialist family violence services in Victoria, welcomes the growing public conversation about how best to achieve this.

DV Vic and DVRCV CEO Tania Farha states “A new law is not where we should be starting in Victoria, where there is already recognition of coercive control in our legislation. The focus needs to be on improving how existing laws are applied.”

DV Vic and DVRCV have released a position paper that identifies immediate actions that can be taken to improve understanding of and response to coercive control across the broader family violence system. This must start with a shared understanding of coercive control across all systems, services and agencies responding to family violence, that recognises coercive control as a pattern of abusive behaviours and tactics used by a perpetrator to gain power and control over a victim survivor.

While the justice system (civil and criminal) forms part of the systemic response to family violence, DV Vic and DVRCV would not support the introduction of a new offence to criminalise coercive control in Victoria at this stage. It is the peak’s view that criminalisation of coercive control is unlikely to result in safer outcomes for victim survivors or increase perpetrator accountability, while at the same time it may increase risk for those most vulnerable and marginalised victim survivors in the community.

“The criminal justice system’s current response to family violence is inconsistent. We need to look at the whole picture and ensure that we don’t lose sight of victim survivors who for many reasons do not engage with police or the courts,” says Tania Farha.

The peak is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this critical discussion and remains committed to ongoing consideration of the emerging evidence and engagement with the many valid perspectives and viewpoints expressed in this most critical conversation.