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Queensland police, politicians and community leaders search for solutions to fatal scourge

Time to act: “A kind of domestic hostage-taking in which the victim has no outside to escape to, because the supposed safe place, the relationship, the home, the family network, has been identified as the point of imprisonment and entrapment.”

CAMPAIGNERS against family violence are pressing for the outlawing of coercive control between partners as a way to stop domestic homicides.

Queensland is set to hold a domestic violence summit late this month, as police and politicians search for solutions to the domestic violence scourge following the Camp Hill murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children. 

The Queensland Women’s Legal Service announced an urgent priority list of reforms that includes criminalising coercive control that is now considered an important behavioural indicator that serious physical violence could follow. 

A review of domestic violence-related homicides in New South Wales, for instance, found that in 99 per cent of cases, the relationship between partners was characterised by the male abuser’s use of coercive controlling behaviours towards the victim.

American researcher Dr Evan Stark, who introduced the concept of coercive control says it is more effective in trapping women in relationships than physical violence. 

It is the psychological abuse that a perpetrator uses to dominate a victim rather than inflicting physical harm, and includes constant surveillance and manipulation, isolation from friends and family, rigid rules, degrading put-downs, humiliation and threats.

Dr Stark says the level of “control” in abusive relationships is a better predictor than prior assaults of future sexual assault and of severe and fatal violence.

“I think we need a law that punishes offenders at the same level that we would punish people that take hostages, or kidnap people, because what we’re really dealing with, although the analogy’s by no means perfect, is a kind of domestic terrorism,” Dr Stark said during an interview for the United States documentary Power and Control.

“A kind of domestic hostage-taking in which the victim has no outside to escape to, because the supposed safe place, the relationship, the home, the family network, has been identified as the point of imprisonment and entrapment.”

Britain has already taken action, with coercive abuse declared a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2015, and in Scotland and Ireland in 2018. 

After reviewing the British laws, a doctoral candidate at Deakin Law School Paul McGorrery has just co-authored a book Criminalising Coercive Control.

“The new offences were designed to protect human rights by addressing gaps in the criminal law, gaps which permitted significant harmful activities to previously go unpunished,” Mr McGorrery wrote.

In 2005 Tasmania introduced laws making economic and emotional abuse an intimidation offence. 

However, until now, conviction rates have been low.

Speaking about the agenda for this month’s domestic violence summit, Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “everything can be on the table”.

“There is a great deal to be discussed in this space and I know for a fact that there have been wheels turning behind the scenes and a lot of ideas being shared,” she said.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington called on the State Government to consider a full review of the criminal justice system, including a consideration of coercive control.

“We owe it to Hannah Clarke and countless other people who have lost their lives, and survivors of domestic violence, to make sure we look at a suite of reforms,” Ms Frecklington told the ABC.

“Isolating a person, depriving basic needs, it can be a financial control, these are usually elements that are around a domestic violence victim … the problems they are facing often comes from these means.”

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