Transcript | Love, Power & Control Part Two: The Australian Context 

Content warning: domestic abuse, violence


Transcript | Love, Power & Control Part Two: The Australian Context

Editor’s Note: Love, Power and Control was a two part webinar series, hosted by the Victorian Women’s Trust. If you are able, we encourage you to watch both videos here. Transcripts are provided for reference only and may contain typos. Please confirm accuracy before quoting.

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Jess Hill (moderator)

So I want to say, firstly, that I’m coming to you personally from the traditional lands of the Eora people of the Gadigal nation, and I pay respect to their elders past and present. They’re the traditional owners of this land and their sovereignty was never ceded. And I also want to acknowledge anybody among the panelists, and also who’s on the call today with their own history of family violence. Thank you, especially for being here.

 

Jess 

Now, this is part two of the Love, Power & Control webinar series. It’s hosted by the fantastic Victoria Women’s Trust. My name is Jess Hill, I’m a journalist and the author of See What You Made Me Do, which is about the phenomenon of domestic abuse in Australia. Now, I know a number of you on the call, have either worked on this issue or unfortunately experienced it or been subjected to it for years, and that we all share this frustration that at even this time with the most heightened awareness that we’ve ever had, it seems we still have this system that is no match for the power and influence that perpetrators wield over their partners, their ex partners and their children. And it’s clear that the status quo is not acceptable. What’s not so clear or agreed on is how we best go about changing it.

 

Jess 

So what we’re here to talk about today is the notion of criminalising coercive control, and whether or how this might improve the various systems that allow this behaviour to flourish, that failed to protect victims survivors and let perpetrators continue this particular kind of abuse with what seems like virtual impunity. And this is tricky territory. And before we get started with our incredible lineup of speakers, I just want to give you a basic lay of the land.

 

Jess 

Tomorrow, it will be one year since Rowan Baxter murdered Hannah Clarke and her three children Laianah, Trey and Aaliyah. I’m sure many of you can remember where you were when you heard this news. It was a just a devastating and heinous crime. Personally it took me many days to really get my head around and feel -yeah, it was something that I think we were all grieving collectively. And it had a huge impact. Rowan Baxter has become this exemplar for coercive control. Because what he did is he showed exactly how dangerous controlling and degrading abuse can be, even where physical violence is absent. His behaviour ticked virtually every box for coercive control. So instead of just giving generic description of coercive control, I’ll give you a sense of what he subjected Hannah and the kids to because essentially, this is this is a laundry list of coercive control techniques.

 

Jess 

He isolated Hannah from her friends and family, and limited her access to them. He deprived Hannah of basic needs, such as food, clothing and sleep.  He controlled her daily life, where she could go, who she could see, what she had to wear. He prevented her from attending doctors for her medical needs. He belittled her with insults about her figure and her mothering ability. He made up rules for her to obey and punished her for disobeying his rules. He stalked her, monitoring her location using mobile phone tracking software, and other devices. He tracked other members of her family, spied on them and confronted them in public places. He’d threatened to kill his previous wife and son and he threatened to kill himself as a means of forcing Hannah to stay with him. He printed and shared intimate photos of Hannah. He destroyed mobile phones and his children’s watches and he even threw his kids toys away as punishment for them not putting them away.

 

Jess 

Now, in that list, we don’t hear much about what the kids were subjected to, but remember that what the mother experience’s the kids experience, and there’s a lot more else that I’m sure we could say about what the kids were subjected to. Now, these are not just red flags for future physical violence or for domestic homicide, they are incredibly harmful forms of abuse in their own right. And they are also, as a pattern of behaviour criminalised under coercive control charges in, uh, across the UK. Now in Australia, some of those behaviours are criminalised, and many would warrant a protection order. But as a system of abuse, this type of coercive control is largely unseen by the criminal justice system or largely invisible.

 

Jess 

So since the murder last year, coercive control’s become this big topic of national interest, both in the media and with lawmakers. And I think what’s happened is that we’ve gone from really talking about domestic abuse, as you know, a discrete set of abuses that physical sexual violence, emotional, financial, spiritual and psychological. And, this new lens we’re applying in the media, particularly and what lawmakers are starting to comprehend is something that the domestic violence sector has been aware of since the 70s.

 

Jess 

For the majority of women and kids who seek help, they are describing a system of abuse that follows this plot line that is so predictable, you can pretty much, you know, you can pretty much ask them, bit by bit what they were subjected to, and most women and children will tick almost every box. And coercive control is the model for understanding what this typical plot line looks like. And it’s why so many victim survivors who have been subjected to it often say when they hear it explained, it’s like this light bulb moment, especially for those who never thought of what they went through as domestic abuse because they were never or they were only really physically or sexually assaulted.

 

Jess 

Physical and sexual violence may or may not be used in coercive control. When it is, it’s just one of many tools a perpetrator uses. So political interest in criminalising coercive control is developed quite quickly, you’ve got the Queensland Government yesterday committing to criminalising coercive control, established a task force to consult. That report is due in October. It’s got the backing of the Queensland police commissioner, who says police are already training officers in identifying it and collecting evidence.

 

Jess 

The Northern Territory government has announced plans to become the next jurisdiction to criminalise, the New South Wales Government is beginning public hearings next week for its inquiry into criminalising. The opposition in South Australia has tabled a bill, and Tasmania of course, criminalised elements of coercive control, namely emotional and financial abuse back in 2004. But the law has had limited effect, and there are many reasons for that. And last night, a motion calling on the Federal government to coordinate a national approach to coercive control passed the Senate and it’s now passed the House of reps.

 

Jess 

So there is strong momentum behind criminalising, but it’s not a fait accompli and it is still a very divisive issue inside and outside the sector. So today, we’re going to hear from a range of experts on how why and whether or not we should criminalise coercive control. I’ll introduce each speaker individually and ask them to present their thoughts on the topic for three minutes. And then we’ll follow up with a general discussion.

 

Jess 

Now due to the number of panelists, today, we won’t have time for questions at the end. But I really encourage you to drop any questions you have into the q&a, if you have them, and I might be able to weave that into a discussion. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first speaker, who is Angela Lynch, head of the Queensland women’s legal service. Thank you, Angela.

 

Angela Lynch 

Thanks, Jess, you can hear? Great. I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I’m speaking today, which are the Yuguara and Turubul people, and acknowledge all First Nations people who are participating in this webinar and who are attending the webinar.

 

Angela Lynch 

The criminal law provides a baseline in our community of acceptable behaviour. The introduction of a course of conduct coercive control offence, sends a strong message backed by state sanction to our community, that coercive controlling behaviour in relationships is not acceptable, no matter whether a woman wants to take criminal action or not, and many will not. It is a powerful statement to say your experience is not only morally wrong, it’s against the law.

 

Angela Lynch 

The criminal law has a role to play in general deterrence and attitude change, it is not the entire response and never should be. But it is a key part- has a key part to play in perpetrator accountability, especially for highly dangerous perpetrators. As we are aware it is extremely harmful to women’s psychological health in the short and long term. I’m particularly interested in, as an opportunity to shift the system, especially the policing system and the legal system in relation to changing police and legal culture by pushing these important systems into considering a pattern of abuse and obtaining a full history from the woman. And making it a crime does matter to educating these important institutions, it actually makes a difference that it’s the criminal law, not just the civil law.

 

Angela Lynch 

It also may provide opportunity for better decision making in relation to women who’ve been charged with murder after killing their abuser in the face of life-threatening domestic violence. And we’ve seen this overseas that it’s actually had a practical impact on Sally Challen’s case, where the Court of Appeal reduced her conviction from murder to manslaughter and she walked free from that court, and her family who are now advocates for coercive control said it really was that community messaging around coercive control that informed the appeal judges. I actually also think it may provide an avenue for intimate partner sexual violence, but for those women who suffered this to obtain some level of accountability and justice.

 

Angela Lynch 

There are pitfalls and safeguards are required. I think they’re you know, everyone’s talked about extensive statewide training, I think we have to consider increasing support to women who go through the system, including their ability to access a victim’s legal service, obtain- update investigatory tools for the police that construct the offence around a reasonableness test, like an objective test or a higher level test, situate the offence under some guiding principles that talk about it being a gender based crime, operationalise it with senior police specially trained who are specially trained to sign off on the charge, and explicitly exclude explicitly exclude from the coercive control offence, people taking action in good faith to protect a child or someone else. This is not the first time we’ve had legal led culture change. So they’re the points I wanted to make, Jess, hopefully just over three minutes.

 

Jess 

Fantastic. Thank you, Angela. And I just wanted to ask a brief question that there’s, there is a growing movement against the criminal justice system being used in domestic violence matters. Some believe the systems should be abolished entirely. Others say there’s just no way for women and kids to get justice or safety from a patriarchal system, and it hasn’t worked to reduce domestic violence anyway, what do you think of this? And what and what do you think of as the role of the criminal justice system?

 

Angela Lynch 

We have clients that do use the criminal justice system, and they turn to it for safety. And, and and when he is in prison is possibly the only time that they feel safe or have some time to themselves and time to breathe. And we have many women that come to us in the domestic violence courts that are absolutely terrified, because he’s about to be released from prison. So I, you know, I mean, criminalisation is not the whole answer. It’s part it has an important part to play, and women do turn to it for for safety and actually do get a level of safety from it. And if they do get a conviction as well, or if he’s found guilty, and doesn’t, it doesn’t require to go to prison, that assists through the whole process, including in the family court and other courts, because, you know, obviously, the evidence is so sound having that criminal conviction.

 

Jess 

Okay, thanks so much, Angela. So second, we have Christine Robinson, who’s both the coordinator of the Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre, and also a member of the New South Wales domestic violence death review team. Thank you so much, Christine.

 

Christine Robertson 

Thanks for having me again, I hope everyone can hear me. Before I start, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which is the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respects to the elders both past and present, and any other Aboriginal First Nations people that are present, um, on this forum today, what I wanted to do was just give a bit more of an outline of some of the issues that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women do face around coercive control.

 

Christine Robertson 

We’ve acknowledged that it’s been happening for a long time, and it’s been given a language or it’s been given terminology. So it’s not something that, it’s something that’s very new to Aboriginal people, and Torres Straight Islander people living in community. As I said, it’s been happening for a long time, but it’s been happening a lot of different ways. But I also think one of the things that we’ve recognised as well is that it’s not just the intimate partner relationship, it’s also the family, it’s the community.

 

Christine Robertson 

Some of the barriers that Aboriginal women, and I’ll talk specifically when I’ll just say Aboriginal, but I will be inclusive of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. But in saying that, Black Lives Matters is- has brought, you know, domestic violence and a lot of issues for Aboriginal people to the forefront, around police brutality and issues that have been there in that sort of arena, but also, but for women wanting to report their partners and their coercive controlling behaviours comes around black deaths in custody. That’s one of the things that makes women scared to come forward and report the violence.

 

Christine Robertson 

We also see cultural and, um, cultural and spiritual abuse around in relation to coworker coercive control, not being able to go back to country, not being able to practice certain customs or traditions that are part and parcel of who, who the Aboriginal people are or what their actual community groups are. So keeping those things in mind is really important as well.

 

Christine Robertson 

And I know that we talk about this across the board around suicide rates and mental health, we unfortunately some of the things that are used for coercive controlling measures for Aboriginal people are the things that we’re, we had the highest statistics in. Around suicide, around incarceration rates, and around child removal. So knowing that coercive control also means that we come under the guise of people threatening around our children being removed and stolen generations actually seeing those patterns be continued is a real concern for our community.

 

Christine Robertson 

So the other thing around New South Wales, I wanted to just mention is that Aboriginal women’s rates of incarcerate of incarceration is increasing every day, we have the highest rates of Aboriginal women in prison. And we have actually superseding the men in prison. So our rates are increasing all the time. And we just think that this is going to be a really, a big concern for us, in relation to coercive control being criminalised, is that we still do not have confidence in the police, in the police, and the justice service being our systems, being able to identify who the perpetrator is, and being able to identify the issues around coercive control.

 

Christine Robertson 

In saying that, we actually feel that that we support criminalisation of coercive control. However, it’s not as simple as that. And I don’t think, we are not prepared to sort of say, let’s, let’s introduce this, this legislation, because we don’t think that we’re at a, we’re in a, we’re at a, we’re not in a position now to say, yes, let’s tick the boxes, say  let’s introduce it. There are things that need to be put in place before any of this happens. It’s around community being being able to understand what coercive control means it’s, like I said, it’s been happening for years, and no one knows what it is, it’s a new language that non Aboriginal people were just starting to understand the terminology.

 

Christine Robertson 

And before this legislation came out, all the changes around this, people were struggling with what it was, what what it is, and this is non Aboriginal people that have more, you know, more access to resources, information, and all those different kinds of things. And to see this happened in rural and remote communities, it’s going to be like, it’s, it’s going to be difficult to implement any of this kind of, these kind of changes, but we need to see the education, we need the education and awareness around it in relation to the justice system, relation to police and resourcing.

 

Christine Robertson 

We’re not, we’re still not seeing Aboriginal women getting the right kind of responses when going into a breach around AVOs, going into see if they can get a variation on the AVO, seeing if they can actually get an AVO. So we’re having concerns around being able to do that, how are our women actually going to be getting, be getting proper and appropriate services that are culturally appropriate, that are understanding, empathetic, but also actually, you know, systems doing their job, like systems and people being able to do their jobs. And it’s not just the justice system, we think that even services will not understand. And I think there are people on the ground that won’t understand this. And so our concern is about there needs to be a lot more consultation.

 

Christine Robertson 

There’s not been you know, even though they’re studying, they’re doing a submission, they receiving submissions, they’re also doing  consultations, it’s it’s a short timeframe. And if we look at Scotland, then we look at how long they took to invest in, and the time they invest into that, and to have practical solutions and to be able to have things in place before they actually implement a legislative legislative change. This is our concern is that, it’s a good idea.

 

Christine Robertson 

And I agree with Angela, as well, in saying that, you know, you know, we’re an Aboriginal Women’s Legal Service and the women that come to us, are the women that are actually saying, yes, we want, we want to take criminal charges, we want things done. We don’t want to be in a violent situation. We want to protect ourselves and our children, we and and sometimes the only way they can have response is if the perpetrator is incarcerated. But in saying that we also think there needs to be programs, there needs to be education for perpetrators, victims, services in the justice system. I don’t know, I haven’t timed myself. So I’m not sure if I’ve done three minutes or not. But it’s a lot to talk about.

 

Jess 

Yeah, we probably have, but that was really good to hear all of that. You summed it up beautifully. I’d just ask a very quick question, um, just so we keep time, but it sounds to me that you would then support what the Queensland Government is doing around setting this very long lead time, I think they’ve set for years, much like what Scotland looked at before, before this actually becomes operational?

 

Christine Robertson 

Yes, definitely. And as you mentioned earlier, I am on the Death Review, on the New South Wales Death Review team, and it was something that came out of that, and we saw the behaviours and the patterns of behaviours, and we and there definitely needs to be something done about it. But it can’t just be a knee jerk reaction. It needs to be something that’s, um you know, extensive sort of evaluation, consultation, the whole process and, yeah, I would agree with, uh, something along similar lines.

 

Jess 

I think that there’s a- having spoken to the Attorney General Shannon Fentiman from Queensland, her approach seems to be this is an opportunity to reassess the whole criminal justice system and and how it responds to to domestic abuse, which seems to me the the most thorough that we’ve heard so far. But of course, every everybody else is still in the very early stages. Thank you so much, Christine. Now we have Paul McGorrery from Deakin University. He’s a criminal lawyer and PhD candidate, and he co edited the recent book Criminalising Coercive Control. Thanks so much, Paul.

 

Paul McGorrery 

Thanks, Jess, before I start, I’d like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging. Our time is scarce, so I’ll try and be brief.

 

Paul McGorrery 

What I want to talk to you about is what we know about domestic abuse today, and why I’m convinced that a new coercive control offence is necessary if we do it right. We know that one in four Australian women aged 16 to 49 have experienced emotional abuse from a current or former intimate partner. We know that psychological and economic abuse of an intimate partner are the most common forms of abuse, even more so than physical and sexual violence. We know that almost all perpetrators of domestic abuse are men, and that they come from all walks of life. About one third of psychological violence perpetrators are in professional or managerial roles.

 

Paul McGorrery 

We know that the human rights and health implications of abuse are extreme and intolerable. Victims are frequently criminalised, suicidal and deprived of economic resources. They experience serious physical and mental ill health consequences, and are isolated from positive social supports. And they have their most fundamental rights of liberty, autonomy and dignity undermined on a daily basis.

 

Paul McGorrery 

We know that domestic abuse costs Australia 10s of billions of dollars every year, a number that far outstrips the actual investment by Australian Governments into its preventative and responsive efforts. We know that victims experience abuse not as a series of isolated incidents, but as a continuous and incessant pattern of behaviour. Despite that, we know that the criminal justice system currently looks at intimate partner abuse through the lens of single incidents. “Who hit who tonight? Who smashed the phone? Who made threats?”

 

Paul McGorrery 

We also know that this approach of looking at abuse as single incidents significantly increases the risk of misidentifying women as the primary aggressor, even though their behaviour was a momentary reaction to weeks, months or years of abuse. And we know that intervention orders, civil orders that victims can seek from courts, if they’ve already experienced abuse, are often ineffective at deterring perpetrators, place too much of the burden of safety on victims themselves, carry very low maximum penalties and as such are sentenced far too leniently for the extensive abuse that breach offences can be, can capture.

 

Paul McGorrery 

Moreover, only criminalising coercive control when it breaches a court order inappropriately sends victims the message that their abuse only warrants a justice system response because the perpetrator disobeyed the court. Coercive control is in my view, the only behaviour in society that we universally condemn, and which we know causes significant harm, to which the criminal justice system currently turns a blind eye.

 

Paul McGorrery 

The aim of a coercive control offence is to give all of us, especially those of us in the justice system, a new lens through which we look at abuse. To see the abuse the way victims see it, as a pattern of behaviour, as a terrifying shadow that follows them everywhere. State denunciation of this behaviour can validate what victims already know that his behaviour is unacceptable. It can transform the way we talk about abuse with each other, at the dinner table, in schools, at parties with friends, because it says that in our democratic society, we’ve collectively decided to condemn this behaviour with the most powerful tool at our disposal.

 

Paul McGorrery 

It can change the way domestic abuse is policed, prosecuted and sentenced. victims will report it, police will take it seriously. They will investigate it because they’ll be trained to do so. And courts will impose sentences that reflect the seriousness of his behaviour. Making this behaviour criminal won’t be easy, and there are no guarantees. And I think Christine’s just done a great job outlining a lot of the qualifiers that those advocating criminalisation would demand, before it actually happens. But the current system isn’t working, and done right, with proper resourcing, training, and broader system reforms, criminalising coercive control could catalyse a real improvement in women’s safety.

 

Jess 

Thank you, Paul. One question I had for you and I and I know this will be difficult to answer briefly. But you know, we’ve seen these wildly divergent conviction rates between England and Scotland. So we have a conviction rate in Scotland, which is pretty high. In the first year of the offence, the specialist prosecutor there says that 96% of charges reported to the police, or are reported by the police to the courts under the new laws were prosecuted, and the conviction rate was around 79 to 81%.

 

Jess 

But new data from England shows an abysmal rate in one area we see 93% of coercive control cases being dropped in another only 4% of recorded coercive control cases resulting in a charge being laid. So I just wonder if you can, if you can tell us. What do you think accounts for this gigantic difference?

 

Paul McGorrery 

It’s a great question. And you’re right. It’s not one that can easily be answered, but I will do my best. England and Wales law came into effect in 2015 and Scotland’s was more recent, it came into effect in April 2019. The difference between the jurist-two jurisdictions is something Christine’s already highlighted. And that’s the four year lead up time of having conversations about criminalisation, and training everyone about the offence before it comes into effect.

 

Paul McGorrery 

So in Scotland 10s of 1000s of people were literally trained, and not just an online module, but genuinely trained about what coercive control is and how the offence is supposed to work. That included not just police and prosecutors and judges, it extended to anyone whose work has contact with the justice system in a family violence context, paramedics were trained.

 

Paul McGorrery 

Now, because of that, on 1 April 2019, when the Scottish offence came into effect, everyone was ready. Everyone in the system that needed to be ready was ready. In contrast, in England and Wales, two years into the into their offence being in operation, only eight of 43 police forces received dedicated training about the new offence. So that’s really a salient lesson for each Australian jurisdiction, as we look into criminalising the fundamental indispensability of training before it comes into effect.

 

Jess 

And I think probably a real topic for for someone to research if we could get someone researching this sort of like, as soon as possible, what like what are the factors from the way that police collect evidence through to the way that this is actually referred to the courts and then prosecuted? What is, are there structural issues within these two justice systems that are different, there being a specialist, DV prosecutor in Scotland, and perhaps not the equivalent in England, you know, there’s so many things to think about there. But thank you so much, Paul, that was really valuable. Now, we’ll hear from Tanya Farha, who is CEO of the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Victoria and domestic violence Victoria, thank you so much, Tanya.

 

Tania Farha 

Thanks, Jess. And hello, everybody. Um, so can I also acknowledge that I’m meeting on the land of the Kulin nation, here, and just also acknowledge elders past and present, and everyone from Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities with us today, also acknowledge all the victims survivors are who might be with survivor advocates, for because it’s for, for them that we do our work at the peak.

 

Tania Farha 

You know, it’s funny, I’m listening to all of this and realising we agree on so much more than we could ever disagree about, you know, particularly having listened to Christine and Paul, and the lead up times, I guess. And I’m kind of consciousness is the first time that we, as a peak have spoken about this in the public domain. I think it’s really important to say that in, I’m talking about this very much from the context of Victoria, we’ve been on quite a long journey in Victoria over many years, including before the Royal Commission, but from the Royal Commission onwards now, particularly. And I think it’s really important to continue our conversations in that vein, which is a very collegiate way. So I’m really conscious of having a respectful and nuanced discussion, I think.

 

Tania Farha 

But I think one of the most important things for us really is about what is our common understanding of coercive control. So this might go to the lead time that we’ve been talking about, do we all understand it in the same way? Because I guess when I listen to the national debates, I hear a lot of it conflated with non physical forms of violence. And I understand why, for many years, we haven’t, you know, we haven’t really, I think, being able to address non physical forms of family violence, which is all coercive control for us as well, in the way that we need to. But for me, I feel like that’s a slightly separate discussion.

 

Tania Farha 

So I guess, fundamentally, I think, for us to proceed, in Victoria, I think it’s really important to develop this shared understanding amongst the system, because we really do have the starts of a really good system here in Victoria. And it’s really important that people irrespective of the path they choose, so whether they come in through the criminal justice system, or whether they come, and in the majority, we know they don’t, they come in through the other parts of the service system, they get the best help and support based on an integrated model of integrated service delivery model, and a much more expansive approach. And yes, we can argue criminalisation should be a part of that. But I guess our point really is, it shouldn’t be where we start the discussion.

 

Tania Farha 

I think one of the things that I wanted to, to talk about really is that we know that there are some inherent difficulties in the system, it’s- in the criminal justice system itself in responding adequately to family violence. It’s, it’s ill equipped in a way to deal with the nuance and the complexity. And I really appreciate and recognise that this could be the catalyst for change. But there have been so many opportunities and catalysts for change in this system. It’s in a way the least agile and potentially most re traumatising element of an entire service system response.

 

Tania Farha 

And I think if we think about the legislative framework already in place in Victoria, it’s it’s a comprehensive legislation developed over many years. And most recently, I think, enhanced by the findings from the Royal Commission. And coercive control is already a central feature of Victoria’s, albeit, civil law, but it’s embodied in the principles, the preamble, the purpose and the definition of the Act. And it’s really important to remember that.

 

Tania Farha 

And I think that there, you know, I won’t talk about marginalising people who are already marginalised, because Christine did that very well. We’ve got you know, that those concerns are really clear. So people from Aboriginal backgrounds, but also people from non English speaking backgrounds, there’s a whole range of potential risks there, if it’s not done right, and we’ve all, we’ve all spoken about that. I think what we’re really saying is, let’s see if we can explore a better, more comprehensive way to do this, a more expansive way that starts across the system, and that we should continue working together here in Victoria, like we’ve been doing.

 

Tania Farha 

In many parts of the of the of the reforms, we should continue that approach because it served us well. And I’m not saying there’s nothing from debates that happened nationally that we can’t learn. And indeed, at the peak, we’ve been calling for harmonisation in standards for responding to family violence, particularly around risk assessment and management. But I think more than anything, this is a cultural issue, embedding a model or a framework for how we really commonly understand and report and respond to coercive control.

 

Tania Farha 

It’s really critical, I think, especially in Victoria, where we’ve got this this model, this system, with vested parties who can really come together and talk about how we bring this vision to life. And like people have mentioned in Scotland, even in England, where they’ve legislated, they’ve really learned the lessons from the past. Take your time, think about it think about in a more expansive way. So really, that’s our starting point.

 

Jess 

I’m muted. Can I ask you what you think, in it, given that we have two jurisdictions or two, a state in a territory that have committed to criminalising? Are there any harms do you think that will come from criminalisation that these two like areas need to be especially alert to that you’re that make you sort of feel like I don’t want to centre criminalisation as the first priority?

 

Tania Farha 

I think it’s a great question, just because really importantly, and I think Christine might have alluded to this, about the idea, you need a systems response to support people. That’s the first thing that really needs to be built in the in this system. I think, you know, we’ve all seen the harm of just going through the criminal justice system, without the relevant supports, without the relevant advocate, you know, advocates there, but more importantly, what makes the system effective is all the components being there and established and in place.

 

Tania Farha 

And I think in Victoria, we’ve come a long way to that place. We haven’t got there yet. We are getting there. And it’s really important that we continue this discussion together in this state, so that we make sure that we’ve got a proper systemic response. And that around that, then we think about, well, then what else is missing? But I feel like we’ve missed it -you know, we may miss a few steps if we don’t continue along the path in which we started.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much.

 

Tania Farha 

I hope I answered your question.

 

Jess 

You absolutely did. Yeah. I mean, there’s so many different answers you can give to question, you know, and we could speak for an hour about one question. Thank you, Tanya. Now to Heather Douglas, professor of law at Melbourne law school, who’s done so much research into the way that victims survivors interact with the with the justice system. Over to you, Heather.

 

Heather Douglas 

Yeah, thanks, Jess. I also want to acknowledge the Wurundjeri elders past, present and emerging on whose land, on whose unceeded land I’m speaking to you from today. As Jess said, I’ve researched in mostly in criminal law for the recents of 10, 12 years or so. And currently I’m based in Melbourne, but I’ve more recently been based in Queensland.

 

Heather Douglas 

And I’ve just published a book actually called Women, Intimate Partner Violence and the Law. And that was based on interviews with over 60 women in Queensland who I talked to over three times over three years. And I asked them about their experiences with law. And for most of those women, overwhelmingly they are interested in family law, Child Protection, visas, protection orders, really the criminal law response was not high on their agenda in relation to what needs change. They did want Child Protection workers, police, judges, lawyers, and so on to better understand coercive control, but criminalisation, incarceration, their partners loss of employment was not usually their primary focus or their main aim. Really what they wanted was decisions around their children and their visas and the conditions of their protection orders and the response to breaches to be made in ways that better account and support their safety.

 

Heather Douglas 

So, for what it’s worth, I am skeptical that criminalisation, of coercive control will actually make victims safer. I don’t think there is a lot of evidence from the UK that these offences are having that effect. I think there are other ways that we could have the effects that some people are arguing have happened as a result of the criminalisation.

 

Heather Douglas 

I’m concerned about, as others have said victims of coercive control being criminalised under such an offence because we know that routinely, women are misidentified by police and magistrates as perpetrators of violence in protection order applications and breaches of those orders. And we also know, as, as others have said, that criminalisation has particularly negative effects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and especially currently, especially Aboriginal women.

 

Heather Douglas 

Breach of protection orders are at the moment, a gateway, a real gateway for action for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and other marginalised women into the criminal justice system. And I think breach offences have the most common components to a proposed coercive control offence. In fact, we also know that people in CALD communities have expressed concern about the impact of this kind of offence in their communities. An offence of coercive control certainly widens the net of criminal liability and women who’ve come with their families to Australia, potentially on insecure visas face much greater risk of deportation much to them, potentially back to a much more unsafe community, as a result of this offence being charged more readily against their partners.

 

Heather Douglas 

I’m also concerned that charges of coercive control might be pursued without women’s consent, and more women will be caught up in a criminal justice process that causes them lots of other difficulties with other aspects of their lives, like visas, like housing, like financial support, like childcare. So it’s my recent research in Queensland actually has found that many women spend a lot of hours trying to extricate their partners from criminal justice processes, often telling police and prosecutors inconsistent stories. And while the prosecution may still go ahead despite those inconsistent stories, those stories stay on the record causing women many difficulties in other processes down the track. So family law and civil protectionism alike.

 

Heather Douglas 

Finally, the resources question, is it right to spend yet more money on criminalisation and all of its associated costs, policing, prosecution, legal aid, magistrates bail, more punishment, when we know that behaviour change doesn’t likely come from that direction, and might in fact, make the behaviour worse, even in those cases where the perpetrator is jailed, it’s usually not for very long, and it certainly doesn’t make the woman safer, necessarily in the long term, or the future partner of that man.

 

Heather Douglas 

We also know that caseworkers support housing, education, financial support, employment, men’s behaviour change programs can have positive effects, and all of those are currently under resourced and not operating as well as they might. We know that these systems like family law, in terms of law, where women are more engaged are desperately in need of appropriate reform and resourcing. And that’s just not happening. I agree that criminalisation may help recognise, denounce and potentially fast track the understanding of coercive control. And I do think it’s important that as a community, we do have a better understanding of this. But it seems to me that there are other ways that this might be done. Sorry, Jess.

 

Jess 

Sorry, host muting. What do you think about the cultural impacts of laws when we introduce new laws? Because I guess, you know, what we see it as the law or the law has many functions in a society, but essentially, that it sets the rules in which we’re, how we’re allowed to operate in a society. Not always fairly, as we’re all aware. But what do you think the impact would be of a explicit rule around how you are not allowed to oppress someone in personal life?

 

Heather Douglas 

Look, I think it’s a really great idea, as Tanya, I think was saying to have an overarching understanding of coercive control in our community. And for us to have massive campaigns about why that’s wrong and why it’s inappropriate. I mean I think that we already have trouble implementing the concept of coercive control in the family law system, and in the protection order system. I think police have had coercive control at their fingertips in Queensland and Victoria for a long time, and they’re not very good at implementing that. I don’t see that a criminal justice response will necessarily improve that approach. I think there are other ways we could do that.

 

Heather Douglas 

At the moment, police don’t have enough training in domestic and family violence. We keep saying they need to be trained properly. They need refresher courses, they need to understand this. They’re not even implementing the criminal offences that they have available to them. Why wasn’t Hannah Clark’s ex partner charged with stalking? Why wasn’t he? That probably was available in that context, yet it wasn’t used. So I do think that the criminal law is a really blunt instrument, and it has a lot of potential negative impact. And it’s too quick that we turn to sort of law and order to fix our community’s problems. I just don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that that approach actually is ultimately helpful.

 

Heather Douglas 

When we, I suppose the comment that example in Queensland would be strangulation, which I think it’s true that the strangulation offence being introduced there has had an extraordinarily strong impact on improving community understanding of strangulation, but it might be hard to talk about the cause and effect there, because there was also lots of training around it in all sorts of directions to the community. So I think training is really at the core of all of this. The other point to make about strangulation is that the the, there’s an extraordinary disproportion of Indigenous people being prosecuted under that offence, it’s something around 30%. So you know, we have these incredibly negative effects of criminalisation, which don’t necessarily have the positive effects, which we might think might come from them.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much, Heather. Now, last but not least, to Dr. Manjula O’Connor, who is a psychiatrist and social activist who advocates against family violence in immigrant communities. And Manjula notably led a global campaign against dowry abuse that led to new laws being introduced against it in the Victoria, Victorian family violence Protection Act. Thank you so much, Manjula.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Thank you, Jess, and thank you, to Victoria Women’s Trust for having me, it’s an amazing panel. And most of what I want to say is been covered, I do want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we all stand on. And what I want to start with is to say that my psychiatric practice and action research is largely focused on gender based violence in migrant communities and my activist, and community work is also based in migrant communities. So I speak from a experience that is not just community based, but also individual women experience telling me what they’re going through in my consulting rooms.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And what I am hearing from the women is that they are that the perpetrators do not recognise the impact they are having on the women, they need some kind of a educative tool that tells them that their behaviour is coercive and controlling, that patriarchal dominance is not, you know, it’s a common thing in our families. And I come from Indian background where patriarchal dominance is a, taken for, you know, granted, and most of it is quite benevolent, and quite, assists the family. But where it’s gradually creeps into intimidation, control, then those kind of issues are not being recognised as abusive within the communities.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

The other aspect of coercive controlling behaviours, such as isolation, threats and deprivation of resources, the women who are new into the country who appear, who come for love, for marriage, in fact, are so much more vulnerable to these techniques, and they don’t even realise that that is something that is wrong, that is happening to them, and the communities need education.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And the additional tools that allow the perpetrators to get away with in our, in our communities, is domestic servitude. So basically women working very, very hard to earn their income, but then having to come home and do the housework and do the chores. And as well as look after him and provide him sex. And if it doesn’t happen, if the sex doesn’t happen, then there is extreme intimidation. And the women believe that that is their duty to go through this. And the demands for dowry.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Now it is something that has taken a lot of work to create an awareness that dowry is an quintessential example of course of controlling behaviour, where coercive demands and where criticism and humiliations and and then denying her her own income in lieu of in dowry because she didn’t bring sufficient dowry.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Now all of those things need to be educated and they need to be given a name and that name must have power. It’s not just enough to educate the community that this is coercive controlling behaviour, they need to know that this thing will get them into jail. And I believe that migrants, the minute they get into the country, at least not maybe not a minute, but maybe a few years later, they need to be educated into these laws, when they are in love with their new home to know that these laws, well, are real, they will get them into trouble. And no particular migrant wishes to be on the wrong side of the law. The point is that we have not been educating them. And the laws have not had enough teeth to actually catch up with those perpetrators.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And I just want to slight slightly digress and talk about how the amazing impact on the victim of this coercive control, the texture of fear that is woven into the personhood of the victim that leads to loss of autonomy, independent thinking, creating a slave or a hostage like situation. And then depression, anxiety, panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, suicidality.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And then the worst part about it is that the perpetrator is completely unaccounted for, he is missing, and the police have no further action to take. And neither do the courts and the coercive control law will allow us to ensure that the calm and stable looking perpetrators are, their true natures are, are exposed. And that is when the women are being diagnosed as suffering from borderline personality disorders and delusional disorders, as a result of having suffered coercive control for years, and their children are being taken away, that the judges and the system will know that this is a punishable crime. It’s not something that the perpetrators should be allowed to get away with, which is what is happening right now. That is why we need this law. Thank you.

 

Jess 

Thank you, Doctor. And…I wanted to just mention is that when I was writing the book, the decision to call it domestic abuse in the book and not domestic violence was was made on the basis of an article by Yasmin Kahn who works with women from the subcontinent in Brisbane. And, and she said that she would have all these women come up to her and saying, you know, the worst he’s done is, you know, throw tea in my face or something, he’s never hit me. So it’s not domestic violence, but then would would describe these horrific campaigns of control and domination.

 

Jess 

And so I wonder, Manjula, what do you think? I mean, so we’ve had sort of some talk about whether or not the actual criminalisation is necessary, or whether community education can stand in for that with the power of protection orders. How, how important do you think is it for, actually making this stick? The idea that cause of control is not permitted? How important is it to actually have have it designated as a crime? And does that actually pose a risk to migrant women?

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Yep. So the short answer yes to both of those questions. So basically, I think that what we need to do is to have a graded response, bit like what’s happening in England right now. And I was looking at their figures and basically 10% got cautions. Just trying to grab hold of my page .10%, 10, oh, no, sorry, there were 10 cautions, 516 proceedings, 308 convictions, of that only 65% received custodial sentence, 32% received a suspended sentence or a community sentence, 1.9% received either a fine or a conditional discharge. And the average custodial sentence was to 20 months.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Basically, there’s a gradient response from civil to criminal, and where there is a strong evidence of the cultural harm, uh, of, the harm to that family, by this man being taken away and put in jail, for example, he’s the only breadwinner, then there may be a couple of things we can do. One is that we support the family and the woman come comprehensively with housing and Centrelink support. And they are, the other is to let him off with a caution that you do it next time, and you’ll go to jail.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

You know, and so basically, it’s not a yes or no system, there is a grading, which is what allows safety in the system. And so that the women are protected, the men are protected from excessive punishment as well and the families remain together, where that is the essential factor.

 

Jess 

That’s an interesting point that you know, that maybe when you just look at data and gosh, all of us know this data is so misleading unless it’s got context. And it’s something I hadn’t really considered about the English data, maybe there, it’s not just reflective of poor policing or under utilisation, but it might be reflective of, as you say, more of a graded response. And, you know, that would, that would take some looking into but I think, you know, definitely, Scotland seems very intent on, on, a one pathway, it’s like, you know, you get charged, it goes through to prosecution, it goes through to conviction. So there’s a lot of blanks to fill in here.

 

Jess 

Just, just one last question, Manjula. What, what would you say is most important when we’re talking about how to define coercive control and who would operates between? Pragna Patel, on our last, on our last webinar said that intimate partner violence is a Eurocentric concept, because in South Asian families and African families, we’re talking about the involvement and inclusion of family members in this whole system. How would you account for that in in coercive control law?

 

Manjula O’Connor 

So yes, I heard her and it’s absolutely right. And that is my experience. And in our research, we have shown them that multiple perpetrators, essentially the, you know, the mother in law comes into it, the sister in law comes into it, the brother in law comes into it, and they, the victim is usually the newest member of the family, which is the daughter in law.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And so if you are calling it an intimate partner violence, then the true perpetrators are getting away with it, which is exactly what is happening with our immigration law right now, the migration law, they do not recognise the multiple perpetrators, they only recognise the partner violence, which then gives rise to a lot of problem for the women because most of this dowry abuse and domestic servitude and inciting abuse from the husband to the wife happens at the instigation of the mother in law, that is essentially, uh, coercive control. And we have a theory behind why that happens. And that is called patriarchal bargain.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Why do these women continue to support the system that oppresses women? Why? So think about it, what does mother in law get from oppressing the daughter in law? What she gets is the love and reward from her son, and from her husband. It’s called the patriarchal bargain. And we have to recognise this is not something that is easy to break through, we need the legal system to support us, to unmake the mother in law and the sister in law, understand that what they are doing is called coercive control. And it is punishable offence by going to jail.

 

Jess 

So to change the patriarchal bargain in that sense that actually you’re risking something by by engaging in this behaviour.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Correct, that it will not go unrecognised, which it does now. It’s a very unconscious, hidden societal power, that the chains are very hard to break.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much, Manjula. That was really enlightening. We have a question here from the Women’s Legal Service Victoria, that we feel is important to address. And they’ve asked, are we at risk of losing sight of the good legislative response to coercive control, for example, as seen in the Victorian legislation in the family violence Protection Act, in this national focus on whether or not to criminalise? I wonder if anyone has anything they’d like to offer on that?

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Um, can I go first? So in all the patients that I have seen, many times the parents have rung me from India, or from their families across the world, saying, the woman is suffering through going through enormous amount of emotional abuse and all the examples of coercive control we’ve heard today, but the police are not doing anything about we have the law, but the police still haven’t grappled with the concept of what is coercive control. And they know. The women know. The police know. Nothing will happen as a result of taking this woman to court. If she has suffered emotional abuse, nothing will happen. And the women sit there crying and saying that, look, I am suffering, but there is no accountability going on. That is why it’s not simply education.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

That’s been happening for the police and I talked to the police trainers all the time. They tell me that they are training police continuously. It’s about not conceptualising and not recognising the serious impact of that behaviour. In law, it will have if we have the crime if it has it, have it listed as a crime.

 

Jess 

And these women are living in Victoria, are they?

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Yes, correct.

 

Jess 

And, Heather?

 

Heather Douglas 

I was just going to say, I think that the national sort of stepping in here might be good. Because at the moment, we have a situation where we have different definitions of domestic and family violence in all these different systems. And I think it’s crazy in such a small country with so few people, large country, not many people, that in one state, you can find that you can get a protection order, or that child protection will intervene or not intervene, and in another state, there’s a completely different response.

 

Heather Douglas 

So I think that idea of having a national, sort of statement and understanding of coercive control that filters into all of these other systems would be really great. The question of a criminal offense is, as I think sort of Tanya said, a bit of a separate question.

 

Jess 

Anyone else got anything they’d like to add? No? I, so we’ve got a bit of time left. And I know, Tanya has to leave precisely on two o’clock. And I’m sure there’ll be some people who are on this seminar, who will need to leave at two as well. But we are going to run just a little bit over until about quarter past. So I’d like to offer everyone, starting with Tanya, just three minutes, as as I guess in response to what you’ve heard today, whether it brings up any new thoughts, or anything else that you’d like to add that you didn’t get a chance to?

 

Tania Farha 

Thanks, Jess, thanks for the opportunity to go first. I appreciate everybody’s time is precious. I guess, um, I really have valued this discussion today. I’ve, you know, I’ve thought I’ve seen a lot of similarities, I’ve learned a few things too and there’s things that I’ll take back to my organisation and our members and share.

 

Tania Farha 

But I think the other thing to say about this too, is that, you know, we’re talking about education of purpose, you know, of the perpetrator or people who are using, I think we also need to start thinking about how do we change beliefs, behaviors and attitudes way, way earlier than that in the piece. And this is where a national understanding of coercive control is really important. Because a lot of primary prevention, I know primary prevention takes time. And we can’t wait for that to have effect, we still need a really good response system. I’ve worked in both parts of the system, so I know that and I’m I’m very alive to be issue.

 

Tania Farha 

But I think at the heart of this is really what is driving this, this behaviour, these rigid gender stereotypes and norms, this unequal power relationships, where if one person wields power and control over the other in all family contexts, you know, we haven’t even spoke the LGBTIQ, whether it’s family violence is far greater, over represented people with a disability, particularly women with disabilities. You know, these ideas, this conflation of romantic love and control behaviour, all of these have to be addressed at the root causes, and you know, at the root at the very base of it.

 

Tania Farha 

That’s why why things like respectful relationships in schools is so critical. And where we should also have number of parallel things happening so we can increase awareness understanding, and we can address it in multiple ways. Hopefully, before it even happens, you know? So that’s really one one last thing thought I wanted to leave with about cultural change more broadly.

 

Jess 

I agree, Tanya. And you know, that something that I constantly asked myself is, you know, what are the needs that these men are trying to meet by oppressing their partners? And I think for a long time, we’ve seen it through a pretty, a lens of well, they get privilege, they get power, they get, but what are they, what are they needing? And why do they so often ruin their own lives to get it?

 

Jess 

You know, I think the New South Wales Death Review team and correct me if I’m wrong, Christine, but they did a, they looked into suicide, and what they wanted to find out what sort of, what percentage of suicides were, were committed by people who had a history of domestic violence, that, you know, that they would find that a great portion of people who’d been victimised, and they actually ended up finding a greater proportion of perpetrators who were committing suicide.

 

Jess 

And I think that sometimes, you know, I mean, Rowan Baxter, for example, I’m sorry to be, you know, visceral and graphic, but, you know, he stabbed himself to death, after he did that to his family. That’s not someone who’s in their power. You know, that’s somebody who is annihilating themselves and their family. So I think understanding coercive control and this need this need for oppression and domination is something that would be so useful to inform that early prevention work that we do.

 

Tania Farha 

Can I just say thank you and goodbye, and I really appreciate the opportunity and the invitation to participate. Look forward to talking to you all again in some other forum. Thank you very much.

 

Jess 

Thanks so much, Tanya. And I, can I turn to Christine, is there anything else you would like to add?

 

Christine Robertson 

I think I put most of it in the chat because and I’m not really good at doing the chat because I’m trying to listen and trying to write. But in saying that, yeah, I think the main thing that I just wanted to get across was that we actually felt under pressure to come up with a position ourselves. And that was basically because of the time- timeframes, the time when the submissions had to be due. And so I do think that, you know, looking at a small service like ours and being able to consult, if we can’t do that, we’re one of the people that have a ear closer to the ground.

 

Christine Robertson 

We need more time to be able to consult with our own our own clients, and our own community group. So in saying that, we support the position and I still say that we support the position. But we’re not saying whether or not needs to be a standalone offence, or whether or not be included under DV, as some of the other states have in their legislation. So that’s what we need more time to do. And that’s what the consultation should hopefully prove, that um, yeah, it’s just not one, one or the other at this point. It needs to be there.

 

Jess 

Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, Christine, you know, having had a couple of chats to the Attorney General’s team about this, I think they were quite surprised. They thought people would want to do it quicker. I don’t think they they anticipated that the sector would say can you slow down? And so I think it’s, it’s actually been an educative process for government.

 

Jess 

And I and, to be honest, for journalists to say, the fact that this may take a long time is not a bad thing. It’s not, you know, dragging your heels to spend a lot of time considering whether or not this is the right step to take, or how to take it so that it actually has an effect, you know, it doesn’t harm people.

 

Jess 

So, so hopefully, that message is really starting to be heard. And I think the government is starting to hear that loud and clear from the sector. And I certainly think that any any report that comes out in, in New South Wales, you know, it’s just particular to where you’re based, hopefully, is only just a first step towards actually consulting, you know, on that more deeper, granular level, because it is rushed, you know,

 

Christine Robertson 

And I think it’s about trying to get it right in the first instance, or as right as possible, rather than coming up with something that’s going to be you know, it’s going to have a lot of ramifications, a lot of impact, and particularly on victims of violence, and Aboriginal people.

 

Jess 

100%. Thank you so much, Christine, and Angela, it’s been an eon since you spoke I you’ve been listening. So what other any other thoughts?

 

Christine Robertson 

Oh, look, just a small thought. I’m just thankful to be, and it was an amazing panel. Thank you, Jess, and the Victorian Women’s Trust for pulling that together. I look, I’m thankful to be in Queensland. We have all those issues in relation to the criminal justice system that we’ve spoken about today. We have now the ability to really kind of deep dive into that in in our women in the criminal justice system review, which I mean, the terms of reference haven’t been released yet.

 

Christine Robertson 

But, you know, I would imagine that that there’s a number of things and themes that we’ve spoken about today that will be, that will be able to can be considered because the criminal justice system really wasn’t set up for these intimate partner crimes, it was really set up for, you know, sort of the crime between two individuals that didn’t know one another, and we’re never going to have anything else to do with one another. So kind of how do we restructure a system that was set up in that way between stranger violence to more intimate partner violence? So given that, we would be given the opportunity to do that, so that’s fantastic.

 

Christine Robertson 

The other thing I just wanted to talk about is the need about family law and coercive control. Last night, the Parliament of Australia abolished the Family Court of Australia, which is interesting. We have the Hanson review being revealed, is coming out next week. We know over in England, men’s rights groups have been arguing for for parental alienation to be part of coercive control. So I think we have to be all on our front foot in relation to that as a possibility and could be a recommendation out of this report. And what does that mean? Yeah, that’s my thoughts.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much, Angela. And I agree, being vigilant against the attempts to include parental alienation in this but also really, and the consulting process, making sure children are centred because their experiences while, you know, technically secondary to the experience of their parents, is, as we all know, they experience it differently not just as kids but depending on which sibling they are, and what you know, they have so much to offer.

 

Jess 

And in Scotland, one of the strengths I think of that whole four year process was the centring of kids and kids actually added so much to the definition of coercive control on the behaviours. One thing I remember, Marsha Scott from women’s aid, saying they made sure that threats to harm a pet were included in the list of behaviours because that to them, that was one of the most terrifying things they had to deal with. And so I think everything that we’re talking about has to constantly be going okay. How does this affect the children? You know, and how are they being considered in this? Thank you so much, Angela. Um, Heather. Do you have any thoughts?

 

Heather Douglas 

I suppose I keep thinking about this is 100 years ago, but the 2010 Australian Law Reform Commission on legal systems, and we really haven’t implemented all the recommendations from that. And perhaps we should remind ourselves of that report as well, which recommended joined up systems, so that systems are connected and that they have similar definitions, and that they work together and not just legal systems, obviously, but obviously, financial and housing systems and so on, so that people who have experienced domestic and family violence or abuse, they actually confront a system which a system is able to navigate a connected system. And we are so far from that.

 

Heather Douglas 

I mean, it’s heartening to see that at least Queensland is looking at a holistic review of the criminal justice system, but really, that needs to be seen also in connection with all of those other legal systems and other systems that women confront when they’re trying to, flee violence.

 

Jess 

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I think that a lot of the feedback that you get from victim survivors, when they’re talking about this, is that really, we’re not just talking about legal systems. We’re talking about Centrelink, we’re talking about the tenancy boards, you know, we’re talking about every when you and you know, this, everyone knows this, who works in the area, systems abuse can be done through every conceivable system that we have. And often when I’m doing, the education, we’ve both done with magistrates in Victoria, you know, they’ll have people from the tenancy board there as well as the magistrates, because perpetrators will use even energy companies, you know, I mean, literally, this is a society-wide education piece.

 

Heather Douglas 

Banking. Yeah. Absolutely.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much. And, um, Paul, do you have any thoughts?

 

Paul McGorrery 

Yeah, I’ll start with something I should have said, which is thanking the Victorian Women’s Trust for hosting this, and you Jess for moderating last week’s and this week’s session. I don’t know if you can see my palpitations. But when I say 300 people are still in this room. It’s terrifying. But I also know the power that this many people who care about domestic abuse can have.

 

Paul McGorrery 

So rather than making an additional point, I might ask a sort of favour from everyone here. Because as Tanya pointed out, there’s 99% of this that almost all of us agree on. I would ask for all of us to hold government and media accountable for how they are talking about this issue. I’ve seen multiple mis-reportings in the last few days alone, where they’ve described, where non physical abuse has been considered synonymous with coercive control, rather than coercive control encompassing physical and non physical forms of abuse. But almost more importantly, everyone here agrees that if we criminalise coercive control, so some of us for some are against, but everyone agrees that if we do, consultation, training and resourcing are indispensable.

 

Paul McGorrery 

Don’t let your MPs rush this reform, if it happens, don’t let them not speak to Indigenous groups and victims survivors, don’t let them not listen to the sectors who will be affected by this, don’t let them not put their money where their mouth is and resource everything that needs to be done to make sure that this works effectively. And I think in in groups of this size, and you know, beyond, I think there’s real power in that.

 

Jess 

Absolutely, Paul, that was really well put and I think, you know, the the greater project that also goes on is accountability in these system’s, accountability in policing, you know, accountability. And this is something that, particularly Christine is, you know, people like Christine are just working towards every single day. But there is, what I guess, some of what this debate opens up as far as, as far as I can see is that it sort of reopens the whole conversation and reopens the system for analysis.

 

Jess 

Now, what will come out of that is yet to be determined, and it will depend a lot on political will, but also, as you say, pressure from the public to really take this opportunity, because it is an opportunity, and it’s an opportunity that’s been building for decades, but particularly since 2014. You know, really when when Rosie Batty sort of turned this into a national issue, when we were sort of ready to listen finally, and then with the with the murder of Hannah Clark last year, another watershed moment, you know, we don’t want to keep having homicides as the watershed moments that open up opportunities, you know, we need to sort of really build on what we’ve already got an incredible advocacy. So thank you so much, Paul. It’s really good of you to say, and, Manjula, do you have any last words?

 

Manjula O’Connor 

Just a  comment on suicide in perpetrators, I just wanted to say that perpetrators — I actually just appeared in the coroner’s court where a man who killed his partner and himself. So there are actually multiple reasons why perpetrators kill themselves, partly it has to do with the fact that they are, you know, driven by a need to control everything.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And once that control is taken away, then there is a sudden sense of a emptiness, hollowness and nothing to live for kind of a feeling. And the other thing is that many of these perpetrators are also suffering from, you know, financial stress, depression, anxiety, substance use, all those kinds of problems that just add bit by bit to the entire sense of, I’m the man, I have to be in charge. And when they are not, that when they are, you know, there’s a lack of hope and feeling of entrapment themselves, and that’s when that leads to suicide, and homicide.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And it’s a very tricky area, and something that every perpetrator in men’s behaviour change program needs to learn about what is the value of control to their self esteem, that’s what it comes down to. And but I just want to close on saying that we need definitely lead time. And I would definitely give it about three, four years, but the community education of migrants as they are coming into the country is going to change, they have hybrid identity that is forming, which is a mixture of their original and their new home. And that’s the time to get in and change it.

 

Manjula O’Connor 

And we do have a program, which is called Mutual Relational Respect that is based around educating around gender norms. And it’s based on prevention, primary prevention, but has like kind of a cultural and the more aware component to it. So I recommend this to the governments that it needs to be -we run it for five years. We know what it is, I just through saw your program today. I want to advocate for that program, to the government’s for the migrants. Thank you.

 

Jess 

Thank you so much. And thank you so much, everybody. It’s been just a fantastic panel, and I can’t believe we got so much in. You’ve all been very disciplined. And thanks also to our live captioner Donna today. This event was brought to you by the fantastic Victorian Women’s Trust and organised by the always thorough and very thoughtful Maria Chetcuti. We’re also currently working on a podcast series public, tentative tentatively titled The Trap but probably titled something else by the time we release it, which should be around May. So keep an eye on that. And thank you for tuning in everybody. It’s been wonderful to share this hour and a bit with you. And I hope you have a really great afternoon.

 

Christine Robertson 

Thanks so much.

 

 

Thank you everyone.

 

Jess 

Thanks, everybody.


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