Criminalising Coercive Control  

Queensland is leading the charge nationally to address coercive control with legislative changes that have impacts for practice and for victim survivors. While there is a broad agreement that coercive control is a problem, there is less unity about how we should respond. This article examines different perspectives on coercive control and the status of reform in Queensland.  

While there is no single definition of coercive control, it is generally understood to describe a pattern of behaviour designed to dominate and control another person through an assault on a personal autonomy, liberty and equality (ANROWS. 2021). Importantly, coercive control is not understood as a type of violence per se, rather, it describes the overarching intent and impact of a range of strategies including physical, emotional and sexual violence and tactics of surveillance and isolation (Beckwith et al., 2023).  

Over time and across national and international jurisdictions, there has been increasing momentum to address coercive control through criminalisation. Supporters of criminalisation argue that doing so: 

  • Recognises the distinct features and non-physical patterns of abuse and control 
  • Contextualises victim survivors’ experiences within a pattern of abuse, rather than stand-alone incidences 
  • Punishes perpetrators, reflects social views about the need to condemn this behaviour and reinforces the value of women’s safety and freedom  
  • Expands evidence gathering opportunities 
  • Reduces the misidentification of victim-survivors as predominant aggressors 
  • May reduce domestic and family violence homicides (Beckwith et al., 2023).  

However, some First Nations peoples have expressed concerns about the potential unintended consequences of criminalising coercive control, especially for First Nations women and men (see for example, Hobson, Salter and Stephenson 2023). These concerns include: 

  • The risk of over-incarceration and misidentification of First Nations peoples as perpetrators or victims of coercive control, due to systemic racism and bias in the criminal justice system. 
  • The lack of cultural safety and appropriateness of mainstream services and interventions for First Nations peoples who experience or use coercive control. 
  • The potential for further disempowerment and trauma for First Nations peoples who are already marginalised and oppressed by colonisation and intergenerational violence. 
  • The need for self-determination and community-led solutions for First Nations peoples, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all approach that may not suit their needs and preferences. 

Released in 2021, the first report of the Women’s Safety and Justice TaskforceHear her voice – Report one – Addressing coercive control and domestic and family violence in Queensland produced 89 recommendations all of which were supported or supported in principle by the Queensland Government. One outcome is he Domestic and Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 which strengthens exists laws and is the first step towards criminalising coercive control in Queensland.  

The government has stated that further system-wide reforms will follow, and coercive control will be criminalised by the end of 2023. System wide reforms, some of which are already underway include: 

  • Co-designing a specific strategy with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to address over-representation in the criminal justice system. 
  • Developing an evidence-based and trauma-informed framework to support education, training and change management across the DFV ad justice systems. 
  • Establishing a state-wide network of tailored perpetrator intervention programs. 
  • A focus on growing, retaining, developing and sustaining the DFV workforce. 

You can read more about the reform agenda here: Response to Report One from the Taskforce | Department of Justice and Attorney-General. You may also be interested to read a progress report prepared by the Office of the Independent Implementation Supervisor in December 2022 which describes the actions undertaken so far. 

This article was prepared as part of WorkUP’s Knowledge Translation plan with the aim of connecting the sector with new and emerging research to enhance evidence-based practice.  

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2021). Defining and responding to coercive control: Policy brief (ANROWS Insights, 01/2021). ANROWS. 
Beckwith, S., Lowe, L., Wall, L., Stevens, E., Carson, R., Kaspiew, R., MacDonald, J. B., McEwen, J., & Willoughby, M. (2023). Coercive control literature review: Final report. Australian Institute of Family Studies. 
Hobson, C., Salter, M., & Stephenson, J. (2023). The contributions of First Nations voices to the Australian public debate over the criminalisation of coercive control. British Journal of Social Work, 0(0), 1–19.