3 April 2021
Aboriginal women’s legal services have told a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry into coercive control laws they could not support any new laws without structural changes to police investigations and the criminal justice system.
- The NSW parliamentary inquiry into coercive control is hearing submissions
- Aboriginal legal services warn any new law could have unintended consequences
- Other regional women’s advocates argue survivors support the change
The inquiry is weighing up whether to create legislation that would specifically target and criminalise the behaviour.
The Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre is a state-wide community legal centre that supports Aboriginal women across the state and addressed the inquiry this week.
Principal solicitor Rachael Martin told the inquiry the centre welcomed increased attention on coercive control, but changing the law would not be enough and could lead to “unintended consequences”.
“We caution that any legislative reform should not come before other necessary structural changes to police investigations, to the criminal justice response, as well as significant community education and resourcing.
“Without this, we are not in a position to support the criminalisation of coercive control,” she told the inquiry.
Ms Martin said successful examples, including the model used in Scotland, could not be translated to Australia.
“There is no equivalent to the First Nations community that we have in Australia that has experienced the level of dispossession, colonisation and trauma that Aboriginal communities have experienced,” she said.
“So it is really not clear to us what are the racial and cultural demographics of the successful prosecutions of coercive control in Scotland to evaluate how it has addressed racist and cultural bias in policing.”
She said how to stop women being scared to report violence to the police because they are fearful of the consequences, it is about ‘changing policing’.
“We talk about addressing systemic sexism and inequality against women, but the issue for Aboriginal communities is also racial inequality,” she explained.
Other regional women’s groups used the inquiry to implore the state government to move quickly and criminalise coercive controlling behaviour.
Victims support the change
Sally Stevenson, from the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre, told the inquiry she felt the responsibility “heavily for presenting a compelling case” for the “many, many hundreds of victim survivors” the centre had supported.
Ms Stevenson also described her heartbreak at having to give evidence.
“To be truthful, I would rather be anywhere else than here today arguing again for women’s safety,” she said.
“I wondered what other laws that cause such indisputable harm are debated over and discussed and delayed, what other laws are we told are too hard, too complex and too expensive to enact?
“Certainly, we should be discussing how we enact this law — co-designed critical protections, exemptions, processes must be in place especially for Aboriginal women and children.”
She said victim survivors wanted the behaviour criminalised.
“Women will recognise themselves in this legislation and this will empower and equip them to understand their experience and hopefully escape.”
CWA backs changes
CEO of the NSW Country Women’s Association, Danica Leys told the inquiry statistics show women in regional and rural areas are more likely to experience domestic violence.
“BOSCAR data revealed in June last year the rate of domestic violence related assault in western NSW was 3.6 times the state average,
Ms Leys said coercive control could come in many forms on farms.
“Financial control could be a quite common form of coercive control in that environment, withholding of attention and affection, control of children and all aspects of control of children’s lives and preventing people from being able to work off-farm.”
She said the organisation backed the introduction of the law.
National definition important
GP Amanda Cohn spoke on behalf of the Border Domestic violence network and urged the committee to ensure there was a national definition of coercive control “to enable more streamlined, harmonised enforcement in cross border communities”.
Dr Cohn provided case studies to the inquiry of women who live in one state and work or study in another and are at risk because prohibitive violence orders are not recognised across borders.
During questioning she said she hoped if a national definition could not be reached NSW would not wait to move forward.
The inquiry continues.