Criminalising coercive control – controlling and intimidating behaviour in a relationship – is on the agenda across Australia, including in NSW where a parliamentary committee is looking at the proposal.
But Aboriginal women’s legal service Wirringa Baiya says a new crime could have unintended consequences, and other changes need to happen first.
Indigenous women going to police face “judgmental and stereotypical attitudes”, says Wirringa Baiya’s co-ordinator, Bundjalung woman Christine Robinson.
According to South West Sydney Legal Centre CEO Yvette Vignando: “In situations of coercive control, usually the male has the ability to manipulate people.
“There’s a much higher chance of the police being hoodwinked, for want of a better word, into believing the primary perpetrator is the woman. And when you add onto that the racial bias, there’s an even higher chance of that with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.”
In some cases, women who seek help are wrongly identified as the primary perpetrator and are then themselves subject to an AVO or even criminal charges.
Research by ANROWS CEO Heather Nancarrow shows this is more likely to happen to Indigenous women.
Frontline workers are worried a coercive control crime could lead to more misidentification, ironically harming those the law is designed to help.
“Sometimes (police will) turn up and by then she’s overwhelmed,” Ms Turner says.
“She might come across as angry but she’s not, she’s frustrated because she’s not being heard. A lot of my defendants are (actually) victims.”
Neither Wirringa Baiya and South West Sydney Legal Centre opposes criminalisation of coercive control but both say other reforms have to happen first.