In more recent times, coercive control has been exposed as one of the more insidious abusive tactics employed by intimate terrorists. Survivors often refer to this kind of psychological abuse as ‘the worst part’ of an abusive relationship, and to some extent I agree. As a result of increasing awareness in this space, Australia’s attention has turned to the issue of whether to create specific criminal offences targeting these behaviours. This is not unprecedented – international jurisdictions like England, Scotland and Wales have had similar laws in place for some time.
Despite my desire for domestic abusers to be held accountable for the psychological torture they inflict upon their victims, I remain intensely ambivalent about the criminalisation of coercive control.Many Australian women are already criminalised for fighting back against abuse and I’m keen to ensure that we don’t create another arena wherein the law can be weaponised by perpetrators to further marginalise and punish genuine victims of domestic abuse.
The economic and personal cost of engagement in lengthy litigation as a victim or respondent is not insignificant, regardless of the jurisdiction. I cannot begin to count how many days of my post-separation life have been spent writing affidavits, reading court materials, attending appointments with police and lawyers, showing up to court and generally stressing about being embroiled in a legal proceeding. This represents significant time that I have had to take off work, but more importantly it was time when I was emotionally less available to my children, who also suffer when their parents are at legal loggerheads. This cannot be underestimated or ignored in our quest for a ‘just’ outcome.