The criminalization of coercive control in NSW will be destroyed if a “holistic reform agenda” for domestic violence is not implemented, front organizations have reported to an investigation by the state parliament.

The NSW Parliament’s Committee on Forced Control held its third day of hearing on Wednesday to investigate whether this form of domestic abuse should be a criminal offense.

Obsessional control is broadly defined as a pattern of behavior used to intimidate, humiliate, monitor, and control another person.

Salvation Army state manager for family violence Petra Jenkins and Good Shepherd NSW political director Laura Vidal said Wednesday that systemic change should take precedence over criminalizing coercive control.

This included a revision of the Framework for Arresting Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) to recognize and include non-physical abuse.

A consistent approach to defining family and domestic violence, which includes coercive behavior, is also needed, said Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Vidal – one that can be applied across the legal system.

Ms. Vidal said victims of domestic violence have to control a number of social structures, from law enforcement to the courts, which offer little relief from economic abuse and debt abuse.

While a stronger criminal response was not undesirable, Ms. Vidal said a gradual, society-wide solution to coercive behavior should be paramount.

“We believe that effective change requires a strong emphasis on non-legal responses, and non-legislative redress, restoration and justice mechanisms are powerful tools to help women and children rebuild the lives they have determined “said Ms. Vidal.

“Given the difficulties the police are already facing in investigating forced checks, we would be concerned if a new crime were introduced.

“We call for a holistic reform agenda that examines how we define and understand domestic violence, including physical and non-physical forms.”

The investigation on Tuesday heard that women reporting domestic abuse in NSW came across police officers who fail to understand, inadvertently collaborate with perpetrators, and fail to protect women and children.

Liz Snell, legal reform and policy coordinator for the Women’s Rights Service in New South Wales, said improving police response remains the top priority and criminalizing coercive control is not a “panacea”.

The community legal group neither supported nor opposed the criminalization proposal, but argued that the government could make other changes to improve safety for women and children.

Ms. Snell said police should be trained on perpetrator tactics, trauma-related responses, cultural safety, challenging attitudes to victim blaming, and recognizing conscious and unconscious biases.

Women’s Rights Service NSW also suggested that the police work with specialist sexual and domestic abuse workers to deal with such cases.

Police often mistakenly identify women as the predominant aggressor when they need protection, preventing them from reporting again.

Indigenous women who report abuse could also become victims of racism, the committee also heard, while women from multicultural backgrounds may not recognize their abuse due to the normalization of control behavior.

First Nations and migrant women have had such “negative experiences” with agencies like the police that many do not believe another crime will improve the situation, said Pip Davis, chief advocate for the women’s legal service.

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Australian Associated Press

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