Do We Need a New Offence to Protect Victims of Family Violence From Psychological Harm?

The Liberal National Party has promised that if it wins the upcoming Queensland election it will introduce a “standalone” domestic violence offence for non-violent offenders who had shown a pattern of psychologically controlling behaviour. The new offence would also prohibit emotional and financial abuse.

The Queensland offence would be modelled on the English offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour”. A similar law is also being considered by the Scottish parliament. However, not all key players in the Australian criminal justice system favour following their lead.

A Queensland government taskforce, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), and Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) have recommended against introducing a specific family violence offence.Do we need a new offence to protect victims of family violence from psychological harm?

The Australian Law Reform Commission concluded it would be too difficult to define what behaviours should be captured, and the Royal Commission into Family Violence found there was not enough evidence to suggest new laws were necessary.

The English offence of controlling or coercive behaviour

The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour came into effect in England and Wales in late December 2015.

It criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour: that is, behaviour that causes a victim to fear violence will be used against them on at least two occasions, or that causes them serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.

The offence is restricted to those in an intimate or family relationship.

Just how the new law operates is illustrated in the case of Graham O’Shea. O’Shea was charged with controlling or coercive conduct in relation to his girlfriend.

He had been in a relationship with the victim for six weeks. He moved into her house and imposed several restrictions. He didn’t allow her to wash. He obtained her bank card and restricted her to an allowance of £10 per week. He refused to let her visit family and would escort her to and from the bus stop when she went to work. He also assaulted her on two occasions.

The victim eventually went to her father’s house and contacted the police. O’Shea was charged with controlling or coercive behaviour, stood trial, and was convicted. He was sentenced to four years’ jail.

O’Shea’s case is just one of more than 4,000 incidents of controlling or coercive behaviour recorded by police in England since the new offence was introduced.

This was originally published by The Conversation.

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