A coercive and controlling government moves to outlaw 'coercive control'

Kurt Mahlburg
May 19, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
sex and society

As early as 2015, the United Kingdom criminalised 'coercive control' - a pattern of concerning behaviours highly correlated with domestic violence and homicide. The aim of such a policy move was to better protect the victims of intimate partner violence and their children.

Now Queensland will become the first jurisdiction in Australia to follow the UK's lead. Last week, The Guardian reported Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's announcement that her government "will train frontline responders, including police and emergency services, to be ready for proposed law changes in 2023".

The 2020 murder of Hannah Clarke and her three young children by their estranged husband and father in a horrific car fire was a major catalyst in the fast-tracking of the proposed laws in the Sunshine State.

In recounting the UK's journey to criminalising coercive control, The Guardian explained:

Homicide detectives and criminologists identified a group of behaviours displayed by almost all the killers in the weeks, months and years before every intimate partner murder. Research findings reveal that far from being random or unpredictable, intimate partner homicides are now recognised as the most predictable type of murder and are therefore the most preventable.

Included in the report was a definitive (though not exhaustive) list of 17 behaviours that help identify coercive control - a list that includes financial abuse, isolation, deprivation of basic needs, and monitoring the victim's time, among others.

Much could be said either way about these legislative developments in Queensland.

On the one hand, better safeguards for the victims of domestic violence are, generally speaking, a move in the right direction. On the other hand, it is easy to see how laws against inherently subjective and culturally-influenced behaviours could be misused and even weaponised against cultural and religious minorities.

In short, an ethical parsing of this issue is beyond the scope of our purposes here.

Far more apparent to a great many Australians is the jarring irony of an Australian government criminalising a pattern of behaviours that just months ago, Australian governments themselves inflicted upon citizens with reckless abandon. Indeed, Annastacia Palaszczuk's government in Queensland was among the worst offenders.

I am of course referring to Australia's response to Covid-19. Little imagination is required to draw analogous - sometimes literal - parallels between government-led responses to Covid and the definitive list of behaviours identifying coercive control.

Let's take a look.

If Australian governments want to criminalise coercive control, they'd do well to lean in and listen to their own victims first.

In the words of one Jesus of Nazareth, "Physician, heal thyself".