The criminalisation of coercive control: A national study of victim-survivors’ views on the need for, benefits, risks and impacts of criminalisation
Investigators: Associate Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Professor Sandra Walklate, Associate Professor Silke Meyer and Ellen Reeves
Project contact: Kate Fitz-Gibbon
About the project
This project will be the first to conduct a national examination of victim/survivor views on the benefits, risks and impacts of the criminalisation of coercive control.
The project aims to:
- Document victim/survivors’ views on proposals to criminalise coercive control, including an examination of the views of victim/survivors from diverse communities,
- Provide new insights into the views of victim/survivors on the role of law, including their views on the benefits of criminalising coercive control, perceived risks, as well as the (potential) impacts of criminalisation on justice and safety outcomes for them,
- Document their experiences of current responses when reporting different forms of coercive control victimisation to identify strengths and weaknesses in current responses, training and education needs, and service gaps.
- Make policy and practice recommendations to improve criminal justice and service system responses to coercive control across Australia.
This project adopts a multi-methods research design that combines a scoping review*, victim-survivor survey, and in-depth interviews with victim-survivors*. This approach will allow the research to capture victim-survivor views and experiences and use these to develop new knowledge and policy recommendations. While the research is national in its focus, we have built in a state-based case study to take stock of victim-survivors’ views and experiences of the impact of the Tasmanian 2004 reforms to criminalise emotional abuse and intimidation.
The online survey was was aimed at adult Australians who have experienced coercive control in a domestic and family violence context. The survey garnered 1261 responses.
We have published a snapshot of the national survey data gathered over a six-week period in early 2021. The snapshot presents the key demographical characteristics of the respondents and their experiences of coercive control.
The next stage of data collection which involved in-depth interviews with victim-survivors of coercive control is now complete and the research team are progressing data analysis.
Project findings will be relevant to all Australian states and territories and to comparative international jurisdictions.
This project is partially funded through the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) Criminology Research Grants Scheme. It will commence in early 2021.
See * under research design for AIC Funded research activities.
The last five years have seen unprecedented attention at the national and state level to improving and reforming responses to domestic and family violence (DFV) across Australia. The findings from landmark reviews including the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Queensland Special Taskforce Not Now Not Ever Report and the work of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has revealed significant limitations in legal responses to DFV and the need to develop new policies and practices to better respond to perpetrators and ensure the safety of victim-survivors.
Within this reform context, and in the wake of several high-profile intimate partner homicide cases, there has been increasing debate surrounding the need to criminalise coercive and controlling behaviours. Among those advocating in favour of criminalisation, the experience of international jurisdictions which have implemented stand-alone criminal offences of coercive control, such as England and Wales, have been drawn upon to evidence the need for similar protections in law in Australia. Other advocates and scholars have urged caution, noting that law reforms introduced to improve responses to different forms of violence against women have historically brought about unintended consequences that have undermined women’s access to justice. To date, this remains an area of live debate and law reform discussion. It is important to note that in Australia and internationally this debate has occurred in the absence of any significant evidence as to the views and experiences of victim-survivors of DFV. This national project seeks to directly address this critical gap in current understandings.
- Walklate S and Fitz-Gibbon K (2019) The criminalisation of coercive control: The power of law? International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 8(4): 94-108, doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v8i4.1205
- Walklate, S., Fitz-Gibbon, K. and McCulloch, J. (2018) ‘Is more law the answer? Seeking justice for victims of intimate partner violence through the reform of legal categories’ Criminology and Criminal Justice. 18(1): 115-131, doi: 10.1177/1748895817728561
Relevant research briefs
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- Brooks, S. (2021) ‘Sara wants Victoria to criminalise coercive control, but family violence and legal experts are split on the issue’, ABC News, 15 June 2021
Changing legal responses to family violence: is coercive control the answer?
About the project
In 2018 Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate and Jude McCulloch guest edited a Special Issue of Criminology and Criminal Justice on the criminalisation of coercive control.
The Special Issue brought together leading criminologist, social-legal and feminist legal scholars from England, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and the United States to examine the need and merits of a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. The articles included considered the extent to which legislating for new offences can improve legal responses to family violence, what challenges and unintended outcomes may occur in jurisdictions that have introduced a new offence and to what extent an understanding of coercive control can inform and improve practitioner practice.
- Fitz-Gibbon, K., Walklate, S. and McCulloch, J. (eds) (2018) ‘Guest editorial: Changing responses to domestic violence: is coercive control the answer’ Criminology and Criminal Justice. 18(1).