There are growing concerns a QLD Taskforce, looking to outlaw coercive control ignores the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

In March 2021, the QLD Government established a Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce responsible for conducting “a wide-ranging review into the experience of women across the criminal justice system.”

However, in a joint statement by prisoner advocacy group, Sisters Inside and the institute for Collaborative Race Research, claim the taskforce has a very specific focus, which is to examine “coercive control and review the need for a specific offence of domestic violence.”

They argue the taskforce’s terms of reference are “explicitly discriminatory”, with the only mention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is either as a “victim” or “offender”.

We acknowledge that coercive control is a serious issue but criminalising this offence will not stop the behaviour, and risks the further over-policing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.”

ALA Spokesperson Melia Benn

In a push to criminalise coercive control, the taskforce ignores “the violent relationship Indigenous women have with the criminal legal system” and does not consider that First Nations women may avoid interaction with the criminal legal system because of the high likelihood that this will lead to trauma and criminalisation.  

Many Indigenous advocates, academics, and frontline workers share these concerns and fear criminalising coercive control would result in more First Nations women being imprisoned rather than protected.

Coercive control refers to a pattern of controlling behaviour – involving psychological, emotional, financial, physical, or sexual abuse – that robs people of their autonomy and independence.

One of the major issues raised in the joint statement is the taskforce’s failure to clearly define coercive control in the terms of reference – leaving it up to police to interpret the law and putting First Nations women at greater risk of being criminalised.

In Queensland 40% of current female prisoners are Indigenous, despite forming only 4.6% of the state’s population.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) have thrown their support behind the joint statement and issued their own statement opposing the legislation of coercive control and the creation of a standalone domestic violence offence.

Mamu and Gunggandji woman, Melia Benn is a barrister and spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance and says the ALA acknowledges the seriousness of coercive control but criminalising this offence will not stop the behaviour and risks the further over-policing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Of the 27 women murdered by an intimate partner in Queensland in 2017, 12 had been previously identified by police as the perpetrator in a domestic dispute and issued with a restraining order or formal charge. This prompted research by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), which found that identifying the person most in need of protection is a significant existing problem for law enforcement and legal systems in Queensland, and that there were far-reaching effects when women, especially First Nations women, were misidentified as offenders.

“The introduction of new legislation to criminalise coercive control will further exacerbate this issue,” said Ms Benn.

“The Australian legal system has disempowered and marginalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women for too long.  It is time to listen to their experiences and use this to determine the most appropriate response to issues of family violence.”

Melia Benn’s full interview with NIRS