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Coercive Control

This brief article discusses the recently introduced offence of coercive control, which will become a criminal offence in NSW from 1 July 2024.  The NSW Government passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act in November 2022, becoming the first state to criminalise coercive control. This change inserts a new section into the Crimes Act 1990 (NSW) and aims to identify domestic violence early to assist victims of domestic violence through early intervention. 

What Is Coercive Control?

Section 54D of the Act states that a person over 18 yrs can be charged with this offence if they

  1. Engage in a course of conduct against another person that consists of abusive behaviour, and
  2. They were or are intimate partners, and
  3. The individual intends the course of conduct to coerce or control the other person, and
  4. A reasonable person would consider the course of conduct would be likely to cause fear that violence will be used against the other person, or that there would be serious adverse impacts on the capacity of the other person to engage in ordinary day to day activities. 

Section 54G of the Act defines course of conduct as engaging in behaviour either repeatedly and/or continuously. This means that there must be a repeated pattern of behaviour that satisfies the elements of the offence, rather than a one-off incident.

The prosecution is required to allege the nature and description of the behaviour that amounts to the course of conduct, as well as the period of time over which the course of the conduct took place.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 7 years imprisonment. 

What Are Examples Of Coercive Control?

Coercive control is classed as a form of domestic violence, and it often involves a continued pattern of behaviour that denies the victim their independence and autonomy. This offence was not previously covered by NSW domestic violence legislation as it often involves financial, sexual, psychological and spiritual forms of abuse. 

Section 54F outlines the meaning of abusive behaviour and provide examples that include: 

  • Preventing an individual from seeing friends and family by controlling their social interactions, e.g. taking away their phones
  • Preventing access to resources and support systems
  • Using technology to track or monitor a persons movements
  • Controlling all household finances and preventing an individual from working or accessing their own money
  • Emotional abuse such as belittling or humiliating the individual on a constant basis, e.g. sharing private information or making jokes that harm their dignity
  • Forcing an individual to engage in sexual activities or using sexual activities as a means of control
  • Behaviour that causes injury or death to an animal 
  • Dictating what the victim can wear, eat or how they should behave
  • Making threats such as withdrawing visa sponsorship or threatening to take a child
  • Punishing the individual for not complying with any of the above

Available Defences

There are very limited defences available if you have been charged with coercive control. This is due to the nature of the offending conduct and it being committed over an extended period of time.

Section 54E of the Act outlines the main available defence, which is proving that the conduct was reasonable in all of the circumstances. For this defence to be successful:

  • Evidence must be adduced to raise an issue as to whether the course of conduct was reasonable in all the circumstances, and
  • The prosecution must fail in providing beyond reasonable doubt that the course of conduct is not reasonable in all the circumstances. 

The defence relies on proving that the conduct alleged does not fall within the definition of coercive control, and rather the conduct is reasonable.

Does The Offence Cover Other Relationships?

When the offence is officially introduced on 1 July 2024, it will only cover domestic relationships. The NSW Government have acknowledged that coercive control can occur in relationships that are not solely domestic, and therefore, they will be reviewing the legislation in 2026 to determine whether the offence should also cover other types of relationships.

The offence will apply where people are or have been:

  • In an intimate personal relationships (married or de facto relationship)
  • Living in the same household
  • Living in long term residential facilities such as aged care homes
  • Relatives
  • For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, extended family or kin according to the indigenous kinship system of the person’s culture

Why BSM Lawyers?

The expert criminal team at Brander Smith McKnight are highly experienced in all types of domestic violence offences.  Our lawyers regularly appear in the Local, District, Supreme and Children’s Courts and achieve excellent results for our clients.  We listen to you carefully to determine the best possible defence strategies.  We will usually represent you without a barrister to save you expense.  

We are conveniently located in Sutherland, Sydney CBD, Parramatta and Wollongong.

Call us to arrange a free 20 minute no obligation consultation that includes case evaluation and cost estimate.

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