Women’s safety peak says “it’s time to listen to domestic abuse survivors”

Today, Women’s Safety NSW will be the final organisation to give evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Coercive Control in Domestic Relationships, wrapping up an intense week of hearings.

The focus of the peak women’s safety organisation’s oral submission will be to draw the Joint Select Committee’s attention to the experiences of domestic abuse survivors themselves, and what they want to see happen to improve their access to safety, justice and wellbeing.

Women’s Safety NSW’s 300-page written submission documents in-depth testimonies of seventy-two (72) domestic abuse survivors, almost all (97 per cent) of whom are calling on the NSW Government to recognise coercive control as a crime.

“What survivors have said loud and clear to us is that it’s time the law reflected their actual experience of domestic abuse as an insidious pattern of domination and control rather than a single incident of physical assault or intimidation.” Says Hayley Foster, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Safety NSW.

In the words of Rosalie*, a victim-survivor aged 40-49 living in outer metropolitan

NSW, “For non-physical abuse, [police] have almost no power. And basing it on individual incidents makes it impossible to understand the whole relationship and its patterns. We were together for [more than 20] years! – you can’t possibly illustrate the level of control and abuse in that relationship from a single incident.”

Women’s Safety NSW also consulted with its membership of frontline domestic and family violence specialists right across NSW, many of whom support women after a police incident and at court. All forty-six (46) of them backed the views of survivors, agreeing the reform was necessary, provided it was accompanied by system reforms, such as training for police and judicial officers and community education.

Leila*, a Domestic and Family Violence Specialist in a Rural Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services explains: “Coercive [control] can be very damaging to the victim mentally, emotionally and financially. This is a form of abuse and all involved need to be educated and trained appropriately to be best informed and take appropriate action for victims and their abusers. These behaviours can be monitored earlier, [and] show a pattern of abuse before physical abuse occurs.”

After thorough consultation with members and survivors, Women’s Safety NSW have formulated thirty-six (36) recommendations for the Committee to consider. These recommendations go to both the construction of the offence and the accompanying reforms which are needed to ensure its successful implementation.

“Alongside the creation of an offence which is accessible to victim-survivors of domestic abuse, we need to see updates to screening and risk assessment tools, police investigation and prosecutorial guidelines, and judicial bench books,” says Foster. “And we need to invest in training, professional development and practice change initiatives for all personnel involved in its operation.”

Tamar*, a 40-49 year old victim-survivor of domestic abuse living with a chronic health condition in a regional areas explains the importance of police and judicial training: “A law is of no use if those who uphold it don’t understand or [are not] able to identify it. As a victim, I can immediately recognise it others. When you understand what to see, it can be identified easily. It would need to be ongoing, and every officer should be trained in identifying [domestic violence], not just specialists.”

Sophia, a frontline domestic and family violence specialist in a regional Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service also observes: “Clients would definitely feel more empowered to report the incidents that are making them feel unsafe, which for 70 percent of the time, are not physical assaults or stated threats of assault.”

Women’s Safety NSW have taken note that the vast majority of submissions to the Inquiry have supported the creation of a criminal offence of coercive control and welcomes the gradual shift in focus towards the question of how the offence can best be drafted and supported in its implementation.

“The NSW Government stands poised on the edge of enacting reforms that will change the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and children in NSW living with domestic abuse. Enacting this law, alongside sensible reforms to make them work, will send a powerful message to each and every victim-survivor of domestic abuse that they have been heard; that they matter,” says Foster. “It’s time to listen to domestic abuse survivors. It’s time to criminalise coercive control.”

If you would like to show you support for Women’s Safety NSW’s call for the criminalisation of coercive control, you can add your voice at

https://peak.good.do/criminalisecoercivecontrol/Add-your-voice/

* Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of survey respondents.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.