2. The worldwide state of play
We’ve seen over many years the push to get coercive control into law, preferably as a
criminal offence. Yet when feminists first achieved this, it wasn’t long before they realized they had a problem. In Tasmania they went to all the effort to get laws criminalizing the type of emotional abuse described as coercive control introduced in 2004, apparently a world-first, and they sank without a trace. There wasn’t a single prosecution in the first three years after enactment!
It turned out everyone had great difficulty proving a man guilty when no one was really sure what he was supposed to have done wrong. Lawyers weren’t keen on getting involved in fighting over these slippery cases and overburdened police actively resisted having another bucketload of work land in their laps.
It was only when local lawmakers tinkered with the legislation to try to clarify what they were talking about and introduced training programs to teach the police to target men more efficiently that numbers of convictions gradually started to go up.
The UK comes on board.
In the UK, the situation was more complex. Similar laws were introduced in England in 2015, making coercive control punishable by up to five years in jail. But here too they quickly discovered the laws don’t work without careful indoctrination of police and prosecutors. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that 12 of England’s 29 police forces had brought fewer than one charge of coercive behaviour for every 100 people under their jurisdiction.
Police reported that coercive control charges were “hard to achieve” and “challenging to prove.” In 2019, the National Police Chiefs Council in 2019 acknowledged police “still had some way to go” in figuring out how to use the “relatively new legislation”
By 2020 these laws resulted in 24,000 ‘incidents’ but only 300 convictions. That meant an incredible waste of police time for almost no result. Evan Stark was grumbling that lack of consistent training for police was a major hurdle in implementing the law properly. “They create this crime of coercive control but the police have almost no idea how to use it,” Stark is quoted as saying in Time magazine, in one of the wave of articles being pushed out by feminist journalists keen to advance the agenda.
Even though the laws were supposed to be gender neutral, 97% of those convicted were male – just the result they were seeking. It wasn’t long before the Crown Prosecution Service was openly admitting that it has a “gendered approach to prosecutions.”
Here too, it was only when they started working on training the police that new weaponry against men really started to work. In England, there was a 40% increase in arrests after police and staff were trained to identify coercive control behaviour – although after 8 months the effect wore off and the brainwashing had to be repeated.
In the USA
Meanwhile, in the US, most states have so far resisted even the move to include emotional abuse into their current domestic violence laws. “Do we really want to outlaw nagging,” asks the Coalition to End Domestic Violence, an organisation working to reform the anti-male domestic violence laws. A few states, Washington State, California, Connecticut and Hawaii, have given in and nagging is now part of their DV laws and naturally the feminists are working hard to add to that list.
But no success for the American feminists who are making efforts to criminalize that behaviour. Erin Sheley, Associate Professor at the California Western School of Law has suggested the problem is that American still has due process– a major obstacle to introducing these blatantly unfair, sexists laws targeting men.
Australia on the move
Here in Australia that battle was lost many years ago. Emotional and psychological abuse have been included in DV laws for over a decade. Listen to law professor Augusto Zimmermann, who as a former West Australian Law Reform Commissioner, fought hard against such behaviour being included in WA domestic violence laws back in 2013. The Commission’s recommendations opposing this move were overruled and emotional and financial abuse joined the list of behaviours women could use to obtain a violence order and get men removed from the home.
The same happened in most other states and territories and many of the behaviours now being promoted as coercive control have long been included in domestic violence legislation. But these are not criminal offences. Accusations of domestic violence based purely on emotional abuse can now easily be used to obtain violence orders – which are then often used to gain strategic advantage in family court battles. Currently all it takes is one vague claim that emotional abuse could occur, requiring zero supporting evidence, to set in train a sequence of events starting with Dad being removed from the home, denied contact with children and, if he’s lucky, ending up paying big money to see his own children in our hellish supervised contact services. And mum gains all the perks, benefits and supports that come with victim status.
But up to now Dad wasn’t sent directly to jail. In order for that to happen, there had usually to be a couple of breaches of the violence orders. It’s pretty easy to set that up, of course. If a mother gets the kids to ring Dad on his birthday and he answers the call, that can constitute a breach if she has a violence order which limits contact with the children. Or else she can just turn up at places where she knows he is likely to be and then call the police.
The difference is these new criminal coercive control laws mean none of that is necessary. A single criminal conviction for coercive control can result in an immediate prison sentence. That’s a huge increase in power for a vindictive woman to use against a man.
That’s the appeal of these new laws. All that was necessary was a strategy to convince lawmakers to take things to this new level. Ultimately it proved remarkably easy. All it took was the cynical manipulation of the parents of a tragic homicide victim, convincing them that coercive control was the cause of this dreadful tragedy and the scene was set for a massive, emotional media campaign that politicians and lawmakers found hard to resist. See here - for the full story.
Full steam ahead
That gave the push a mighty boost and laws criminalizing coercive control sailed through NSW parliament, Queensland will follow later this year and moves are afoot to push through similar laws in WA and South Australia.
Interestingly, Victoria is resisting the push towards criminalizing coercive control, claiming these behaviours are already part of their DV apparatus which is already very effectively targeting men.
But in NSW we then saw a significant development. Just as the NSW laws were set to go, the NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman announced a delay. It turned out women’s groups had been warning about pushing the laws out too quickly because they were worried they might turn around to bite them. Men might start to make coercive control complaints against women!
“There is an ongoing problem with police misidentifying victim-survivors of violence as perpetrators,” said spokespeople for various indigenous groups, claiming that aboriginal women were particularly vulnerable.
Well, not just indigenous women. The ABC recently ran a story from Tasmania about family violence orders backfiring on women, warning of a “growing misidentification crisis” where police have “mistaken the victim for the perpetrator” and charged them with criminal offenses. The article claimed the problem was failure of the police to analyse “complex patterns of coercive control” which means they get confused about who’s actually in need of protection.
Out in the community, most ordinary folk recognise that women are the past masters of emotionally controlling behaviour. Hence it would be no surprise that many men might seek to make complaints – unless the system is carefully designed to make sure that can’t happen.
And so, here we are. Across Australia we are seeing a massive roll-out, of what Domestic Violence NSW Chief Executive Delia Donovan boasts to be an “entirely new way of policing.”
Police, the judiciary, prosecutors, lawyers, and the public are currently being subjected to a massive propaganda exercise, ensuring the entire system targets men, and only men.
Read all about it in Part 3 - Coercive control and homicide