Family Violence

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:16): I would like to start by thanking Ms Maxwell for bringing this important motion into the Legislative Council on the prevalence of coercive control in family violence and among the perpetrators of family violence and that it may affect multiple members within the household. The motion goes on to speak about other legislative and procedural frameworks that can improve the lives and the outcomes of those that this is severely affecting.

When I think about this topic, coercive control, the words roll out of the dictionary: ‘interrogation’, ‘manipulation’, ‘blackmail’, ‘controlling somebody else’s will’. I guess the crux of it for me is that there is a power imbalance. We go into relationships or there are family relationships where there will by nature sometimes be a different balance. A parent-child imbalance—the parent is supposed to be the carer, the nurturer, the caregiver, the love giver, the security giver. That is in the ideal world, and for many families that is how it is. But we know that for thousands upon thousands of families that is not the way it is and there is a power imbalance, and at the end of it the child is deeply affected by family violence and, in this case, by coercive control.

There is the other side of it when the parent gets older and they become dependent on the adult child and we see elder abuse. There also can be a power imbalance there. For those of us who are, as I consider myself to be, normal, the thought that that could happen is just horrific in the extreme. But it can happen, and it does happen.

The torque between a couple where there is that power imbalance can happen very, very slowly. It can happen like tightening the screw on a nut. And gaslighting comes to my mind—it is a term that I have reflected on in recent years—where your own mentality is twisted because of that power imbalance. You are told things and your vulnerability leads you down paths of emotional abuse, financial abuse, intimidation or sexual abuse. This is not an equal sharing; this is when somebody’s will has been manipulated and controlled, and it can happen. As we have said, it is not just this domestic abuse and this coercion; it can be quite subtle.

It can have a huge effect on the children around couples where that happens, so what should be a warm and nurturing environment can be very cold and almost like living in a parallel world to what you think the rest of the society is operating in. Many reports have talked about children being that collateral damage in these coercive relationships. Reports have said that coercion is the precursor to abusive crimes, to violence in a relationship, and we have seen that.

If I can also start by mentioning that we talk about victim-survivors. In the end, one really hopes that those victim-survivors can become victim-thrivers and that they can move through that terrible, terrible time in their life and go to a better place where they are victims but they are thrivers. They have moved on and created a better life. Now, for that to happen, some of the work in the background needs to be on the perpetrator. Can the perpetrator be repurposed? Can there be prevention at the outset when that power imbalance really starts to flow and go? Can that happen? That is when we need people in society to be aware and awake, whether it be their GP, whether it be a social worker, whether it be friends or family or in an education setting—to be aware of these sorts of things and to have the antenna up to say, ‘Is that person acting reasonably or well, or is that person looking like they are under pressure and trying to keep away or hide what is happening at home?’. As Ms Maxwell and others have said, there are statistics around the evident perpetrators and the evident examples, but I would surmise, just off the top my head, that for any one case there are probably 10 to 20 to 30 cases that we do not see in the courts or in our hospitals or wherever else we see them.

I would just like to thank a young university student called Charles Rankcom, who is studying criminology. It is really great to see that there are young men—in particular this one—studying this topic. He has presented some interesting facts for me as well today. Alarmingly we have seen that there has been a 9 per cent increase in family violence related offences recorded during the 12 months of COVID to the end of June 2021. We have seen during this reporting period 25 additional reported family violence offences occurring each and every day—that is 25 extra. Crime stats agencies also revealed a significant increase in several offences, including family violence related common assault, up 5 per cent, and breaches of family violence related orders, up 15 per cent.

When you think of some of the cases, I know Ms Maxwell has brought in survivors who need to be part of this story, and we have heard of other examples from Ms Crozier. One that stands out in my mind, and we saw it on television a year ago, is that terrible case where Hannah Clarke in New South Wales and her children died at the hands of her estranged husband. This person was not able to be rehabilitated. They went down that path. I just always feel so terribly devastated for the parents of Hannah and for her extended family—her life gone and her children’s lives gone. This must be a continual catapult to us as legislators and as a government to do better in this realm and stop these cases.

The Victorian Family Violence Protection Act 2008 talks about family violence as physical, emotional, economic, threatening or coercive. But coercive control is not viewed as a criminal offence, and there is very much discussion around the importance of or the need for perpetrators to be held accountable and responsible for their harmful behaviour. Indeed Domestic Violence Victoria and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria put out quite an extensive paper that in truth I have not had the chance to really delve into due to other issues happening this week, but there are some really important responses that they have unpacked. They assessed the effectiveness of criminalising coercive control in addressing these gaps from a victim-survivor-centred perspective. The gaps identified in the report centred around the inadequacy of current responses to coercive control, resulting in victim-survivor experiences not being adequately recognised or responded to safely and consistently and perpetrators not being held to account.

Now, given the high levels of coercive control and family violence and homicide, it is so important to get in early and to provide those significant and compelling lessons to be learned for perpetrators.

In concluding I just want to also make some comments around some of the great services that we have in my electorate of Eastern Victoria Region and put a big shout-out and a thank you to the Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault for providing that specialist support. Now, not all coercive behaviour ends with sexual assault, but there is often a direct link—that if those behaviours continue and exacerbate, certainly Sexual Assault can occur. I know I have spoken with members in that great unit from time to time. They have an outreach service. They have amazing services. They get to the nub and they listen to people who need to be validated, respected and understood.

The other point I make is that we do not need to judge. You do not know when that woman comes into your shop and you serve her shoes what her experience has been like at home. You do not know that. If she is behaving a bit quirky, maybe we need to extend a level of sympathy or care or ask, ‘Are you okay?’ or just give a big smile or some care, because we do not know what people’s lives are like at home. I wish for all the victim-survivors to become victim-thrivers in the future. We need to listen to them. I thank Ms Maxwell for bringing this motion to the house today.