Transcript of Dr Karen William’s passionate plea to criminalise coercive control delivered to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry on 23 Feb

This speech features in the news here and here.

Audio is on youtube here and here.


As Psychiatrists, we deal with the survivors of family violence every single day.
We see the consequences in PTSD, depression, anxiety, self harming and suicide.
We know, intimately that domestic & family violence is not like other kinds of violence.

As much as we want to treat it the same as that of an assault at a pub, or in a brawl, domestic abuse is a vastly different beast.
The problem we have is that the systems we have traditionally used to manage violence, was designed for the other kind.

When someone hits their partner for example, it is different to when a stranger punches an innocent bystander.
It is much more complex. The innocent bystander does not share a bank account, with the person who hurt them.

The innocent bystander can stand up in court, & report what happened, freely knowing that the person that hurt them has no reason to hurt them again. The innocent bystander has not spent years being threatened & degraded by the person sitting opposite them.

The innocent bystander does not have to leave their children with someone they know to be dangerous.

In the discourse around CC, I keep hearing people talk about how it would be difficult to legislate CC because there are no injuries, there are no bruises they say…no broken bones

But I will argue that. There are tools involved in coercive control. There are predictable behaviours used by abusers that I can elaborate on. There are neurobiological changes or injuries that can be seen and measured.

You can’t fake being coercively controlled easily at all. The process of CC is an active one, well planned & sustained. In fact, it continues all of the time, even if there is physical distance between them. It is this behaviour that we suggest needs to be made illegal.

That the injuries of coercive control are more dangerous, long standing & life threatening than most of the physical injuries we may see in domestic violence. These injuries can last a lifetime & result in huge economic costs well after the relationship has ended.

Unfortunately our legal system as it stands, perpetuates fear & exacerbates the state of helplessness that coercive control induces. A system that repeatedly fails to keep victims safe despite the fact that there is a clearly defined & known perpetrator, this is a failure.

The fact that we do not have a deterrent at all for coercive controlling behaviour is what allows it to spiral out of control.
Almost every survivor & clinician will describe how it starts insidiously and slowly and progressively worsens.

The more the perpetrators get away with, the more obsessed with the control they get.
Legislation on criminalisation will act as a deterrent to this.

I will also argue that to leave the system as it is now, to leave victims with absolutely no legal pathway to escape this behaviour is not only negligent but an act of complicity in the ongoing abuses of women and children.


Follow Dr Williams on Twitter @drwilliams

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