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Submission to the NSW Joint Select Committee on Coercive Control in Domestic Relationships

“Coercive control is dangerous, life endangering and damaging… [W]e need laws that protect [our] basic [human rights], that provide deterrents and administer consequences. Lives are literally counting on it. If my experience is for anything, it is using my voice to do my best so that this does not continue to happen for my daughters and granddaughters. I am evidence of the destruction [of coercive control]” Tamar*, victim-survivor, living with a disability and/or a chronic health disorder(s), aged 40-49, heterosexual, living in regional NSW

The NSW Government stands poised on the edge of enacting critical 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. It will also send a message to people using abuse that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated; it will no longer be regarded as a private matter; that it’s time to change; that we will help them change. If done well, these laws will increase women and children’s access to protection, and to justice. They will recalibrate both law enforcement responses and social services to respond effectively to victim-survivors and abusers who come into contact with them. If done right, they will not leave anyone behind, regardless of gender, race, culture, language, religion, age, sexuality, ability, income, or geography. Everybody deserves to feel safe in their home…

The aim of this submission is to offer the joint select committee the perspectives and understandings of a diverse range of domestic and family violence frontline specialists and victim-survivors across NSW in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote settings in relation to the issue of coercive control in domestic relationships, and how best to address it.

To this end, in November 2020 Women’s Safety NSW conducted online surveys of its members who are domestic and frontline domestic and family violence specialists and victim-survivors of domestic and family violence (‘victim-survivors’) to seek their professional observations and personal experiences with the justice system and obtain their input on the questions raised in the NSW Government Coercive Control Discussion Paper. The forty-six (46) frontline domestic and family violence specialists whose responses were relied upon for this submission include specialists from 16 Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (‘WDVCASs’) who coordinate the NSW Government’s victim safety response, Safer Pathway, and support women who are victims of domestic and family violence in 136 local courts across NSW, as well as specialists in women’s refuges and shelters. Respondents encompassed a variety of roles, including chief executive officers, managers, assistant coordinators, Aboriginal and multicultural domestic and family violence specialists, domestic violence court advocates, and local coordination point information and referral officers. The geographical locations of the respondents were as follows: inner metropolitan 13% (or N= 6/46); outer metropolitan 18% (or N = 8/46); regional 52% (or N = 24/46); rural 11% (or N = 5/46); Other 7% (or N = 3/46).

Seventy-two (72) victim-survivors of domestic and family violence participated in our online survey. All (100% or N=72) victim-survivor respondents identified as cis-women. Eighty seven percent (87% or N = 63/71) of participants identified as heterosexual, 9% (or N = 6/71) as bisexual and 4% (or N = 2/71) as lesbian/gay. Respondents were aged from 18 years of age to over 60 years of age, with 46% (or N = 33/71)of respondents being between the ages of 40-49, 23% (or N = 16/71) being between the ages of 50-59, 21% (or N = 15/71) being between the ages of 30-39, 7% (or N = 5/71) being between the ages of 21-29 and 3% (or N = 2/71) being between the ages of 18-20. Seven percent (7% or N = 5/71) of respondents identified as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Fifteen percent (15% or N = 11/71) of participants were born overseas and 8% or (N = 6/71) spoke a language other than English at home. Thirty-one percent (31% or N = 22/72) of respondents reported having a disability or chronic health condition. At the time of the survey, 32% (or N = 23/71) of participants lived in inner metropolitan NSW, 30% (or N = 21/71) lived in outer metropolitan NSW, 23% (or N = 16/71) lived in regional NSW, 8% (or N = 6/71) lived in rural NSW and 7% (or N = 5/71) lived in other areas of Australia. All efforts have been made to de-identify victim-survivors’ testimonies for the purpose of this submission. Where real names have been changed, this has been signalled by an asterix ‘*’.