With the support of the Copyright Agency‘s Cultural Fund, and in partnership with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Westerly delivered our fifth Writers’ Development Program in 2020–21.
Three talented emerging writers were offered professional guidance and support in developing their work for publication in Westerly, both in print and online. ‘Fractals of Domestic and Family Violence’ by Adele Aria is also available to read in our latest print issue, Westerly 66.2.
I have rewritten this essay many times.
Invisibility serves coercive control, giving it agency and power. While bruises and bones heal, leaving scars that fade, unchecked coercive control may rewrite neural pathways, jam vigilance into an ongoing state and reach far into a fragile future.
Yet speaking from lived experience presents quandaries I know others share.
People who are societally marginalised through complex experiences face demands to serve up deeply personal details, labouring to humanise ourselves. I am resistant to performing trauma as consumable insights. I worry that doing so panders to expectations that we purchase inclusion with the dissection of our selves. It potentially perpetuates the power dynamics that oblige us to overcome socialised distrust of our otherness. The typical price of legitimising my perspective while arguing for many different voices to be heard is a fine line to navigate. I anticipate there may be a cost to my transgressive visibility.
I am also aware that dissection of abuse can exacerbate the distress of people who have endured or are still living with domestic and family violence (DFV). Recently, a friend wept in the darkness after a panel discussion, asking why we must repeatedly hear recitals of appalling statistics we already know, as bids to convey the seriousness of DFV in Australia.
Although I feel strongly about the need to draw attention to issues, writing this essay also feels fraught with the potential that it might appear as an indictment of some people who also work to eliminate DFV. Difference in perspectives, experiences, and opinions has a generative potential to shape our futures. My hope is for more voices to be heard.
Domestic and Family Violence, and Coercive Control
Coercive control is an invisible cage that deprives people of liberty; Evan Stark notes that it exerts a long-term pervasive impact upon the daily lives of victim/survivors of DFV. One of the earlier theorists of the phenomenon, Stark draws attention to how the terror and habits of survival extend beyond the exposure to abuse. Understandings of DFV as a complex phenomenon continue to evolve to encompass increased recognition of its many forms (see Fitz-Gibbon et al.; Hill). While definitions and terminology referring to DFV might vary, many victim/survivors and specialist workers speak of coercive control as one of the most potent aspects, requiring urgent attention and action (McMahon & McGorrery).
A group of Australia-based researchers and advocates, strongly informed by victim/survivors’ accounts of their experiences, describe coercive control as including ‘behaviours that one person (usually a man) uses to intimidate, humiliate, surveil, gaslight and isolate another person (usually a female intimate partner) and strip them of their sense of autonomy and self-worth so as to have control over them’(McGorrerey et al. np). This control might include the use of financial, psychological and technology-facilitated tactics, creating cognitive, emotional and social effects (see Walklate & Fitz-Gibbon; Woodlock et al.). Shaming is common, including belittling and humiliation.
Recently, Australian activists, researchers, advocates and frontline workers who labour to reduce DFV have turned their collective attention to coercive control as a significant high-risk indicator of physical violence, often preceding homicide (see McPhedran & Baker; Monckton Smith ‘Femicide’). Victim/survivors frequently find every aspect of their existence closely scrutinised and their lives made to shrink to what their abuser can control.
One of several enduring misconceptions is that physical violence is a defining feature of DFV; however, controlling tactics often dominate patterns of DFV behaviours and there may be no explicit threat or use of physical violence. It seems we have some way to go in public education and understanding when many don’t realise that violence may not come in the form of a raised hand or closed fist.
It has also been reported by both perpetrators and victim/survivors that they did not realise there are more forms of sexual violence than assault, including demands and threats to manipulate a victim/survivor to engage in sexual acts they don’t want (see AIHW ‘Family Safety’). In some cases, people report it was safer for them to do as demanded, but this isn’t the same as consent (see Loney-Howes). Abusers also often control reproductive choices. Not so long ago, the criminal justice system didn’t recognise assault within marriage, and it seems attitudes supporting male entitlement might still linger within attitudes towards sexual abuse.
Stark argues sexual inequality shapes the tactics typically used by men into ‘patterns of dominance that entrap partners and make them subordinate’ (199). Some suggest coercive control is inextricably linked to patriarchal social dynamics, a feature of coloniality in Australia that positions masculine figures as leaders, particularly in families and households (ANROWS & McMillan). Outmoded stereotypes of masculinity serve to entrench the preservation of this dominance and control.
He’s smiling at me from the other side of the kitchen as I cheerfully ramble on about lunch with a mutual friend and assure him she’s well. I know he hasn’t seen her in a while and isn’t very good at initiating a casual Hello, how are you? conversation, so I usually try to create a bridge between them, as if supporting this connection will nurture some gentleness towards me. But the thudding at the base of my skull reverberates through me and I feel like part of me is floating up and away, a lost helium balloon. I shouldn’t have said anything but I’m not sure about what. His sweat reeks, bitter like expired milk. His good mood has gone rancid and I swallow the despair of not knowing what’s coming next.
I begin desperately looking for crucial details in his shifting posture and slow blinking. Friends and colleagues have often commented enviously on my ability to read people but my breath is becoming staccato. I can’t predict him.
He draws himself up, no longer leaning against the countertop, and his shoulders seem to swell in the stretched black t-shirt. He is a storm cloud, filling the space between us. My neck prickles with heat and the crescent moons of fingernails carve into my palms.
Maybe, this time, if I figure out the puzzle of his rage, if I can work out how best to behave, it won’t go so poorly. I won’t be held prisoner again so soon by desperate navigations of a bad mood that will only build until it envelops our life together.
How can I ever explain to anyone the inescapable demand I feel in the shift of his posture, the way he smells when his aggression is building? How it drives my desperate attempts to figure out how best to please him?
I press myself into him with a big hug, and each murmur of affection escaping my mouth fills my own ears with pleading.
My lived experience energises my commitment to addressing DFV, but a disturbing consequence of the trend towards professionalising the specialist sector is a mistrust of lived experience in executive and leadership positions, as if our capacity for rationality becomes non-existent and emotions have no place in this work. Like others, I have been cautioned that disclosing my experience of domestic abuse would not only undermine my activism efforts, my career and reputation would also suffer. Ultimately, my increasingly disabled body can no longer sustain the demands of the professional roles that once enhanced the perceived value of my voice and my advocacy for communities which remain under-served or additionally harmed by the current responses to DFV.
Even were I to share personal experiences, I doubt they would be as valued as the expertise that wears the idealised veneer of impartiality assumed about professional roles and academic credentials. Different forms of knowledge have long been hierarchically valued in coloniality. Although I am reluctant to defer to the knowledge gained through institutionalised research that complies with notions of epistemic superiority, paradoxically, I pursue a PhD. I write to expand conversations and create change, while recognising the constraints of such knowledge-systems.
One of several drivers behind my PhD aspirations is my frustration at how coercive control, like the broader phenomenon of DFV, is still often discussed and investigated with a focus on heterosexual intimate relationships. So many people and their experiences slip through the cracks from either being unable to find, or not realising they have a right to, appropriate support.
The Shadow Pandemic
With a pandemic reshaping how we live, the prevalence of DFV is growing while the myth of its rarity is being dismantled.
Australian bushfires engulfed news coverage as 2020 was ushered in, but the world soon shifted its attention to COVID-19. By mid-2020, rates of DFV skyrocketed across the world and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was urging on global efforts to ‘end the “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence once and for all’ (United Nations). The shadow imagery conjures the secrecy of the intimate spaces in which gender-based violence frequently occurs. DFV has been camouflaged by illusory social ideas that delineate and separate public and private lives. In Australia, the violence occurring in public spaces is policed in distinctly different ways, with serious consequences less likely to be enforced for harm inflicted in personal settings.
The ‘shadow’ in ‘shadow pandemic’ also alludes to the unintended and potentially devastating effects that may trail public policies and system designs. The public health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has driven many government mandates restricting people’s movements (Pfitzner et al.). Together with the virus itself, abusers have become better equipped to use new and enhanced tactics of control, exacerbating their victims’ social isolation and vulnerabilities. Recorded upward trends of frequency, forms, severity and numbers of DFV cases quickly exceeded early predictions. Home has long been known to be one of the most dangerous places for many women and children. As the pandemic worsened, so did the endangerment.
Lockdowns create a unique caging effect, enclosing perpetrators of DFV in close quarters with their targets—often partners, but also children, elderly relatives, housemates and pets. It is reasonable to suspect that the higher than projected figures of this shadow pandemic are even lower than the reality, because these constrained living arrangements obstruct attempts by victim/survivors to connect with support services, let alone report their experiences. Instead, women must slip from the slumbering embrace of their partners to send urgent emails in the heavy darkness of night.
As women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence increased in the countries embroiled in earlier stages of the pandemic, one incident in Australia shocked the community into a reckoning with coercive control (Pfitzner et al.). The odious murders of Hannah Baxter nee Clarke and her children, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey, were committed mere weeks before multiple lockdowns would be introduced. Hannah had not yet completed legal processes to separate from Rowan Baxter but, in an act of solidarity with her thwarted intentions, media coverage shifted to refer to her as Hannah Clarke (see King).
Details of Baxter’s coercive control tactics would eventually emerge, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse (see McKenna & Roberts). Initially, the fatally violent acts were understood as the first physical manifestation of years of intimidation and violence. The murders confirmed a pattern of risk well known to researchers and specialist workers: the period of leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous (McPhedran & Baker).
However, in an arguably unprecedented shift, media reporting and public discourse began to consider the experiences of humiliation and intimidation as aspects of DFV. People’s understanding of the personal terrorism of DFV was prised open as Hannah’s stolen life headlined across the globe. Public shock made the appetite for change contagious.
A lavish breakfast spread decorates the boardroom table we mill around, its colours contrasting with bleak conversations. We begin another meeting, typically arranged for our self-organised collective to share encouragement and the challenges we face as executives and leaders.
Predictably, talk turns to the recent murders of Hannah and her children. It evolves to lament the pervasiveness of DFV and we reassure ourselves that community outrage will be strong enough this time to compel political and social change. During a lull in conversation, a well-timed quiet voice asks if anyone has ever experienced DFV. Time seems frozen as I look around the silent room and notice more raised hands than might be expected, according to oft-quoted statistics.
Walking back to the carpark, a familiar pulsing headache reminds me to unclench hands I hadn’t meant to tighten. I realise the question was framed as historic. It seemed we were drawing a line. Were we shying from the intimacy of DFV, even in friendships fostered over time? Were we avoiding the pain of knowing someone was currently in danger? Perhaps we had collectively relied upon a common myth that people in professional or socially powerful positions are somehow inoculated against DFV or can easily escape it. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I recall how hard it had been for me to realise what was happening, let alone tell someone and look for help. Changing gear, I begin driving to the rest of my day.
Eyes shut to the ribbons of nightclub lighting decorating smoky air, I’m dancing within the music, engrossed and tipsy. When I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn to see two women huddled together, clasping each other’s hands. I already know what conversation we’re about to have, and the sharp edges of sobriety snap me into focus. Leaning into one another, we retire to a quieter corner. They tell me they’ve walked from another suburb to find me because of what happened at a different venue.
I can’t be their saviour or therapist and I mustn’t give that impression. Surviving is hard enough and another unfulfilled promise unbearable. I’ve heard too many promises, He’ll never do it again.
DFV wears many faces but now it has seeped into every corner of my life.
I post a letter to my Facebook wall, explaining my break from social media and news, needing space from the constancy of Hannah’s torment. I recognise the apology in my words, but the fatigue of sleepless nights is building, my body curling into a permanent question mark. Hannah’s torment has become unavoidable, the details of her life laid out for speculative discussion. I find myself wishing I was shocked by the barrage of escalating hostility when anyone challenges the blame cast at her. The forgiveness for her murderer and speculations that his actions were an inevitable response to his distress are corroding me.
Excusing myself to an act of self-care, I encourage others to be gentle on themselves. My reminder is as much for myself as others: taking care of ourselves will not undermine our commitment to the eradication of DFV.
It seemed inevitable that victim blaming narratives would feature as public discourse and media coverage about Hannah Clarke’s situation continued. Often, victims are expected to make the violence stop. They are judged for staying, more than abusers for inflicting harm. There is a persistent underlying idea that abusers are provoked into terrorising others, unwitting agents driven to violence. She should have left; it can’t have been that bad for her or the kids; she was probably a nag or ungrateful. He must have been so devastated, so desperate; he was a nice guy driven temporarily insane. In these scenarios, the abuser ‘snapped’, having been pushed to their limit—as if the cruelty inflicted upon a partner or child could be earned by bad behaviour. The power dynamics are ignored, neglecting how complex it can be to survive within range of an abuser’s reach, or how a person’s core sense of self and hope can be eroded by the weight of intimidation, shaming and assault.
Cases drawing high-profile media coverage, such as Hannah Clarke’s, while appreciable in raising public awareness and will to address DFV, have a simultaneous effect of rendering nuances invisible. The common depictions of a white woman shrinking into darkness and shielding a bruised face as a white man towers with a raised fist influences public understanding as well as policy makers and legislators. People living with coercive control may not see themselves in these images, nor people facing violence from same-sex partners, relatives, or fearing for their children, beloved pets or visa status. I wonder whose lives, pushed to the margins, aren’t counted. I wonder what barriers they face that are unrecognised or downplayed.
Flaws in the Systems
The contemporary systems in Australia which are most relied upon to combat and reduce DFV have faced years of criticism. Amongst many concerns, victim/survivors and perpetrators from various community groups, cultural backgrounds and social identities continue to face systemic marginalisations (see Blagg et al; Durfee). Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, queer people and disabled people are but a small portion of people frequently finding these systems aren’t designed for them.
The case of Charlie, murdered by the same person who assaulted his mother, Tamica Mullaley, seemed to elicit considerably less public outcry than that of Hannah Clarke when it happened in 2013. The Commission report finding that no police misconduct had contributed to the homicide didn’t spread across global headlines (see Allam; Western Australia CCC). By mid-2020, when Charlie’s surviving family campaigned for an inquest, it garnered little broader support, even as Hannah’s story continued to circulate. Complicating factors—including racism, queerphobia and ableism—aren’t typically raised when Australian media and public conversations continue to centre white heterosexual cis-gendered intimate relationships. Systems, especially the criminal justice system and child protection, may only add to an abuser’s arsenal against victim/survivors.
Court findings and orders also often subordinate victim/survivors’ safety, agency and autonomy. Some survivors find themselves mandated to maintain contact with their abuser when they would choose otherwise, navigating shared custody as if children are not victim/survivors too (Brown & James; Chung et al.).
A legacy of colonial thinking provides the background to such lapses. Institutionalised academia, grounded in Eurocentric colonialist ideology, narrowly defines the legitimacy and value of voices, creating a hierarchy in which the truths of whiteness and colonialist solutions reign (see Dotson; Fricker). This has shaped the historic evolution of theories and solutions for DFV in Australia.
Assuming white cis-gendered heterosexual lives as the default, unsurprisingly, means that attempts to address DFV have often neglected other identities, relational dynamics and social factors. Activists, survivor advocates and some researchers repeatedly advocate the need for the spotlight to expand beyond this narrow focus. As an example, a recent LGBTQ-focused survey found multiple respondents thought they couldn’t have experienced DFV, believing it could only happen in heterosexual intimate partnerships (see Gray et al.).
Instead, mainstream responses tend to address gaps with complementing activities, added later if there is spare funding. Intersecting social forces of marginalisation are seen as additive rather than magnifying factors (Crenshaw; Durfee). Additionally, not-for-profit and community service organisations are compelled to trade upon the labour of dedicated staff, securing funding by meeting success measures that rarely illustrate safety and long-term change. These entities competitively accumulate fiscal power to exert influence and secure the ongoing operations of their services.
Precarious funding is an ongoing challenge and directs attention and energy to organisational risk management. Despite the admirable dedication and extraordinary perseverance of specialist workers and advocates, the effect of these diversionary demands pushes questions like Will this person be safer? down the queue.
Although frustrations are expressed about capitalist distractions from vital work, there are few organisations that pause to consider if they can appropriately meet or support the needs of particular communities (see Droogendyk et al.; Giridharadas). Saviour positioning is rarely transparently questioned. Even the well-intentioned may be using and perpetuating the violence of colonialist power dynamics.
Meanwhile, questions are growing around claims that coercive control is a feature mostly found in intimate partner violence (see Gray et al.; Segrave; Victoria and Family Safety Victoria). Ongoing biases may have misshapen the dominant understanding of DFV, overly restricting historic research, recognition and records. This has been a likely driver of the poor recognition and understanding of DFV within family and social relationships and structures that Australia likes to call ‘non-traditional’. Potentially, it means coercive control is currently largely defined with limited recognition of diverse experiences.
My capacity to work dwindles along with my bank balance. Multiple health conditions are wearing away my health, along with my options. I can’t afford nor physically do what the police are recommending. My friend tells me I should just leave. I assure him I have considered the ideas he’s sure will solve my situation. I understand the nuances of my life are hard to comprehend but I know my body is reminding me of what I have survived. My wrist and ankle ache as waves of exhaustion pulse through me. Anxiety spikes when I feel I must defend myself or my choices.
My ankle is broken in a way the ED doctor describes as ‘catastrophic’, my brittle wrists won’t hold unlockable doors shut, and my trachea clicks instead of releasing screams. Nightmares of an inescapable monster are now rare but I suspect will long haunt me. In them, my body is a sampler platter of past injuries.
Depleted by constant pain, dynamic and degenerative illnesses and disabilities, I know few friends or colleagues realise how taxed I am. My abuser manipulates my invisible vulnerability. Playing the hero, he carries me upstairs and deposits me on a chair. A mutual friend cheers his gallantry. I am left trapped, waiting for him to move me.
Across professional and personal spaces, I have watched people being rejected or denied special support, including crisis accommodation or counselling, because they don’t meet common eligibility criteria. They mustn’t have contact with abusers, sometimes also other loved ones. They are not allowed to use alcohol or other drugs. Eligible women have made decisions aligned with someone else’s ideas of what should happen. Alternatively, some have felt the pressure of expected compliance, relinquishing power and choice. It seems too close to DFV power dynamics for my liking.
Women have reconstructed their lives, extracting themselves from the lives they’ve built, but safety is about more than living beyond an abuser’s reach. Without social connection, understanding or hope, it becomes harder to enjoy mental and emotional wellbeing.
These conditions are imposed in an attempt to reach more women (supports for other genders are still rare), regardless of whether this supports the efficacy of such programs. I understand the reasoning and share frustration that a capitalist system demands prioritising numbers for proof of a program’s value rather than whether people feel safer.
Many people, even strangers, have shared stories of DFV with me. Their journeys have taught me that frustration, despair and exhaustion at hurdles and barriers are common themes. Adults and children describe feeling unheard and endangered when court orders protect an abuser’s parental rights. Already practiced at surviving, many are expert at maintaining safety in their situations. Each time someone tells me it would be worse for them to sever ties, I believe them. I have been sure of my own assessments of risk and escalating danger for me and my loved ones. Only I had the intimate knowledge of how he could hurt me.
Criminalisation as the Next Step
While coercive control has increasingly been acknowledged in DFV and mainstream media coverage, most states in Australia have yet to incorporate it into legislature. The criminal justice system is incident based, only responding to discrete events after they occur (Walklate & Fitz-Gibbon). Proponents of criminalising coercive control argue this will enable the justice system to respond instead to the terrorising patterns of behaviour used by perpetrators (McMahon & McGorrery). The destructiveness of coercive control makes a compelling case for urgent action.
In 2020, a coalition formed across Australia to champion the criminalisation of coercive control. The campaign has been gaining momentum. Yet while there is consensus around the need for expanded and more inclusive responses, there are doubts about whether this is the best course of action, with many expressing concerns (Australian Women Against Violence Alliance et al.; Lee; Sisters Inside & Institute for Collaborative Race Research).
Criminalisation relies upon systems which we already know have failed some and been the source of harm for others (Sisters Inside & Institute for Collaborative Race Research). Pointing to those ongoing patterns, some anticipate further negative consequences in turning again to a problematic criminal justice system. Legislation grounded in criminalisation theory assumes would-be perpetrators will weigh up potential consequences of actions (Paternoster). However, the effectiveness of punitive threat has yet to be agreed upon and, worryingly, criminal justice responses may drive rather than deter violence (McPhedran & Baker). There are differing perspectives on what justice should be and whether the criminal justice system provides it.
In recent years, coercive control-focused laws have been introduced in places such as the United Kingdom (UK), and in 2004, Tasmania’s Family Violence Act expanded to include patterns of intimidation (Australian Women Against Violence Alliance et al.). In Australia, criminalisation proponents argue the recent UK approach provides valuable insights and suggests positive outcomes could be replicated here. However, we have yet to hear many victim/survivors say the additions were desirable or effective. Key contributors to Scotland’s suite of new laws, lauded as a gold standard, also remind us that any changes are in their infancy (see Dale). Although recorded offences have risen, suggesting police perceptions are shifting, it does not yet prove success.
Looking to the UK for guidance may also sustain historic deference to imperialist ways, compelling us towards further reliance upon a criminal justice system already known to be flawed and harmful. The processes of colonisation embedded specific concepts relating to expertise and justice in Australia, with the criminal justice system founded on and shaped by a violent colonial legacy (see Bhambra). Narratives of colonialist superiority justified the establishment of a nation state forcefully imposed on unceded lands. The First Peoples, judged as undeserving of dignity, autonomy and respect, became the first to face patterns of epistemic and ontological violence still rarely acknowledged in policy and legislative discussions (see Blagg, et al.; Sisters Inside & Institute for Collaborative Race Research). Criminalisation modelled upon UK experiences may further import Eurocentric ways. Disconcertingly, this may replicate colonialist violence, and the rejection of First Peoples’ sovereignty and knowledges of life on these lands (see Martin & Mirraboopa). The terrorism of dehumanisation in colonisation and the destructiveness in the denial of sovereignty seem to reverberate in DFV.
If criminalisation occurs, determinations of culpability will be complicated given controlling behaviours are often influenced by diverse social and cultural norms (see Walkate & Fitz-Gibbon). It is difficult for outsiders to objectively assess whether coercive control has occurred, and internal experiences of endangerment might be even harder to prove (see Barlow & Walklate). Many victim/survivors refer to subtle and highly contextualised cues, coded references to past conversations developed between them and their abuser. These can be as specific and minute as a look. The threats and demands of compliance which achieve the stranglehold of control can appear innocuous or insubstantial to an outsider.
Given Australia’s societal hierarchies continue to prioritise and platform voices and narratives that comply with colonialist values, the exploration of further criminalisation has been dominated by the amplified influence of some. Simultaneously, we are witnessing silencing of others, as policy and legislative processes perpetuate the inherent violence of undervaluing other forms of expertise. Not portraying a model victim, people who already carry the scars of existing laws and systems must speak unemotionally. the potency of trauma responses affecting a person’s advocacy making their contributions too unpalatable to be adequately considered. Dissent is dismissed as hysteria.
Some are not against criminalisation, but rather champion different priorities. Communities have created localised and culturally responsive supports, formal and informal, often without long-term resourcing. Providing for the unmet needs of victim/survivors and those who use violence to ensure safety and freedom from violence is possible, with people speaking positively about their experiences in such cases (see Kaba; Piepzna-Smarasinha). Despite the success of these and other community-led initiatives, the small-scale programs continue at the fringes or disappear due to a lack of funding.
He growls. I have upset him, telling him I am hurt. The way I did it was wrong. Should I not have said anything?
I want him to see me and care enough to listen. Listen enough to care. But I haven’t met his vision of what I should be, and so I haven’t earned his care. Instead, I am choking on my responsibility for provoking him, the apologies stones tumbling in my mouth. I haven’t earned his respect to speak… or feel the way I do.
His displeasure worries me more than my distress and my survival depends on my agreeing with him. When he tells me I am lucky he cares for me when no-one else would, and keeps me by his side, speaks for me, he is being the hero in our fairy tale. Perhaps, he is right—the flaws are mine, having misinterpreted his actions to mistakenly feel hurt.
I should trust him, my self-appointed hero.
I am concerned when the discourse about criminality and coercive control is framed as conflict and debate. Proponents of criminalisation seem to stand on one side; on the other there are concerned people, requests for the investigation of alternatives, and abolitionists. It mimics the adversarial nature of the Australian justice system, assuming opponents set against each other will ensure an ideal outcome.
It is because coercive control is such a significant component of many experiences of DFV that I raise an alarm about possible polarisation and barriers to collaborative innovation, Yes, I believe we need to evolve recognition of and responses to coercive control. I believe it because I’ve absorbed countless testimonial stories from victim/survivors and members of families of those who did not survive. I believe it because I’ve read numerous studies and papers on it. I believe it because I’ve lived it. But it seems irresponsible and dangerous that the setting for this important work is a society with still largely unchallenged forces of privilege and oppression. My disquiet grows that we may be building a future which extracts costs from those people who have been pushed to the edges. Those who are already busy surviving a hostile society may again be positioned as recipients of good intentions and unintended consequences. It is critical we recognise the untapped potential in the lived expertise of victim/survivors and perpetrators, and in the power of community to support improved safety while upholding the agency and self-determination of the individuals for whom this work matters most.
Who is still absent from our collective attention and conversations? Who isn’t being heard—or even given a seat at the table? People whose lives are already obscured by a society founded in colonialist violence wait in the margins. I’ve seen the ways I and people like me have been spoken over or erased, and I have been invited into crucial conversations in rooms others might not know exist. As I stand outside those doors again, I wonder how many voices are fading, exhausted through asking to be seen or heard. I cheer on everyone engaged in the middle and the edges of the conversation, but those edges feel sharp with the potential cost of exclusion. At the moment, I worry too few stories and voices guide the future we might create.
Allam, Lorena. ‘Mother of murdered baby pleads for inquest to consider actions of Western Australia police’, The Guardian, July 23 (2020). Sourced at: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jul/23/mother-of-murdered-baby-pleads-for-inquest-to-consider-actions-of-western-australia-police.
Atkinson, Judy, et al. ‘Addressing Individual and Community Transgenerational Trauma’. Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice. 2nd edition. Telethon Kids Institute, 2014. Sourced at: https://www.telethonkids.org.au/our-research/early-environment/developmental-origins-of-child-health/expired-projects/working-together-second-edition/.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia: continuing the national story 2019. FDV 3, AIHW, 2019. Sourced at: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/domestic-violence/family-domestic-sexual-violence-australia-2019/contents/table-of-contents.
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA), et al. Criminalisation of Coercive Control. Issues paper. Position Paper, AWAVA, 2021. Sourced at: https://awava.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/FINAL_-2021_-AWAVA-Issues-Paper-Criminalisation-of-Coercive-Control.pdf.
Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), and Jackie McMillan. Defining and Responding to Coercive Control: policy brief. ANROWS Insights, January 2021.
Barlow, Charlotte, and Sandra Walklate. ‘Gender, Risk Assessment and Coercive Control: contradictions in terms?’ The British Journal of Criminology 61.4 (2021): 887–904. Sourced at https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azaa104.
Bhambra, Gurminder K. ‘Postcolonial and Decolonial Dialogues’, Postcolonial Studies 17.2 (2014): 115–121. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13688790.2014.966414.
Blagg, Harry, Emma Williams, et al. Innovative Models in Addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women: final report. ANROWS (2018). Sourced at: https://anrows.org.au/publications/horizons/innovative-models-in-addressing-violence-against-indigenous-women-final-report.
Blagg, Harry, Tamara Tulich, et al. Understanding the Role of Law and Culture in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities in Responding to and Preventing Family Violence: key findings and future directions. Research Report Summary, ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://20ian81kynqg38bl3l3eh8bf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ANROWS-Blagg-Law_and_culture-RtPP.pdf.
Broom, Dorothy H. Damned If We Do: contradictions in women’s health care. North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1991.
Brown, Jac, and Kerrie James. ‘Therapeutic Responses to Domestic Violence in Australia: a history of controversies’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 35.2 (2014): 169–184. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1002/anzf.1053.
Callander, D., et al. The 2018 Australian Trans and Gender Diverse Sexual Health Survey: report of findings. Sydney: The Kirby Institute, UNSW, 2019.
Carbado, Devon W., et al. ‘Mapping the Movements of a Theory’, Du Bois Review: social science research on race 10.2 (2013): 303–312. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X13000349.
Chen, Ching-In, et al. (eds). The Revolution Starts at Home: confronting intimate violence within activist communities. 2nd edition. Chico, CA: AK Press, 2016.
Chung, Donna, et al. Improving Accountability: the role of perpetrator intervention systems. Key findings and future directions. ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/17110437/ANROWS-Chung-Improved_accountability-RtPP.1.pdf.
Crenshaw, Kimberle. ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: a black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum 1 (1989): 139–167.
Dale, Amy. ‘Criminalising Coercion’ Law Society Journal (2020). Sourced at: https://lsj.com.au/articles/criminalising-coercion/.
DeKeseredy, Walter S. ‘Feminist Contributions to Understanding Woman Abuse: myths, controversies, and realities’, Aggression and Violent Behavior 16.4 (2011): 297–302. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2011.04.002.
Department of Justice, Government of Western Australia, and John Quigley. Family Violence Legislation Reform Act 2020. 9 July 2020. Sourced at: https://www.legislation.wa.gov.au/legislation/prod/filestore.nsf/FileURL/mrdoc_43019.pdf/$FILE/Family%20Violence%20Legislation%20Reform%20Act%202020%20-%20%5B00-00-00%5D.pdf.
Dotson, Kristie. ‘Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing’, Hypatia 26.2 (2011): 236–257.
Douglas, Heather, and Robin Fitzgerald. ‘The Domestic Violence Protection Order System as Entry to the Criminal Justice System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 7.3 (2018): 41. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.5204/ijcjsd.v7i3.499.
Dowse, Kylie. ‘Thwarting Shame: feminist engagement in narrative groupwork with men recruited to patriarchal dominance in relationship by Kylie Dowse’. The Dulwich Centre, January 27, 2017. Sourced at: https://dulwichcentre.com.au/thwarting-shame-feminist-engagement-in-narrative-groupwork-with-men-recruited-to-patriarchal-dominance-in-relationship-by-kylie-dowse/.
Droogendyk, Lisa, et al. ‘Acting in Solidarity: cross-group contact between disadvantaged group members and advantaged group allies’, Journal of Social Issues 72.2 (2016): 315–34. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12168.
Durfee, Alesha. ‘The Use of Structural Intersectionality as a Method to Analyze How the Domestic Violence Civil Protective Order Process Replicates Inequality’, Violence Against Women 27.5 (2021): 639–665. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801220958495.
Duthie, Deb, et al. ‘Raising Awareness of Australian Aboriginal Peoples Reality: embedding Aboriginal knowledge in social work education through the use of field experiences’, The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives 12.1 (2013): 197–212.
Eckermann, Anne-Katrin. ‘Coping with Change and Violence’. Binan Goonj: bridging cultures in Aboriginal health. 3rd edition. Australia: Elsevier, 2010.
Fisher, Colleen, et al. Best Practice Principles for Interventions with Domestic and Family Violence Perpetrators from Refugee Backgrounds. Research Report 9, ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/29121122/FISHER_RR_Refugees.pdf.
Fitz-Gibbon, Kate, et al. Research Brief: the criminalisation of coercive control. Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre (2020). Sourced at: https://researchdata.edu.au/criminalisation-coercive-control-research-brief/1593744.
Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Ghafournia, Nafiseh. ‘Battered at Home, Played Down in Policy: migrant women and domestic violence in Australia’, Aggression and Violent Behavior 16.3 (2011): 207–13. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2011.02.009.
Giridharadas, Anand. Winners Take All: the elite charade of changing the world. Penguin Random House, 2019.
Gleeson, Hayley. ‘Hannah Clarke did “everything” she could to protect herself and her children. Experts explain why it wasn’t enough’, ABC News, March 10 (2020). Sourced at: https://doi.org/10/hannah-clarke-domestic-violence-law-cant-keep-women-safe/12041184.
Goodmark, Leigh. Decriminalizing Domestic Violence: a balanced policy approach to intimate partner violence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018.
Gray, Rebecca, et al. Developing LGBTQ Programs for Perpetrators and Victims/Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence. Research Report 10, ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://20ian81kynqg38bl3l3eh8bf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/PI.17.09-Bear-RR.1.pdf.
—. Developing LGBTQ Programs for Perpetrators and Victims/Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence: key findings and future directions. Summary Report 10, ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://20ian81kynqg38bl3l3eh8bf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ANROWS_RtPP_Bear-LGBTIQ.pdf. 24.
Harpur, Paul, and Heather Douglas. ‘Disability and Domestic Violence: protecting survivors’ human rights’, Griffith Law Review 23.3 (2014): 405–33. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1080/10383441.2014.1000241.
Healey, Lucy, et al. ‘Inclusive Domestic Violence Standards: strategies to improve interventions for women with disabilities?’ Violence and Victims 28.1 (2013): 50–68. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1891/0886-6708.28.1.50.
Hegarty, Kelsey, et al. ‘Health Practitioners’ Readiness to Address Domestic Violence and Abuse: a qualitative meta-synthesis’, PLoS ONE 15.6 (2020). Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234067.
Hill, Jess. Love, Power & Control: part one & two with Jess Hill. Webinar. Melbourne: Victorian Women’s Trust, 2021. Sourced at: https://www.vwt.org.au/watch-love-power-control-part-one-two-with-jess-hill/.
—. ‘Criminalising coercive control will replace the broken lens we have on domestic abuse’, Women’s Agenda, October 14 (2020). Sourced at: https://womensagenda.com.au/latest/criminalising-coercive-control-will-replace-the-broken-lens-we-have-on-domestic-abuse/.
—. See What You Made Me Do: power, control and domestic abuse. Carlton: Black Inc, 2019.
Hislop, Madeline. ‘Remember their names: Hannah and her three children Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey’, Women’s Agenda, February 19 (2020). Sourced at: https://womensagenda.com.au/latest/remember-their-names-hannah-baxter/.
Hoskins, Zachary. ‘Criminalization and the Collateral Consequences of Conviction’, Criminal Law and Philosophy 12.4 (2017): 625–639. Sourced at: http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1007/s11572-017-9449-2.
Kaba, Mariame. We Do This ’Til We Free Us: abolitionist organizing and transforming justice. Ed. Tamara K. Nopper. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2021.
King, Madonna. ‘“Intimate terrorism”: why the murders of Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey must spark change’, The Sydney Morning Herald, November 20 (2020). Sourced at: https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/intimate-terrorism-why-the-murders-of-hannah-aaliyah-laianah-and-trey-must-spark-change-20200910-p55ubz.html.
Lee, Nicole. ‘Cultures of Violence’. FWF2020 ThinkIn, November 25, 2020. Sourced at: https://feministwritersfestival.com/cultures-of-violence.
LGBTIQ Domestic and Family Violence Interagency, and Centre for Social Research in Health University of NSW. Calling It What It Really Is: a report into lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex and queer experiences of domestic and family violence. Research Report, University of New South Wales (2014). Sourced at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pb4ccmncpv5t69q/AACpBSZP9Hktk7laNA07rfKwa/Research%20-%20Calling%20It%20What%20It%20Really%20Is%202015.pdf?dl=0.
Loney-Howes, Rachel. ‘Shifting the Rape Script: “coming out” online as a rape victim’, Frontiers 39.2 (2018): 26–57.
Maher, JaneMaree, et al. Women, Disability and Violence: barriers to accessing justice: final report. ANROWS (2018). Sourced at: https://www.anrows.org.au/publications/horizons/women-disability-and-violence-barriers-accessing-justice-final-report.
Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. ‘On the Coloniality of Being: contributions to the development of a concept’, Cultural Studies 21.2–3 (2007): 240–270. https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380601162548.
Martin, Karen, and Booran Mirraboopa. ‘Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing: a theoretical framework and methods for Indigenous and Indigenist re‐search’, Journal of Australian Studies 27.76 (2003): 203–214. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14443050309387838.
McCulloch, Jude, et al. ‘Justice Perspectives of Women with Disability: an Australian story’, International Review of Victimology 27.2 (2020): 196–210. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0269758020906270.
McGorrery, Paul, et al. ‘Coercive control is a form of intimate terrorism and must be criminalised’, The Guardian, October 6 (2020). Sourced at: https://link.library.curtin.edu.au/gw?url=https://www.proquest.com/blogs-podcasts-.
McKenna, Kate, and George Roberts. ‘Brisbane car fire killer stalked wife Hannah Clarke and used “scary” controlling tactics before final evil act’, ABC News, February (2020). Sourced at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-21/brisbane-car-fire-hannah-clarke-rowan-baxter-family-violence/11985024.
McMahon, Marilyn, and Paul McGorrery. ‘Criminalising Controlling and Coercive Behaviour: the next step in the prosecution of family violence?’ Alternative Law Journal 41.2 (2016): 98–101. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1037969X1604100206.
McPhail, Beverly A., et al. ‘An Integrative Feminist Model: the evolving feminist perspective on intimate partner violence’, Violence Against Women 13.8 (2007): 817–841. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801207302039.
McPhedran, Samara, and Jeanine Baker. ‘Lethal and Non-Lethal Violence Against Women in Australia: measurement challenges, conceptual frameworks, and limitations in knowledge’, Violence Against Women 18.8 (2012): 958–972. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801212456755.
Milligan, Louise. Witness: an investigation into the brutal cost of seeking justice. Sydney: Hachette Australia, 2020.
Mills, Linda G. Insult to Injury: rethinking our responses to intimate abuse. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003. Sourced at: http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/detail.action?docID=445513.
Monckton Smith, Jane. In Control: dangerous relationships and how they end in murder. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.
—. ‘Intimate Partner Femicide: using Foucauldian analysis to track an eight stage progression to homicide’, Violence Against Women 26.11 (2020): 1267–1285. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801219863876.
Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. Talkin’ Up To The White Woman: Indigenous women and feminism. 9th edition. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2020.
Mortimer, Shaez, et al. ‘“Typical Scripts” and Their Silences: exploring myths about sexual violence and LGBTQ people from the perspectives of support workers’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice 31.3 (2019): 333–348. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1080/10345329.2019.1639287.
Mutua, Makau. ‘Savages, Victims, and Saviors: the metaphor of human rights’, Harvard International Law 42.1 (2001): 201–425.
Nancarrow, Heather, et al. Accurately Identifying the ‘Person Most in Need of Protection’ in Domestic and Family Violence Law. Research Report 23, ANROWS (2020). Sourced at: https://20ian81kynqg38bl3l3eh8bf-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/ANROWS-RtPP-Nancarrow-PMINOP.pdf.
Paternoster, Raymond. ‘How Much Do We Really Know About Criminal Deterrence?’
Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 100.3 (2010): 765–823. Sourced at: https://
Pfitzner, Naomi, et al. Responding to the ‘Shadow Pandemic’: practitioner views on the nature of and responses to violence against women in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 restrictions. Monash University Report (2020). Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.26180/5ed9d5198497c.
Piepzna-Samarasinha, Leah Lakshmi. Care Work: dreaming disability justice. 5th edition. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018.
Riga, Rachel. ‘Hannah Clarke’s parents push for coercive control to be made a crime one year on from horrific murders’, ABC News, February 13 (2021). Sourced at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-14/qld-hannah-clarke-domestic-violence-murder-anniversary-brisbane/13137484.
Riggs, Damien W., and Martha Augoustinos. ‘The Psychic Life of Colonial Power: racialised subjectivities, bodies and methods’, Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 15.6 (2005): 461–477. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.838.
Segrave, Marie, et al. Migrant and Refugee Women in Australia: the safety and security study. Monash University, 2021. Sourced at: https://bridges.monash.edu/articles/report/_/14863872.
—. Temporary Migration and Family Violence: an analysis of victimisation, vulnerability and support. School of Social Sciences, Monash University, 2017.
Serra, Natalie E. ‘Queering International Human Rights: LGBT access to domestic violence remedies’, The American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law 21.3 (2013): 583–607. Sourced at: http://search.ebscohost.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lft&AN=87855295&site=ehost-live.
Simester, A. P., and Andreas von Hirsch. ‘On the Legitimate Objectives of Criminalisation’, Criminal Law and Philosophy 10.2 (2016): 367–379. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11572-014-9323-4.
Sisters Inside, and Institute for Collaborative Race Research. The State as Abuser: coercive control in the colony. Joint Submission, 2021. Sourced at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5fd158df412849720ce27cbd/t/60f0e8de9014c44c528c8ab6/1626400994855/The+State+as+Abuser.pdf.
Smye, Victoria, et al. ‘Violence at the Intersections of Women’s Lives in an Urban Context: Indigenous women’s experiences of leaving and/or staying with an abusive partner’, Violence Against Women 27.10 (2021): 1586–1607. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801220947183.
Stark, Evan. Coercive Control: how men entrap women in personal life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Tarzia, Laura, et al. ‘Women’s Experiences and Expectations After Disclosure of Intimate Partner Abuse to a Healthcare Provider: a qualitative meta-synthesis’, BMJ Open 10.11 (2020). Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-041339.
United Nations. ‘Secretary-General Calls Gender Violence ‘Shadow Pandemic’’. Press
Release, 2020. Sourced at: https://www.un.org/press/en/2020/sgsm20160.doc.htm.
UN Women. ‘The Shadow Pandemic: violence against women during COVID-19’. Sourced at: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/in-focus-gender-equality-in-covid-19-response/violence-against-women-during-covid-19.
Tolmie, Julia R. ‘Coercive Control: to criminalize or not to criminalize?’ Criminology & Criminal Justice 18.1 (2018): 50–66. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1748895817746712.
Vaughan, Cathy, et al. Promoting Community-Led Responses to Violence Against Immigrant and Refugee Women in Metropolitan and Regional Australia: the ASPIRE project. State of knowledge 12, ANROWS (2015). Sourced at: https://d2rn9gno7zhxqg.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/19024843/12_1.2-Landscapes-ASPIRE-web.pdf.
Victoria and Family Safety Victoria. Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework: a shared responsibility for assessing and managing family violence risk. Victorian Government, 2018. Sourced at: https://www.vic.gov.au/maram-practice-guides-and-resources.
Walklate, Sandra, and Kate Fitz-Gibbon. ‘The Criminalisation of Coercive Control: the power of law?’ International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 8.4 (2019): 94–108. Sourced at: http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.5204/ijcjsd.v8i4.1205.
Wang, Lili. ‘Factors Influencing Attitude Toward Intimate Partner Violence’, Aggression and Violent Behavior 29 (2016): 72–78. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2016.06.005.
Wendt, Sarah, et al. Seeking Help for Domestic and Family Violence: exploring regional, rural, and remote women’s coping experiences: final report. Research Report 6, ANROWS (2017). Sourced at: https://www.anrows.org.au/publication/seeking-help-for-domestic-violence-exploring-rural-womens-coping-experiences-final-report/.
Western Australia and Corruption and Crime Commission. Report on the Response of WA Police to a Particular Incident of Domestic Violence on 19-20 March 2013. Corruption and Crime Commission, 2016.
Williams, Lucy, and Sandra Walklate. ‘Policy Responses to Domestic Violence, the Criminalisation Thesis and “Learning from History”’, The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice 59.3 (2020): 305–316. Sourced at: https://doi.org/10.1111/hojo.12378.
Woodlock, Delanie, et al. Second National Survey on Technology Abuse and Domestic Violence in Australia. WESNET (2020). Sourced at: https://wesnet.org.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/11/Wesnet-2020-2nd-National-Survey-Report-72pp-A4-FINAL.pdf.
Adele is a queer disabled writer-activist and artist whose writing, informed by lived experiences and studies, focuses on human rights and social justice. Their non-fiction, poetry and performance writing has featured in local, Australian and international publications and events. Adele has been awarded several emerging writer and development fellowships. A person of colour, Adele is grateful to be living on Whadjuk Noongar Boodjar.