Telling women what to wear could become a crime in NSW

 

Husbands who force their wives to wear a niqab or a mini skirt could be prosecuted under proposed new laws if their controlling behaviour constitutes domestic violence.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said coercive control, which includes humiliation, intimidation, financial abuse and constant criticism, was so demoralising that some victims said they would rather "be hit and get it over with" because mental abuse can more destructive than physical assaults.

With confronting figures revealing that 77 out of 78 domestic violence homicides in NSW over two years were preceded by coercive control - sometimes called intimate terrorism - Mr Speakman is today releasing a discussion paper on the controversial topic of whether that behaviour should become an offence on its own.

He said the stereotypical image of a domestic violence victim was a woman cowering in a corner and many people questioned why didn't she just leave.

He said coercive control, which had a cumulative effect, could be the reason and was a red flag to homicide.

John Edwards, who shot dead his two children Jack and Jennifer before killing himself in 2018, had a history of controlling his partners and wives from the early 1990s, including forcing them to wear mini skirts, having long hair and not giving them enough money. His wife Olga later killed herself.

Hannah Clarke, who was killed with her three children in February this year after her estranged Rowan Baxter set their car on fire in Brisbane, had been stalking and intimidating her, forcing her to have sex every night and not allowing her to wear shorts or bikinis.

"Typically domestic violence homicide has been preceded by coercive behaviour," Mr Speakman said yesterday.

"The horrific rate of domestic violence murders in Australia remains stubbornly consistent."

77 out of 78 domestic violence homicides in NSW over two years were preceded by coercive control.
77 out of 78 domestic violence homicides in NSW over two years were preceded by coercive control.

He said any new laws would not prosecute individual acts but a course of conduct.

The review by the NSW Coroners Court between 2015 and 2017 found 99 per cent of domestic homicides were preceded by some form of coercive control, whether it was the man or the woman who committed the crime.

The suggestion of new laws has the backing of domestic abuse advocates.

"The conversation about coercive control as far as we are concerned is essential," Delia Donovan from Domestic Violence NSW said.

Similar laws introduced to Scotland last year carry a maximum sentence of 14 years' jail. In the first three months there were 190 cases reported to prosecutors with 13 convictions. Overall there has been a 93 per cent plea of guilty.

Since the laws were introduced in England and Wales in 2015, there has been a conviction rate of about 78 per cent.

As well releasing the discussion paper, Mr Speakman has referred the question of new laws to a parliamentary committee to report back by June 30 next year.


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