Excerpted from ABC News
Article by Hayley Gleeson
First Nations, migrant women uniquely vulnerable
While some Victorian family violence organisations and academics are supportive of criminalising coercive control, many are hesitant about or completely against the idea, arguing the potential risks of new laws outweigh the benefits. Some, like Women’s Legal Service Victoria, have noted coercive control is already included in the state’s legal definition of family violence and is a “centrepiece” of the policy environment and reform agenda.
One of the key concerns is how a criminal offence could affect First Nations women, who are much more likely to experience domestic violence than non-Indigenous Australians but less likely to report abuse for a range of complex reasons. Many advocates fear criminalising coercive control would lead to Aboriginal women — who police frequently misidentify as perpetrators — becoming even more enmeshed in the criminal justice and prison systems and even less likely to seek help.
“The conversation around coercive control must be broadened beyond criminalisation,” said Antoinette Braybrook, chief executive of Djirra, which supports Aboriginal people experiencing family violence. “Early intervention and prevention is the solution. Instead of pouring more money into a failed criminal justice system, we want to see investment in community-led responses that we know keep our women safe.”
Djirra has “for years” been advocating for measures that will reduce barriers to reporting violence, Ms Braybrook said, and runs several early intervention and prevention programs.
“Aboriginal Community Controlled family violence specialist programs, such as Djirra’s Young Luv, support young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to understand healthy relationships and recognise coercive and controlling behaviours,” she said. “They also strengthen connections to culture and community, which we know are protective factors against family violence.”
For Adele Murdolo, executive director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, primary prevention is not just about “changing attitudes” that allow violence to flourish, but also making “systemic and structural changes” that increase women’s access to meaningful employment, affordable childcare and housing security.
Some of the migrant women her organisation supports are more vulnerable to coercive control and other forms of violence, she said, because for the first two years after they arrive in Australia, they are ineligible for government support, which means they’re often financially dependent on their partner or family. And many new migrants struggle to find work and build social networks, which can also make it harder for them to leave abusive relationships.
“So I think one of the things we need to be looking at is, what is it about the systems and structures we’ve placed around migration that makes women more dependent and vulnerable than others,” Dr Murdolo said. “This is really long-term work — it’s whole-of-community, it’s making long-term changes to systems and removing barriers, changing attitudes – and it does take a long time for all those things to come together.
“But unless governments commit to long-term, ongoing, adequate funding for primary prevention … we’re going to continue seeing the same rates of violence and women will keep dying.”