In more than half (57 per cent) of domestic violence (DV) events, at least one coercive control behaviour was recorded by police, according to a new study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) has found that
“Coercive control relates to abusive behaviours which can exert domination and control over another person,” said Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
Fitzgerald explains these domestic violence behaviours can include threats, financial control, social isolation and surveillance.
To look at the prevalence of coercive control, the study used text mining to analyse the narrative description of police DV reports.
The text mining would look for mention of coercive control behaviours and found the most common to be property damage and theft (present in 26 per cent of DV events), intimidation and threats (24 per cent) and verbal abuse (23 per cent).
Results also showed 10 per cent of recorded DV offences included a reference to threats of harm and 6 per cent included a threat to kill.
The study looked at narratives of 526,787 domestic violence-related events occurring between 1 January 2009 and 21 March 2020, to measure the prevalence of 48 separate behaviours.
In 8 per cent of events, three or more distinct subcategories of coercive control behaviours were detected.
Police recorded incidents of DV assault continue to increase significantly, according to the latest trends in NSW to June 2023.
“Over the five years to June 2023 the number of recorded DV Assault incidents in NSW increased by 13.5 per cent,” said Fitzgerald, adding that, “domestic assault and sexual assault are the only major offences to show sustained increases over this time.”
From 2021-22, it’s estimated that 23 per cent of Australian women have experienced emotional abuse since the age of 15 (including controlling or threatening behaviours, incessant insults and intimidation by a current or previous partner).
Stalking is another abusive behaviour that 20 per cent of Australian women report having experienced. Within the category of stalking, reports include incidents of following/watching the person, maintaining unwanted contact and using social media or electronic devices to follow or track the person.
Notably, the BOSCAR study found that the coercive control measures captured by police provided no improvement in prediction over and above the demographic, offence characteristic and prior offending variables that are typically used to predict domestic violence reoffending.
Results from the BOSCAR study highlight the inherent difficulty in defining and capturing coercive control. These challenges will also apply to any evaluation of the impact of the new coercive control legislation in NSW.
Given the difficulties in observing coercive control, the way in which police record and enforce the offence (and the way victims report behaviour) will largely determine how often the offence is used.
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