Central Victorian advocates for victims and survivors of family violence hold mixed views on whether the law should change to make repeated psychological abuse and controlling behaviour illegal.
This week a coalition of lobby groups and advocates launched a national campaign to call on state and territory governments to introduce an offence for coercive control.
Coercive control includes a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviours that a family violence perpetrator uses to isolate their victim, deprive them of their autonomy and self-worth, and maintain control over them.
These behaviours are wide-ranging but can include controlling who a person sees, limiting access to money, making threats, and monitoring communications, among others.
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive officer Margaret Augerinos said criminalising coercive control would allow for the prosecution of an offender for their history of abusive tactics - some of which were not considered offences individually - rather than specific incidents.
Ms Augerinos said there was a history of coercive control in some of the high-profile cases of family violence, and had prosecution of those perpetrators for this behaviour been possible, lives could have been saved.
Sometimes the harm to victims and survivors came from the repeated behaviour of the perpetrator attempting to gain control, she said, rather than individual acts.
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Organisations involved in the national campaign for criminalisation of coercive control include White Ribbon, Doctors Against Violence Towards Women and Women's Community Shelters.
But Julie Oberin, the chief executive officer of local women's refuge Annie North, said criminalisation was not the right response at this time.
"Practitioners (justice and others) need to be supported to make better assessments and responses to coercive control within domestic/family violence in all its forms," Ms Oberin said.
She said the justice system and practitioners needed to move beyond responding to family violence as an isolated incident, primarily physical violence, and learn to recognise, assess and respond to patterns of coercive controlling behaviour.
Women's Legal Service Victoria also opposes criminalisation and says that while the justice system response can be improved, there is no evidence that laws against coercive control have contributed to the wellbeing of victim-survivors.
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Ms Oberin voiced concerns such laws could lead to the unintended misidentification and criminalisation of victim-survivors or other marginalised groups.
But Ms Augerinos said such risks would be low if the laws were well-written.
She said the legislation needed to look through a lens of repeated patterns of behaviour, which would not be present in the actions of victim-survivors.
Victoria does not have a specific law against coercive control, but the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 recognises family violence can involve coercion and emotional, psychological and economic abuse, as well as patterns of abuse over an extended period.