MORE work needs to be done before Australia is ready to change laws relating to coercive control, central Victorian family violence experts say.
The heads of both the Centre for Non-Violence and Annie North have urged governments considering legislative change to proceed cautiously.
It comes a year after Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, were killed by the children's father, who set fire to their car during the morning school run.
The abuse Ms Clarke and her family endured before the horrific acts of February 19, 2020, brought coercive control into greater prominence, nationally.
Meanwhile, governments both in Australia and abroad have been considering making laws about coercive control - a system of violence that uses a range of tactics and behaviours, which creates an environment of fear.
Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos recognised the urgency to address justice system responses to violence against women.
However, she said there was no common understanding within the justice system about coercive control.
Responses were inconsistent and the nuances of coercive control were often missed or overlooked, Ms Augerinos said.
"We need a broader social movement that will lead to a change in behaviours that excuse and condone violence against women, while having a sharp focus on ensuring the current systemic and legal system responses are working as intended," she said.
"We recognise the need for improved whole-of-system responses to coercive control and better outcomes through the justice system, but changes to legislation alone are not the solution."
Ms Augerinos said there was no evidence to suggest legislative changes would increase safety for women and children.
Story continues below CNV coercive control position paper
Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin believed leading with legislation would pose a greater risk to victim-survivors, who might be misidentified as the perpetrators or be prevented from reporting abuse.
Victim-survivors would also bear the burden of having to prove they were experiencing coercive control - something Ms Oberin said was often extremely difficult to identify and evidence.
"Each act might seem trivial, but when added up and viewed with specific meaning to the victim-survivor's context, it forms a dangerous, damaging and insidious abuse," she said.
"There is limited evidence of successful prosecutions in international examples."
More reforms involving consistencies in definition, educating the community about coercive control and training and support for police and the judicial system needed to be the first priority, Ms Oberin said.
"We need a consistent national definition of family and domestic violence where coercive control is recognised as a form of abuse," she said.
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She said Victorian law already recognised coercive control as family violence.
"It is a central figure of Victoria's civil law Family Violence Protection Act (2008), however these are underutilised," Ms Oberin said.
She reiterated the findings of Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence, which said: "Whatever laws we have will be only as effective as those who enforce, prosecute and apply them."
"Improving these practices through education, training and embedding best-practice and family violence expertise in the courts is likely to be more effective than simply creating new offences," the Royal Commission found.
The Australian Women Against Violence Alliance has made 10 recommendations relevant to coercive control, which Ms Oberin helped develop.
They included governments undertaking extensive consultation and co-design of laws, plans and policies related to coercive control with diverse groups of women and with specialist services.
AWAVA called on the federal government to track progress on the impacts of family and domestic violence legislation.
It also recommended more research into issues related to coercive control, and more training on violence for law enforcement and justice system personnel.
"We need our system, including police and the judiciary, to be fully skilled up to accurately recognise and appropriately respond to coercive control," Ms Oberin said.
Embedding the reforms of the Victorian family violence royal commission was also vital, Ms Augerinos said.
"If we look to change legislation criminalising coercive control before those reforms are embedded, we are concerned there will be unintended consequences for women," she said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing family and domestic violence, help is available. Contact:
If life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).
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