Why Criminalise Coercive Control? The Complicity of the Criminal Law in Punishing Women Through Furthering the Power of the State

Abstract

Moves to criminalise coercive and controlling behaviours are hotly debated. In jurisdictions where the legal response to domestic violence has incorporated coercive control, the efficacy of such interventions has yet to be established. Within this debate, limited attention has been paid to the extent to which such moves challenge or endorse legal understandings of the ‘responsible subject’ (Lacey 2016). This article will consider the failure of both the law in theory and the law in practice to address this feature in the debates surrounding coercive control. We suggest that this failure may result in the reassertion of traditional conceptions of responsibility. Or, as Naffine (1990) might say, a reconsideration of the unintended impacts of the prevailing influence of the rational, entrepreneurial, heterosexual, white man of law. Consequently, any law intended to offer an avenue for understanding women’s experiences of coercive control can reassert women as victims to be blamed for those same experiences and sustain the power of the patriarchal state in responding to such violence.

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Published: 2021-02-01
Section:Online First
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Author Biographies

University of Liverpool; Monash University
 United Kingdom

Sandra Walklate is Eleanor Rathbone Chair of Sociology at Liverpool conjoint Chair of Criminology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. She has worked within the field of victimology since the 1980s and much of her current work in this area is focused on gender-based violence(s) and criminal justice policy responses to this. Her most recent book with Monash colleagues was published by Routledge in 2020 entitled: Counting the Costs: Towards a Global Femicide Index

Monash University
 Australia

Kate Fitz-Gibbon is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University (Victoria, Australia). Kate conducts research in the field of domestic and family violence, femicide, criminal justice responses to violence against women, and the impact of criminal law reform in Australia and internationally.