Desert Blue Connect Geraldton raises awareness of coercive control for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Jessica MoroneyGeraldton Guardian
Tara Lees and Cathy Crabbe at Desert Blue Connect reception.
Camera IconTara Lees and Cathy Crabbe at Desert Blue Connect reception. Credit: Jessica Moroney

A Geraldton counsellor has revealed almost a third of her clients each week disclose they have been the victims of sexual assault — and that figure is on the rise as experts change their line of questioning to focus more on coercive control.

Desert Blue Connect in Geraldton offers free sexual assault counselling and is calling for more awareness and recognition of abuse in intimate partner relationships and the types of coercive control that can constitute domestic violence.

This month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and according to WA Police crime statistics, reported offences of sexual offences, family assault and threatening behaviour towards family had surged from a total of 27,996 cases in 2018-19 to 34,374 cases in 2020-21 — a rise of 23 per cent.

Statistics show reported sexual offences had steadily increased in the last nine years, from 4054 cases in 2012-13 to 6921 cases in 2020-21, or by 70 per cent.

In the Mid West Gascoyne police district, 80 sexual offences were reported in the first half of 2020-21, compared to 134 in 2019-20 and 126 in 2018-19.

Desert Blue Connect operations manager Tara Lees said intimate partner violence was a gendered crime, and most victims were female while perpetrators were generally male.

“Statistics indicate that about 92 per cent of perpetrators are male,” she said.

Coercive control can be in the form of threats, humiliation, intimidation or abuse used to frighten, harm or punish a victim.

Desert Blue Connect counsellor Ancy D’Souza said in the past year, knowledge of sexual assault in intimate partner relationships had expanded and by changing the context of the questions she asked — focusing on coercive control rather than asking directly — she saw a higher rate of sexual assault or perversion disclosures.

Ms D’Souza said coercive control could be hard to recognise in relationships and on average two out of seven clients disclosed sexual assault each week.

“We have looked at it within the context of family violence and yes, in that sense we can say there have been more cases,” she said.

“The assessments we had done in the past were to the point, whereas now we have focused more on the coercive control aspect.

“The focus has shifted from just looking at incidences of violence to the behaviour of the perpetrator day-to-day with the victim/survivor.

“There can be the inherent gut feeling that something is wrong; ‘That is not true’, or ‘That is not right’.”

“Sometimes there is no physical violence, which makes coercive control invisible to the people, the family members and often the perpetrators.”

If you are a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, you can contact the 24/7 Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 016 789 or 1800 RESPECT/1800 737 732.

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