Crime Amendment (Non-Fatal Strangulation) Bill 2023

14 November 2023

I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Non-fatal Strangulation) Bill 2023, and I just acknowledge the member for Mildura for her contribution and bravely sharing that today. I will say from the outset that violence in any form is never acceptable. This bill appropriately strengthens our laws, and it sends a clear message that violence such as non-fatal strangulation will not be tolerated. It will not be tolerated here in Victoria and indeed should not be tolerated in this country or anywhere else.


Domestic violence does take many forms. Many of them can be non-physical in nature – for example, financial, verbal, emotional or social abuse. However, strangulation I think is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence. Unconsciousness can happen in seconds, and death within minutes. This bill delivers on the Victorian government’s commitment, including in the 2023–2027 gender equality strategy and action plan, to introducing a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation. The offences introduced with this bill will more effectively hold offenders to account and also provide clear indications to police and community service practitioners of escalating violence and control in the family context. This bill aims to improve the understanding of the dangers and potential deadliness of non-fatal strangulation among police, courts and community service practitioners, and it will help drive more effective law and health enforcement and responses.

This bill is going to introduce two offences of non-fatal strangulation to the Crimes Act 1958: an offence of non-fatal strangulation, with a five-year maximum penalty, and an offence of non-fatal strangulation intentionally causing injury, with a 10-year maximum penalty. Both offences will capture a broad range of conduct. The offences will prohibit choking, strangling and suffocating, which will be defined, non-exhaustive, as applying pressure to the front and side of the neck, obstructing and interfering with a person’s respiratory system or impeding respiration.

Some of these Australian jurisdictions have standalone offences. The narrow interpretation has really imposed some inappropriately high evidentiary burdens on prosecutions, and it does add to that form of traumatisation of victim-survivors. The broad definition in this bill is to avoid that issue. The bill does also make reference to family members. These reforms to improve our criminal justice system are really to address the risk posed by family violence offenders who do use non-fatal strangulation as a means of terror and control. Providing offences that only apply to family members does allow the penalties to be tailored specifically to respond to this heightened risk and to better hold family violence offenders to account.

This bill also amends the family violence legislation. The bill amends the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to include choking, strangling and suffocating of a family member – or threatening to do so – in the list of behaviours constituting family violence. This amendment ensures that non-fatal strangulation is recognised and if the risk can be mitigated when bail decision-makers are considering cases. The Allan Labor government, and the Andrews Labor government before it, is proudly delivering on the commitments from the Royal Commission into Family Violence in this bill, progressing our strong community safety and prevention of family violence reforms.

The royal commission did reveal – and it has been talked about today – the devastating prevalence and impact of family violence in this country, and it does set out a whole-system reform to end family violence in Victoria. We have acknowledged today there is still a long way to go. I will take this opportunity to thank those who have shared their lived experience, and considering lived experience is a way that we can continue to improve the prevention of and response to family violence. I would like to acknowledge the family of Joy Rowley for their advocacy. They are at the forefront of the government’s reform, policy and service delivery.

Non-fatal strangulation is rarely an isolated event. It does often indicate an escalation of violence, coercion and controlling behaviours in a family violence context. Women who survive non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely to be seriously injured or murdered by that partner. In the absence of a standalone event in Victoria there has been a barrier to identifying, reporting and prosecuting this offending, and it has made it harder to monitor the impacts and assess the risks. Addressing the unique risk profile of non-fatal strangulation as an act of family violence has been a key part of driving these reforms. As I have noted, non-fatal strangulation has been recognised in multiple research studies across the world as an important risk for homicide of women, and researchers found that someone who survives a non-fatal strangulation by a current or former partner is seven times more likely to be seriously injured or murdered. It is important that we acknowledge that whilst women and children are most significantly impacted by domestic violence, it can happen to anyone, anytime. We need to remember that it does happen to husbands, children, brothers and sisters, and we need to look out for all instances of family violence in our communities. Non-fatal strangulation is a weapon; it is there to instil fear and increase control over a victim. In an abusive relationship, non-fatal strangulations are huge red flags, as has been mentioned today. It is a red flag that you are with a violent and dangerous abuser.

Victims explain that non-fatal strangulation is highly personal, up-close abusive behaviour. This is unimaginable for someone who has never experienced any abuse, but it is quite confronting to speak on this bill. For a recent 2022 report called The Voices of Women Impacted by Non-Fatal Strangulation, which was published by the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research, women were interviewed about their experiences. We have talked about lived experience being important in helping legislation. That report talked about how all women would talk about control. The word ‘control’ was used in every instance. The report stated that regardless of the number of times women were subjected to non-fatal strangulation all of their accounts spoke about the strangulation being the ultimate act of exerting power and control. Marisa, which is not her real name, summed it up, saying:

… they are basically saying to you I can take your life.

Now, as confronting as this is, it is important I think today that I address it and express the seriousness and the horror of this type of abuse. Around Victoria there are homes where domestic abuse hangs as a frightening and deadly ticking time bomb. It affects people for life, and as legislators we have a responsibility to act.

Since the Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016 I am proud that this government has worked tirelessly to implement all recommendations of the royal commission. Of course that does not mean we are done and dusted. We still have plenty of work to do, but from rolling out Orange Door, which I am proud to say is now in the Bellarine electorate, and establishing our first dedicated prevention agency Respect Victoria to delivering Respectful Relationships in schools, this government is leading the nation and trying to do whatever it can with the levers it has in addressing family violence and its reform. As I said, there is so much work still to be done.

We are passing this bill in the hope that it saves a life and maybe saves many lives. The bill highlights that this form of violence is serious and is not tolerated by society. Violence in any form, like I said at the beginning, is not acceptable, and this bill appropriately strengthens our laws. It sends a clear, strong message that this violence will not be tolerated. I commend the bill to the house.