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Domestic violence in Australia

In Australia, domestic violence is defined by the Family Law Act 1975[1][2] as "violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person's family, or causes the family member to be fearful".

The Act refers to acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship in domestic settings. Domestic violence includes violence between partners of both sexes, including same-sex relationships. However, the term can be altered by each state's legislation and can broaden the spectrum of domestic violence, such as in Victoria, where family-like relationships and witnessing any type of violence in the family is defined as a family violence.[3]

To refer to domestic violence, in Australia, states chose to name them differently. As such, in Australia domestic violence, depending on the state, it's called "domestic violence", "family violence", "domestic and family violence" and "domestic abuse".[4]

A survey of domestic violence data in Australia revealed that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men have experienced at least one incident of violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.[4]

On average between 2010 and 2012, every 10 days a female died as a result of family violence, with a total of 75 over the period,[5] whilst in 2015, Females accounted for almost two thirds (65%) of all victims of FDV–related Homicide in Australia in 2015 (103 victims)[6]

Between 2014 and 2016 there were 264,028 domestic violence incidents reported and recorded.[7] However, Australian Bureau of Statistics's released data revealed that 80% of women and 95% of men who had experienced violence from a current partner never contacted the police.[4][8] The most common reason for not reporting was cited as fear of revenge or further violence from the current partner.[4] Between 2014 and 2015, 2,800 women and 560 men were hospitalised after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.[9]

A paper published in Melbourne in 2016, revealed that from 121,251 domestic violence incidents recorded over a 2 year period,more than 21% involved alcohol by either or both parties.[10]

A critical report by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2018 revealed that 1 in 6 (approximately 1.5 million) women and 1 in 9 (approximately 992,000) men were physically and/or sexually abused before the age of 15. The same report revealed that 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9,000 men employed homelessness services in 2016–17 due to domestic violence.[11]

Family violence recorded incidents in Australia[7]
Region Date range Description Recorded incidents
Victoria 2015 Family incidents 74,385
Queensland 2014-15 Domestic violence occurrences 71,777
NSW 2014-15 Domestic violence related incidents 65,120
Tasmania 2014-15 Family violence arguments and incidents 4,410
WA 2014-15 Domestic Assaults 16,461
ACT 2014-15 Family violence incidents reported 2,876
NT 2015 Domestic violence assaults 3,970
SA 2016 Domestic violence matters reported 25,029
Australia 264,028

Research, funding, counter-measures

1990s

In 1996, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) held a national survey, entitled 'Women's Safety Survey' which provided the first comprehensive national data on all forms of violence against women.[12][13][14]

In 1997, John Howard, the prime minister of Australia brought together the heads of all states and territories and acknowledged the domestic violence phenomena across Australia and set to work together to resolve the issue. In the same year, the Commonwealth Government of Australia committed $50 million to test preventative measures and practices to address domestic violence. The program was called 'Partnerships Against Domestic Violence' and was funded until 2003.[15] Along with this funding, Centrelink started providing emergency crisis payments to women who were victims of domestic violence.[12]

During that same year, the Commonwealth (federal) government established the Partnerships programme which provided $157 million for each state and territory for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme which provides transitional support and accommodation to homeless people, many of whom are women escaping domestic violence.[12]

The Partnerships programme has sponsored more than 100 projects to explore practices at local, regional and national levels. Those projects included development of competency standards, worker training, research into domestic violence, community awareness products and better coordination systems between police and the justice system. The program also established the Australian Domestic Violence Clearinghouse which gathers research and publications from each state and territory of Australia but also from overseas.[12]

In 1997–2001, The National Indigenous Family Violence Grants Programme was initiated by the Government and provided $6 million over the 4-year period. The grant was aimed at helping local indigenous communities to reduce family violence. They were assisted by a mentoring team which provided advice on project management, self-documentation and self-evaluation.[12][16]

2000s

In 2001 the Government established the National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault (NICSA) with funding of AU$16.5m over four years and administered by the Office of the Status of Women.[12] In 2004—2005, an additional AU$6.7m was granted to NICSA.[17]

Between August and December 2005, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted another Personal Safety Survey. ABS interviewed 16,400 people in all States and Territories. The release of the survey findings on 21 Aug 2006 included comparison to the 1996 Women's Safety Survey. The findings showed that the physical threat dropped significantly from 1996 to 2005.[13]

In March 2009, the Department of Social Services released an economic report entitled The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children. The report revealed that between 2002 and 2003, the cost of domestic violence was estimated at AU$8.1 billion. The report also revealed the fact that if no action is taken against this phenomenon, by 2021–2022, the figure will double, amounting to $15.6 billion. The largest contributor being pain, suffering and premature mortality, estimated at AU$7.5 billion.[18][19][20]

2010s

In July 2013, Natasha Stott Despoja was the founding chair of Our Watch,[21] originally named Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children.[22] A joint initiative of the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments, the organisation is based in Melbourne.[23]

In 2014, Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded 95 victims of family and domestic violence-related homicides. With the largest numbers of victims in Victoria (32), followed by New South Wales (30).[24]

In March 2015, the Australian Senate under Finance and Public Administration References Committee issued an interim report regarding domestic violence in Australia. The interim report contained a total of eight recommendations. The recommendation of "inclusion of respectful relationships education in the national curriculum" was one that provided an opportunity to create a positive change, starting with children.[25][26] The interim report followed, among others, the submission from Australian Women Against Violence Alliance regarding the domestic violence issue. AWAVA conducted its own research into the matter and issued a number of recommendations, including the inclusion of respectful relationships in youth education.[27]

On 24 September 2015, the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced a funding of another AU$100 million for measures to protect victims of domestic violence.[28]

In 2016, the Government announced a 3-year plan for tackling domestic violence entitled 'Family and Domestic Violence Strategy 2016—2019'.[29][30]

New South Wales

On 14 October 2015, Pru Goward, the NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, stated that the government would provide a $60m package to tackle some of the most serious domestic violence problems. From those, $15m will fund 6 domestic violence 'High Risk Offender Teams', $4.1m for 24 new domestic violence liaison officers, $19.5m into mandated perpetrator behaviour change programs to provide treatment for offenders (to treat them just like those for drug or alcohol addictions). Another $20m will be spent for increasing the housing for those affected, $2.3m for police partnerships with other organisations and $1.3m over 4 years to increase the numbers of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in rural areas.[31]

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

In March 2015, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird announced a pilot of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) an adaptation of Clare's Law which was seen as a success in the United Kingdom.[32][33]

Through the scheme, victims are given the option to seek out information about his/her partner regarding any history of domestic violence. In the future, the scheme could also be extended to friends and family members who may have concerns about the affected person's partner.[33]

The DVDS is being piloted in four NSW Police Force Areas:[34]

  • Oxley (Tamworth region)
  • Shoalhaven (Nowra region)
  • Sutherland (Menai/Engadine/Sutherland region)
  • St George (Kogarah/Hurstville region).

Person at risk application

From the beginnings of the scheme and public enquiry into the matter, a "right to ask" model has been proposed, such as that in the UK.[33]

In the current form of the scheme, only a person of 16 years of age or older can make an application. Indifferent of the domestic partner's criminal history, the disclosure, it will be made within 2 weeks from the date of the application and will be made in person by a police officer assisted by a social worker.[35]

Information disclosed include relevant convictions of family violence, other serious convictions such as sexual offences, child abuse offences or murder and the date of conviction (case by case).[35]

Third party application

A third party to a relationship can make an application of disclosure, similar to that of a person at risk application. The third party must be a family member, friend or a professional that has ongoing relationship with the person who may be at risk.[36]

Police will disclose the information to the person at risk only, within two weeks of the application, in the presence of a specialist social worker. The third party who has made the application, can be present at the disclosure, provided that he or she is invited by the person at risk for whom the application was made.[36]

Victoria

Victoria has been at the forefront of family violence policy development and reform in Australia for the past 15 years and has been influential in propelling reforms in other Australian and international jurisdictions.[37]

In 2002, the Victorian Law Reform Commission's review of family violence laws sparked a number of changes in Victoria. The Law Reform Commission was part of the 2005 integrated service system developed by the Victorian government. Among those, the Magistrates Court of Victoria introduced a specialist Family Violence Court Division, integrated family violence support services, Magistrates’ Court Family Violence Taskforce and released its own paper entitled Response to Family Violence 2015–2017.[38]

In 2008, in Victoria, the government introduced new laws to tackle family violence. As such, the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 was adopted and, for the first time, broad family, past relationships and 'family-like' relationships are included in the law.[39]

Family Violence Protection Act 2008[3] states:

Family violence is any behaviour that in any way controls or dominates a family member and causes them to feel fear for their own, or other family member's safety or well-being. It can include physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or economic abuse and any behaviour that causes a child to hear, witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of that behaviour.[3]

The Act also recognises that violence also occurs in gay and lesbian relationships at similar levels to heterosexual relationships, although some forms of abuse are unique for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex.[3] In 2016, following a Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Victorian government committed $572m to tackle the problem.[40] Among others, the premier Daniel Andrews stated:

"We'll overhaul our broken support system from the bottom up"[40]

The premier also stated that in 2015, 37 Victorians had been murdered by a family member:[40]

"We failed every single one of them."[40]

"It's Australia's number one law and order issue but it's taken us too long to admit it."[40]

In the 2015 - 2016 Victorian budget, the government provided $81.3 million to support the work of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. In addition to the direct family violence found insertion, a further $257 million was provided to child protection services and $48.1 to Child FIRST to improve early intervention.[41][42][43]

In 2017, the Victorian Government had another review of its action plan to tackle Family Violence. In the review, the government made some significant changes to tackle the family violence problem and provided a 10 year plan.[44] Among others, in 2017, Victorian Government introduced "Respectful relationships" program for schools after a successful trial in 2016.[44]

Statistics

Victoria Police Crime Statistics Official release regarding the family violence incidents.[45]

Rate per 100,000 Victorian population
2009–2010 2010–2011 2011–2012 2012–2013 2013–2014
Family Incidents 658.4 742.0 894.6 1,065.4 1,129.2
Where Charges Laid 173.2 219.9 322.6 453.0 507.7
Where Children Present 234.2 263.1 324.7 331.8 387.6
Total number of recorded family violence reports in Victoria
2009–2010 2010–2011 2011–2012 2012–2013 2013–2014 2015-2016
Family Incidents 35,681 40,778 49,945 60,550 65,393 78,012
Where Charges Laid 9,387 12,085 18,007 25,745 29,403
Where Children Present 12,690 14,458 18,128 18,859 22,445

2015–2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence

In the wake of a series of family violence related deaths in Victoria, most notably the death of 11 year old Luke Batty, who was killed by his father on 12 February 2014, a Royal Commission into Family Violence was ordered by the government of Victoria.[37]

On 22 February 2015, the Governor of Victoria, Alex Chernov, signed the letters patent appointing former Justice Marcia Neave as Commissioner and Patricia Faulkner and Tony Nicholson as Deputy Commissioners to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.[37][46]

On 29 March 2016, after 13 months and 25 days of hearings, the Royal Commission provided its report and recommendations to the government.[40] The released report consists of 8 volumes and contains 227 recommendations, directed at improving the foundations of the current system.[47]

Future response

Royal Commission found a strong foundation for future response, which included[37]

  • Family Violence Protection Act
  • Seriousness with which Victoria Police now regards family violence
  • Victorian Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework
  • Development of Risk Assessment and Management Panels to proactively monitor perpetrators
  • Dedicated specialist family violence services across the state
  • Development of the Indigenous Family Violence 10 Year Plan
  • Significant research and legislative and policy reform relevant to sexual assault

Identified gaps

The Commission found a number of limitations in the current system which included:[37]

  • All parts of the domestic violence system were overwhelmed, including police, support services and the courts.
  • Not all of the family violence forms were recognised by the emergency services.
  • Victoria Police and Department of Human Services are not taking into consideration circumstances of the victims in the diverse community
  • A lack of resources for children or young people who were exposed to or suffered from family violence
  • The lack of training to recognise family violence by workers in health services, schools and other similar systems.
  • Inadequate efforts to hold perpetrators to account for their actions.
  • Inadequate methods for sharing information between agencies.
  • Little effort to prevent the occurrence of family violence.
  • Little effort to help victims recover from family violence.
  • The Victorian Government does not have a management plan to respond to the phenomena or to prevent it in the first place.

Victoria Police

In response to the recommendations of the Victoria Police Violence Against Women Review,[48] in August 2004, Victoria Police developed a Code of Practice[49] which has since suffered a number of revisions in accordance with modified legislation, new procedures or change of the policing environment. Currently, Victoria Police has compulsory action for any reported family violence incident and must act in all circumstances.[49]

Victoria Police regards family violence as extremely serious and has a pro-charge code of practice. The organisation sees the nature of violence in family relationships as particularly insidious because it is an abuse of trust. There is often a continuing threat to the victim’s safety or to their life, or the lives of their children and sometimes to extended family members.[49]

Police may receive reports of family violence direct from the affected family member or members of their family, including children, or from a friend, neighbour, members of the public, anonymous person or from another agency. The report may be made by telephone, in person at a police station or by any other means. Police may also detect family violence in the course of their normal duties.[49]

Since the Code of Practice has been drafted, police must respond as a priority (unless it is clear that the report relates to a past incident and there is no risk of imminent danger or the person is seeking advice only) and take action on any family violence incident reported to them, regardless of who made the report or how it was made. The action taken is based on risk assessment and risk management, regardless of whether the affected family member makes a verbal complaint or written statement.[49]

In 2011, Victoria Police launched its enhanced Family Violence Service Delivery Model and established specialist family violence teams across the state, mostly in high-demand locations.[38]

In 2015, Victoria Police established a Family Violence Command as a central point for family violence within Victoria Police. It is the first police force in Australia to do so.[38]

Victoria Police's new powers

The Victorian government, in a bid to tackle family violence, gave police officers new powers, such as: holding powers, non-criminal options if there is not enough evidence to charge the respondent, seizure of firearms and other weapons, entry to premises and search of persons.[39]

Mandatory action by Victoria Police

The new Code of Practice set out new mandatory action by Victorian Police officers responding to family violence:[49]

  • Take immediate action to protect and support the affected family members and their children
  • Undertake a family violence risk assessment
  • Recognition of the victim’s own assessment of their level of fear
  • Identify who is the primary aggressor, and where physical violence has occurred
  • Assess if it is likely that someone has been acting in self-defence
  • Assess the likelihood of future risk
  • Make referrals for every party involved
  • Arrange accommodation

Queensland

In 2012 the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act was established, replacing the previous act, to reflect contemporary understandings of domestic and family violence.[50] Examples of relationships that fall under the new act are same-sex relationships and "one-night stands" where a child is produced.

Tasmania

Tasmania operates under Family Violence Act 2004, which was adopted on 17 December 2004.[51] The Act refers only to the context of a spouse or partner relationship.[4]

Family Violence Act 2004, as opposed to the national Family Law Act 1975[1] and other states such as Victoria[3] where family violence has a broader meaning, Tasmanian government elected to strictly define family violence criminally, economically and emotional.[51][52][53]

In 2003 the Tasmanian government released Options Paper Safe at Home: A Criminal Justice Framework for Responding to Family Violence in Tasmania. Its aim was to provide a framework for the discussion of legislative and justice related service delivery options.[52][54] Before this, in Tasmania the term family violence" or "domestic violence" was not defined in legislation. The term "family violence" has been preferred to the other. The paper analysed actions and legislation of the other states and has set the standards for the action against family violence in Tasmania.[52]

In October 2013, Tasmanian Police stated that the family violence incidents in Tasmania were on a decreasing trend for the past several years.[55] However, in 2015, since Rosie Batty's case and the increased awareness of domestic violence, Tasmania Police revealed that the numbers are quite high with more than 50 new cases each week, Tasmanian Police Commissioner Darren Hine stating "It's quite a horrific figure".[56] In May 2016, Commissioner Hine stated that 400 more incidents were reported compared with the same period of 2015, stating that's 20% increase from previous year whilst there are still between 40% and 80% family violence incidents not being reported.[57]

On 31 August 2015, the government of Tasmania released Safe Homes, Safe Families: Tasmania’s Family Violence Action Plan 2015-2020 (Safe Homes, Safe Families)[58] program to tackle family violence.[59] Through this plan, the government committed an additional $25.57 million over 4 years.[53][60]

Tasmanian Police powers

Police have various powers under the Justices Act 1959 and the Police Offences Act 1935 to respond to family violence situations.[52][61][62] The adopted Tasmanian act, Family Violence Act 2004 gave Tasmanian Police new powers to deal with family violence, such as: entering private property, arresting perpetrators for issuing family violence orders and search of person and premises.[51]

Under the Tasmanian law, a police officer is authorised to enter and remain on premises without warrant and use force to prevent family violence at the request of the person who apparently resides on the premises. The police officer can also enter premises if he or she reasonably suspects that family violence is being, has been, or is likely to be committed on those premises.[51]

Australian Capital Territory

In 1997, the Domestic Violence Prevention Council (DVPC) was established under the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986 as an independent statutory body. ACT Policing is a member of DVPC.[63][64]

In October 2015, in a bid to tackle the family violence, the ACT Policing launched the Family Violence Coordination Unit.[65]

In 2016, the ACT government reviewed the level of domestic violence response by different agencies and in June 2016, the ACT government accepted all the findings,[66] and released a report entitled Response to Family Violence. In the released report, among others, the ACT government pledged a Family Violence Statement to the Legislative Assembly every year and a $21.47 million package over 4 years.[67][68]

Under the same commitment, the ACT government acknowledged the fact that the emotional, physical and financial abuse were not part of the Domestic Violence Agencies Act 1986 and the victims were not protected from such abuse. However, the government pledged to change the Act and to better protect the victims.[67][69]

With the 2016 - 2017 budget, the ACT government set a new precedent in Australia when it introduced an annual $30 domestic violence levy on all households.[70] The Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, soon followed with a statement stating that he is considering a similar measure in Victoria.[71]

ACT Police Powers

Sections 156A – 165 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 define the ACT police powers.[72] Among them, ACT police officers have (for the purpose of preventing family violence) the power to enter private premises without warrant and search and seize firearms.[72]

South Australia

In South Australia, the domestic violence is defined and regulated by The Intervention Orders (Prevention of Abuse) Act 2009 which replaced the Domestic Violence Act 1994.[73]

Under the Act, the meaning of abuse either domestic or non‑domestic, includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or economic abuse. This includes damaging the property or possession of the person or property enjoyed by the person, unreasonable denial of financial, social or personal autonomy.[74]

On 22 March 2011, Zahra Abrahimzadeh died after being stabbed repeatedly by her husband.[75] A coronial inquest was initiated by the state coroner and 10 recommendations were issued. Normally, the coroner would issue recommendations to the SAPOL Commissioner of Police, however, in this instance, the coroner issued to findings to the premier of South Australia which in turn brought it to the attention of the Commissioner of Police.[76][77] As a direct consequence of the coroner's recommendations, the Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service (WDVCAS) was launched in 2015, which provides victims with free legal advice and is funded by the Victims of Crime levy.[78]

In South Australia, between 2014 and 2015, the crime figures fell to 2010 levels whilst the domestic violence incidents increased by 8%, from 6720 in 2014 to 7740 in 2015.[79]

On 12 April 2016, the South Parliamentary Committee issued a report into the domestic violence problem in South Australia. With it, the committee also issued 35 recommendations to help the government tackle the problem.[80] As most of the other states in Australia did, the committee's recommended that more funding for crisis accommodation to be provided, consistency of intervention orders to protect the victim across the state borders and provide more education for magistrates and GPs to deal with the victims of domestic violence.[81]

On behalf of the South Australian community, the Attorney-General of South Australia also issued 8 discussion papers relating to domestic violence.[82][83]

As part of the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme, the government of South Australia, provided $1.3m to SA police to implement a system to share information on domestic violence orders with other jurisdictions of Australia.[84]

SA Police powers

By comparison to the other Australian states, the SAPOL has fewer powers in dealing with domestic violence. As such, SA police officers cannot enter private premises to search for weapons without a warrant or without the request to surrender any weapons specified in the domestic violence intervention order.[73]

SA police officers can detain a person suspected of breaching a domestic violence intervention order, for up to 6 hours and must apply for a court order for an extension, up to maximum 24 hours.[73][85]

Western Australia

In 2004, the Government of Western Australia through the Department for Community Development, issued its first strategic plan to tackle Domestic Violence, entitled "Family and Domestic Violence State Plan 2004- 2008". The 2004 - 2008 plan formed the base upon which the government and all the other agencies involved built their domestic violence strategy.[86]

In June 2008, a Consultation Paper released by the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, noticed that at the Joondalup family violence court, where a police specialist unit was setup, the number of family violence calls increased. This suggested that the program was successful. Although there were shortfalls within the program, it was seen as a better alternative to the existing system. It was also suggested that Western Australia Police fund and appoint specialist prosecutors to deal with family violence matters in court.[87]

In the first edition of "Family and domestic violence" released by the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 2009, it was noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders prefer the term of family violence over domestic violence.[86]

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples generally prefer the term “family violence”. This concept describes a matrix of harmful, violent and aggressive behaviours and is considered to be more reflective of an Indigenous world view of community and family healing … the use of this term should not obscure the fact that Indigenous women and children bear the brunt of family violence.

In June 2009, after hearing 22 submissions and consulting with 96 specialists both locally and internationally, the final report of Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, issued 65 recommendations in relation to family violence.[88]

Between 2008 and 2009, there were 30,933 recorded incidents of family and domestic violence and the WA government released the Strategic Plan for Family and Domestic Violence 2009—2013 which was based on the 2004 - 2008 plan,.[89]

In 2013, the Government of Western Australia issued a Domestic Violence prevention strategy to 2022, which, identifies 3 broad "Primary State Outcomes to 2022" and was based on the Western Australia's Strategic Plan for Family and Domestic Violence 2009 - 2013.[90] The Strategy Plan, will monitor the outcome of its plan in 3 different stages, however, it fails to state how it proposes to achieve the outcome in the first place.[91]

In 2014, the WA Department of Health released a guideline for family violence aimed at unifying the procedures of health professionals when dealing with victims or potential victims of family violence.[92]

Western Australia Police powers and obligations

Mandatory actions

  • Investigation of suspected family and domestic violence[93]
  • Mandatory Scene Attendance[91]

Powers in relation to family and domestic violence

  • Entry and search of premises if family and domestic violence suspected[93]
  • Issue on the spot restraining orders.[94]
  • Submission of Incident Reports[91][93]
  • Seizure of firearms[93]
  • Detention of respondent during telephone hearing or while police order is being made[93]
  • Conduct hearings for applicants[93]

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