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RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice releases report on family violence

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By Jeremy Hogg, Lawyer, MST Lawyers

In March 2015 the RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) released an enquiry into family violence entitled Opportunities for Early Intervention: Bringing perpetrators of family violence into view.  The report was launched by Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.

After elucidating a number of harrowing statistics regarding family violence (including that family violence is the most significant contributor to death, disability or illness in women aged 15 – 44, and that on average at least one woman is killed every week in Australia by a partner or ex-partner) the report goes on to consider a range of issues and concerns about how the existing systems for dealing with family violence operate.  There is a particular focus on comparisons with programs and initiatives which have been put into place (or are being trialled) in countries which are culturally similar to Australia where the prevalence of family violence is also being tackled.

The report makes a number of interesting observations and recommendations, a number of which are set out below.

The report proposes a focus on early intervention on a systemic level in a bid to prevent family violence from occurring in the first instance, including:

  1. A push to change community attitudes and expectations towards family violence, including bringing the spectre of family violence ‘out of the closet’ and into the public eye;
  2. Provision of educational programs to young people to engage them with the issue at a formative stage and prevent those young people from growing up to perpetrate family violence or to tolerate it being perpetrated by others around them;
  3. Establishing risk assessment frameworks for service providers engaging with those who are at risk of being subjected to family violence, or those who are likely to perpetrate it, so as to better identify and intervene in circumstances where family violence (and in particular family violence leading to serious injury or death) is likely to occur;
  4. Recognition of the fact that perpetrators of family violence who have had minimal contact with the justice system are more likely to engage with behaviour change programs at that early stage on the basis that they have ‘more to lose’ at that time.

The period immediately after a police callout relating to a family violence incident is also identified as an important time to provide:

  1. Referrals for victims to support services, including legal, financial and therapeutic support. The report notes that in some jurisdictions home visits by both police and social workers in the days and weeks following a family violence incident appear to significantly enhance victims’ engagement with services and further legal intervention;
  2. Referrals for perpetrators to behavioural change programs. As addressed above, perpetrators have been shown to be more open to voluntarily engaging in behaviour change programs during the early stages following a family violence incident;
  3. Focus on ensuring that family violence perpetrators do not go ‘off the radar’. It is not uncommon for perpetrators of family violence to be removed from the family home following incidents of family violence, however the report identifies the importance of maintaining contact with perpetrators during this time so that they may be assisted in rehabilitation as well as being monitored for the risk of further (and escalating) incidents of violence.

The report also highlights the importance of legal advice for both victims and perpetrators where there is an application for an Intervention Order issued on the basis of family violence. Interestingly, it appears that perpetrators who obtain legal advice at the time of negotiating the terms of an intervention order (and accordingly have a better understanding of how the order operates) were less likely to breach the order (either purposefully or inadvertently) and were able to better tailor the terms of such orders so that they take into account the unique circumstances of each case.

Those interested in reading further may access the full report here

If you require assistance in relation to any type of family law matter please contact our Family Law team by email family@mst.com.au or by telephone +613 8540 0200.