A resource for judges in Australia that is designed to improve the understanding of family violence has been updated and dispels a number of myths about domestic violence that can impede justice and put women at risk.
While the book, released by the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, is aimed at judicial officers the chapter on the most common misunderstandings in this realm really ought to be mandatory reading.
It makes clears that victims of DV cannot always ‘just leave’ an abusive relationship, that physically separating will not always stop the violence and that attempts to control a partner can be as serious as physical violence.
Women rarely fabricate stories of abuse
A 2015 evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments showed this belief persists in some sections of the community, including among lawyers, despite the fact that false denials of true allegations are more common.
“Although there is a widespread belief in the community that mothers frequently fabricate allegations to influence family law proceedings, the research to date indicates that it is more likely that they will be reluctant to raise allegations for fear of having their motives questioned, and that the making of false allegations is much less common than the problem of genuine victims who fail to report abuse, and the widespread false denials and minimisation of abuse by perpetrators,” the book reads.
Leaving isn’t always possible
Despite wanting to leave barriers that prevent victims from doing so include a lack of financial resources, concerns for the welfare of children, family and pets, disability, a lack of alternative, safe accommodation, inadequate formal support systems, religious and cultural beliefs and a fear of retaliation by the perpetrator.
Leaving is dangerous
When a victim overcomes the barriers and actually leaves it poses a direct threat to a perpetrator’s ability to maintain control over the victim.
“Research has shown that one of the most dangerous times for a victim is in the months after separation when the perpetrator may use a variety of tactics to reassert control over the victim.”
DV affects more women than men
Research indicates that, predominantly, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators of this form of violence.
“One in six Australian women and one in twenty Australian men experience violence by their cohabiting opposite-sex partner. One in four Australian women report violence by a partner they may or may not have lived with; and two-thirds of those women experience more than one episode of abuse. In 73% of female homicide cases, the current or intimate male partner is the perpetrator/offender.”
Domestic violence is not ’caused’ by alcohol, drugs or financial pressure
The view that domestic and family violence derives from factors other than a perpetrator’s motivations and behaviours can diminish a perpetrator’s sense of personal responsibility.
“In many situations violence occurs in the absence of these factors. Similarly, there are many situations where these factors are present and violence does not occur.”
Control is a great big red flag
Historically courts have focused judicial responses on separate incidents of physical violence, and the severity of that violence, without having regard to the history and dynamics of the abusive relationship.
It is now more widely recognised that family violence can be characterised by a range of non-physical abusive behaviours as well as physical violence.
“Legislative change has assisted a more developed understanding of the complex and intersecting nature of domestic and family violence behaviours, and how they may operate over time to exercise control over not only the victim’s physical condition and environment but their emotional wellbeing, self esteem and sense of identity.”
It is clear from the horror stories we have all read this year that domestic violence poses a fatal threat to Australian women and children. In many cases the absolute worst occurred even when help had been sought and the red flags were clear. When AVO’s were in place and violent histories were known.
Anything and everything that will protect women and children from this horror is necessary. This resource being read by every police officer, judge and magistrate in the country wouldn’t be a bad place to start.