Domestic violence victims suffer ten times as many legal problems

Victims of domestic violence in Australia ten times more likely to experience other legal problems

A new ground breaking research paper shows that victims of domestic and family violence in Australia are 10 times more likely than others to experience other legal problems, including a wide range of family, civil and criminal law issues.

The odds of experiencing family law problems are 16 times higher for victims of domestic or family violence compared to non-victims.

A report called Quantifying the legal and broader life impacts of domestic and family violence, was published by the NSW Law and Justice Foundation last week.

It is the largest representative population survey of its kind. More than 20,000 Australians aged 15 and over were interviewed and asked what legal problems they had encountered in the past 12 months.

Respondents who had suffered domestic violence had, on average, faced 20 legal problems. For the rest of the population the average was just two.

Women are four times as likely as men to suffer domestic violence and disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous, disabled or unemployed Australians were “significantly more likely” to experience domestic or family violence.

Victims were at least three times more likely to experience 10 of the other 11 legal problem types examined, including criminal law problems and civil law problems related to employment, financial, government payment, health, housing, personal injury and rights issues.

“Not only was DFV linked to a myriad of legal problems, but these legal problems were also more severe with greater adverse impacts on broad life circumstances,” the report reads. “Four in five DFV respondents rated at least one of their legal problems as having a ‘severe’ impact on their everyday life, compared to fewer than one-quarter of others.”

Worse, their legal problems were more likely to lead to stress-related illness, physical ill health, relationship breakdown, loss of income or financial strain, and moving home.

“This study heightens our awareness of the broader legal and life impacts that domestic violence can have,” Christine Coumarelos, Senior Principal Researcher at the Law and Justice Foundation and author of the report told the Law Society Journal . “Many victims we interviewed had been homeless in the past 12 months, many had physical or stress-related illnesses, some had lost their jobs or had financial struggles.”

They were more likely to need assistance from professionals, particularly lawyers and health and welfare professionals, and to require recourse to formal legal processes to achieve resolution.

These findings demonstrate the ‘compounding effect’ of domestic and family violence on legal and human service needs. It makes clear why this area needs to remain a policy priority.

“Holistic, joined-up legal and broader human services are often necessary to address the complex legal and related needs of people experiencing DFV.  The results highlight the importance of ongoing funding to support initiatives that provide wrap-around assistance for DFV such as Domestic Violence Units (DVUs) and the Family Advocacy Support Services (FASS) scheme in the Local and Family Courts, as well as initiatives that link victims to legal and human services outside the court system.

In addition, they indicate the potential utility of further expanding joined-up DFV services to better address the wide range of criminal and civil law problems, as well as family law problems, that are often tied up with DFV, which often span across Commonwealth and state/territory jurisdictions.”

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