Family violence is preventable, but in current circumstances, reported incidents continue to increase. Family violence risk increases when disasters, such as a pandemic arise. Monash University recently surveyed 166 family violence victim support practitioners across April and May in 2020. 60% of respondents said that the COVID-19 pandemic increased the frequency of violence against women, 50% said that the severity of the violence had increased and 42% noted an increase in first-time family violence reporting. Studies also show that 9 in 10 women who experience sexual assault never contact police. This shows our current justice system has flaws and deters access to justice rather than encouraging it. Victims must feel supported and feel that it is safe to report incidents and therefore reforms are needed.
The existing National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, released in February 2011, will soon come to a close. As such, the development of the next plan is underway, with the National Summit held at the beginning of September to discuss the key issues currently affecting women’s safety. Some of the key recommendations highlighted by the Law Council of Australia during the Summit were:
- The need for frontline services, and everyone involved in the justice system such as police officers, lawyers, and judges to be properly trained to recognise and respond to signs of family violence.
- The need for our legal system to promote and protect the rights of women and children of all backgrounds. Ongoing cultural competence training will be required to respect the diverse backgrounds of all domestic violence survivors.
- Consistent responses to family violence across Australia. At present, not even the definitions of family violence align. This will aim to improve the ability to collect family violence data across jurisdictions.
- Expansions are required of effective models for interventions of perpetrators. These programs will work by challenging and shifting abusive and violent behaviours by providing an opportunity for perpetrators to change.
- Develop a statutory tort for family violence in order to recognise the loss, damage and pain and suffering to the victim. This would place an obligation on the perpetrator to restore the victim to the situation they were in before the abuse occurred.
The full submission by the Law Council of Australia to the Department of Social Services for developing the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children can be found here.
Whilst none of these recommendations have been put in place yet, it is hoped that the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children will incorporate some of the above recommendations in order to drive down family violence incidents across Australia.
Nicola Maltman – Law Clerk – Matthies Lawyers
Disclaimer: This article contains general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for obtaining legal advice.