“Those who work in and with our courts have a crucial role to play in building systems that hold perpetrators of domestic and family violence to account for their actions”
Many Australian judicial officers hold mixed views on the effectiveness of domestic violence perpetrator interventions, a new study has revealed.
Released last month, the three-year study funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) unveiled their findings, based on responses from interviews conducted with 60 judicial officers from across all Australian state and territory jurisdictions.
The concerns raised by respondents included limited judicial access to information about which, if any, perpetrator interventions have been previously used with an offender, a lack of knowledge among judicial officers about referral options, and uncertainty over their role in holding perpetrators to account.
Judicial officers play an important part in perpetrator interventions through the sentencing process and referring offenders to behaviour change programs.
However, the research found that despite this pivotal role, there was little evidence on the ways judicial officers viewed or understood interventions.
In NSW, men’s behaviour change programs must meet a set of minimum practice guidelines to ensure ongoing accreditation.
ANROWS CEO Heather Nancarrow said the research shows the need to develop clear guidance and a central information register to support judicial officers in using perpetrator intervention programs.
“Those who work in and with our courts have a crucial role to play in building systems that hold perpetrators of domestic and family violence to account for their actions,” Nancarrow said.
“When this is better understood, courts will be able to implement more consistent sentencing and improve other outcomes for perpetrators.”
Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, who led the study, said the judicial role in sentencing domestic violence offenders was paramount. “In recent years we have seen a pivot towards the perpetrator – to ensuring perpetrators are kept ‘in view’ and held to account,” she said.
“Currently Australian judicial officers lack the information and systems needed to effectively utilise perpetrator interventions in the sentencing of domestic and family violence matters.”
Amid concerns as to the rise of incidents of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown, a new parliamentary inquiry has been established to shine a light on the scourge of family violence, and to examine how governments and the community can prevent violence and support those most at risk.
Liberal MP Andrew Wallace, the Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, said the inquiry will consider a broad range of issues, from prevention and early intervention to the level of coordination across the social services sector.
“This inquiry is an opportunity to hear evidence from across the community about what measures are working, and about how the efforts to date can be built upon to stop violence and change the attitudes and beliefs that can lead to violence,” he said.
The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported no rise in incidents of domestic violence assault in March, when restrictions on leaving home were at their strictest. However, domestic violence specialist services say they have reported increases in client numbers and requests for help.