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June 14, 2024

Here’s a few ways to address DV

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The news on the domestic violence front just keeps getting grimmer. 

The spike in the last few years after a Covid drop is frightening. The North Coast is reeling from the latest horrific family violence murder of a toddler. The Molly Ticehurst tragedy has, oh so predictably, led to tighter bail laws – as if this is a panacea to men’s violence against women. 

Already in NSW, there are 3,000 people incarcerated for domestic violence offences, and 1,500 of them are on remand. 

That’s a 34 per cent increase since 2019. With the latest tranche of bail ‘reforms’, I predict that the numbers on remand will triple within 12 months. What is wrong with that? 

Firstly, we already know the recipe for reducing violence against women. 

Successful strategies

Deaths decreased massively when the post-Port Arthur gun laws came in, making the graph look like a ski run at Thredbo. 

Family violence reduced markedly when the lock-out laws came into effect in Newcastle and Sydney CBD, because all night binge drinking was deterred. 

The more alcohol outlets and the later they stay open, the more violence. Home delivery makes things worse. Grand final day is not a high danger zone, because of football itself (well, maybe), domestic violence spikes because of associated binge drinking. 

Gambling, and the lack of appropriate regulation of pokies is certainly in the mix – losers are often bruisers. 

Many men are desperate to get into anger and behavioural management courses, but there are just not enough places or funding. Targeting men with their own histories of childhood domestic violence is crucial. 

Hurt people frequently hurt people. Women need somewhere safe to flee, and the more rooms that are funded, the less women will die. 

Violent and degrading pornography must be banned. And actually, that is not technically difficult. Child pornography is illegal and prosecuted every day in our courts. 

Forget age barriers – just enforce the obvious limits. 

These are the actions that could be taken if you really wanted to reduce domestic and family violence rather than just look tough. 

Secondly, tightening bail laws simply means that more people are imprisoned, not necessarily the right ones. 

You can bet that the usual over representations, particularly of Aboriginal people, those who struggle with mental illness and poorer people will be amplified. This was the Victorian experience. 

After the appalling carnage of Bourke Street in 2017, bail laws were tightened removing a presumption in favour of bail for most offences. 

Fast forward five years, and there was a doubling of the number of Aboriginal women incarcerated. This in turn led to deaths in custody, and the coroner described the result as a ‘complete unmitigated disaster’. 

The bail laws were relaxed. 

Women die from tightening bail laws too. 

Thirdly, and this is the never-spoken-of dirty little secret of domestic violence allegations – they often take place in the context of disputed family court proceedings.

And before you bite my head off, my experience is that those who engage in false allegations are often the manipulative, gaslighting, coercively-controlling men who utilise the criminal justice system to threaten and dominate. 

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety has found that almost half of the women murdered by an intimate partner in Qld had previously been reported as the perpetrator of domestic violence, many of them falsely by their eventual killer. 

Fourthly, and this is by far the most important issue, before tightening up the bail laws, attention should be placed on why the existing laws are not working with regard to the police. 

I was interviewed for the 7.30 Report a couple of years ago about Rosie’s case that so exemplifies this. The victim calls the police and ends up getting arrested. Women’s Safety NSW studies reveal that a quarter of women report being misidentified as the criminal. 

Police mistake identity

More than nine in ten domestic violence workers said that often, or very often, the victim was mistakenly determined by police to be the aggressor. 

In the Ticehurst case, the police did not oppose bail, even though the defendant had been charged with sexual assault and the red-flag offence of cruelty to an animal. 

If they were dissatisfied with the registrar’s decision, they could have sought a detention order, or revocation of bail or appealed. 

They failed to do any of this, or provide meaningful protection for the victim. The truth is that the bail laws themselves were not lacking in this situation. 

And in Western Australia, the latest domestic violence double murder was forewarned.

Ultimately, it is the police who decide how they allocate resources. There were 23,000 breach-AVO matters in NSW courts last year, and 32,000 police actions for possession of drugs. Let’s halve the latter and double the former and that would be far more effective than tightening bail laws. 

And so here we are, with another knee-jerk reaction to a terrible tragedy that scratches the surface while ignoring the evidence. It makes me sick, because it is possible to reduce violence against women – we just have to be proactive and not reactive. 

♦ David Heilpern is a former magistrate and Dean of Law at SCU.

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  1. It may be true that stricter bail laws are dealing with the symptoms not the underlying illness. However an incarcerated perpetrator, while not necessarily receiving behaviour modification training or counselling, will still find it more difficult to physically assault or murder their victim from behind bars.

    It’s vital that there is more access to refuges and protection for those fleeing violent relationships. This is at enormous economic cost to the community and enormous personal cost for victims being forced to cower in hiding, suspend their normal life and live in fear. It also doesn’t always work.

    While there’s a downside to zero tolerance of ADVOs, there’s also a very considerable cost to zero effort at enforcement.

  2. I think things started to go awry when Howard got rid of family law courts. We really need specialised police teams to oversee and manage DV. Police need to stop placing AVOs on women full-stop! Women may initially present as traumatised and angry to police after DV incidents but women are extremely unlikely to kill or seriously injure men. This misidentification gives these men courage to reoffend again and again.

    If there are red flags, sexual assault, choking, animal cruelty why does the magistrate allow bail even if poorly trained police don’t oppose it? Behaviour modification camps and training and support for men who offend would be great and emergency security teams to enable women to stay safely in their homes, more shelters too unfortunately.

    And yes please ban violent and degrading pornography. I am not keen on prostitution either. Studies show men who buy sex have less empathy for women and are more likely to rape and abuse. Make it a criminal offence to procure a prostitute as some Nordic countries have done, but de-criminilise it for the prostitute.

    I have met some really great Police who do a great job but there still seems to be this entrenched racism and misogyny and resistance to fixing this. Why are men who are reported to police left with guns? 2 incidences of that in just the past few weeks! Lots of women ignored, complaints left unfiled etc in recent newspaper reports.

    Why are Police who do a bad job, who post terrible things on social media, who commit DV themselves and behave in ways that are not up to scratch, why are they not sacked? Perhaps better psychological profiling is needed for police recruits in the first place.

      • Actually the psychological testing for recruits is now pretty good. But there’s a lot of dinosaurs, and unfortunately a very few are very hard to detect.

    • Howard’s changes to the Family Law Act undermined the Court’s powers and ability to act independently and equitably. Sadly the ramifications were largely swept under the carpet, except for those dealing with the fallout. The inability of women to include family violence (which is very difficult to prove as it happens in the moment) without risking of being gaoled has undermined many women and children’s ability to gain orders to keep them safe, and get fair outcomes.
      Morrison’s LNP shutting down the Family Courts and placing the load into the mainstream legal system has thrown out the expertise of the Family Courts and further overburdened the already overwhelmed Courts of Australia, compounding existing issues.
      This is inevitably leading to increased tensions, frustrations, financial stress, a great deal more difficulty getting proper judgements and outcomes frequently being more about the financial resources and vindictiveness of the appellants than actual fairness and justice, no matter how hard courts may try.
      The actions of successive conservative governments in reducing women’s shelters and emergency housing has also had a huge impact, last time I heard the emergency housing in the Tweed Valley had mostly been reallocated through private providers to disability. Sadly for private providers there’s more profit in disability than battered women and children.
      Don’t even think about replying #whataboutmen.. it’s been clearly shown most accusations by men against women are false, and the majority of deaths caused by intimate partners was in same sex relationships.. men against men.


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