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Amplify Blog - Domestic and Family Violence: The only violence implicitly condoned by society

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Amplify Blog - Domestic and Family Violence: The only violence implicitly condoned by society

Amplify Blog

by a QFCC Youth Advocate

WARNING - This blog discusses themes of domestic violence and may be confronting for some readers


It’s a normal Monday night. You turn on the news and a new story comes up.


He seemed like such a nice guy, the neighbour tells the news reporter.

The perpetrator in question is a respectable businessman, the news anchor recites.

How tragic, you think.

No one suspected a thing, the coworker being interviewed shrugs.

How could someone do such a thing to those they love? You wonder.

Pictures of the smiling young family sitting prettily on their front door steps flash across the screen.

They seem like such a normal family, you observe.

The news story changes to the weather. The next Monday, you turn on the news and sit back.

He taped her mouth shut. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her. He tied her up. He viciously assaulted her. He knocked her unconscious. He was arrested.

Yet she was found stabbed to death in her own home, inflicted with head injuries from an axe.

How did this happen? You frown.

Her husband was released on bail – despite fierce opposition from the police who were concerned about his “fragile mental state”. Upon release, he broke into her home then murdered her.

Gold Coast mother, Teresa Bradford – yet another victim of domestic violence.

You change the channel - but it doesn’t change the fact that in Australia, at least one woman is murdered each week by her partner under similar circumstances.


What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence definitions vary but the literature generally defines it as behaviour, violence or abuse (including physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, social and financial) between individuals who have an intimate or family relationship, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Each May marks Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month, a valuable opportunity to raise awareness and have meaningful conversations about what domestic violence looks like, how to identify it and the support available. 

Domestic violence has long been considered a ‘personal’ household issue but what many fail to understand is that it impacts us all. Domestic violence has far-reaching consequences for our health system, economy and societal structure at large.


Why should you care?

The chances are, you know many individuals who have been affected by domestic and family violence. They could be your colleagues, peers, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, family members…

In Australia, it is reported that approximately 31% of women and 4.3% of men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner since the age of 15 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021-22 Personal Safety Survey), a steep increase from the 18% women and 4.3% men in 2016 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey). That’s 8 million Australians. 41% of our population. And children are the most vulnerable of all.

Statistics from 2021-22 show that since 15 years of age:

  • 2 in 5 women experienced violence (39%)
  • 1 in 5 women experienced sexual violence (22%)
  • 1 in 3 women experienced physical violence (31%)
  • 1 in 5 women experienced stalking (20%)
  • 2 in 5 men experienced violence (43%)
  • 1 in 16 men experienced sexual violence (6.1%)
  • 2 in 5 men experienced physical violence (42%)
  • 1 in 15 men experienced stalking (6.8%)

Yet it’s not always easy to identify, particularly emotional and financial abuse. Sometimes victims have difficulty realising they are experiencing domestic violence, even if it’s physical. Over the years, I have personally witnessed several friends navigate situations where they themselves couldn’t admit what was happening - and neither could the people around them.


Why should society care?

Domestic violence is a major health and welfare issue that spans age, socioeconomic and demographic groups, however it is more predominant in certain populations. Studies show that risk factors are more prevalent among female victims, supporting the gendered nature of domestic violence.

The Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board (DFVDRAB) has reported that between 2011 and 2018, 92 intimate partner homicides occurred in Queensland alone (Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board, 2020-21 Annual Report, 75).

In 2015, there were 158 victims of domestic violence related homicide in Australia - which is over a third (38%) of the total homicide victims recorded. In 2019, it was 63. In 2022, it was 50.

Looking at the numbers, you’d think the tide is turning. Yet just this past December, at least 11 women were killed in Australia over the span of 21 days - more than 3 times the average. This is the highest rate in a decade. Despite the media spotlight, the fundraising efforts, the awareness campaigns, the research…that’s still 50 women. 50 too many.

But the consequences of domestic violence manifest in more than shocking news headlines and police reports. It dismantles our families and disrupts our communities. It is the leading cause of homelessness for women, and impacts on our housing, welfare and health systems. It impacts our children’s education. It affects our economy and causes loss of long-term productivity. It affects all of us.


How can we prevent this?

When so many preventable deaths occur, it begs the following questions: Is raising awareness and fundraising for domestic violence services enough? Are the current laws in place to protect domestic violence victims effective?

Awareness and access to services are crucial to addressing this issue, but there’s another factor seldom discussed - risk assessments. Could a risk assessment have prevented her partner’s release and saved Teresa? Could it save other vulnerable individuals?


The Potential of Risk Assessment

Improving risk assessments in domestic violence cases is vital – and has the potential to save lives and prevent homicide.

Reports of domestic violence-related deaths found that there is a high level of service contact found in both intimate partner homicides (76%) and domestic and family violence suicides (89%) (Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board, 2020-21 Annual Report, 64). Thus, the role these services play in intervention is crucial.

Research examining factors that predict recidivism among domestic violence offenders has identified an established group of empirically based risk factors such as criminal history, violent behaviour history anti-social attitudes, mental health issues, psychopathy, substance abuse, sexism and low socio-economic status.

In the justice system, there must be a balance between interrelated factors and stakeholders to maintain consistency, such as the rights of the offender, deprivation of liberty, resources, effects on families and the safety of victims. In response to this need, specialised risk assessment tools should be developed to assess the probability of offenders re-engaging in similar behaviour and prevent violence through informing risk management strategies.

Risk assessment tools play a valuable role in sentencing, treatment and safety planning. They provide a structured way for professionals to collect detailed and relevant evidence to identify specific needs, improve intervention and inform the distribution of resources. They are used in different settings by a range of professionals from law enforcement personnel, psychologists, nurses to victim service workers. Due to their significant emotional and practical implications, their efficacy should be a critical area of research.

Risk assessments are a valuable tool used by many agencies, but there is a lack of consistency across both government and non-government sectors, and across jurisdictions (Queensland Family and Child Commission - Inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence Submission, July 2020). We need a more systemic, nationally consistent and clear multi-agency approach. Individual agencies such as the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs complete their own risk assessments, using their own tools and preferred approaches. However, there is a lack of coordination among agencies to ensure there are no gaps or key indicators being missed, the assessments complement one another, and they present a complete picture of a case. By improving coordination, sharing information and working together, a more integrated response can be delivered. This would also save valuable time and assessment resources, which is important in delivering urgent assistance to vulnerable individuals and children experiencing these threats.


Coercive Control Legislation

Most recently, the Domestic and Family Violence Protection (Combating Coercive Control) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 was passed in February 2023. Coercive control is undoubtedly at the crux of domestic and family violence. Some of the amendments aim to address patterns of behaviour by broadening the definition of domestic and family violence to include behaviour that occurs over time and strengthen the consideration of previous domestic violence or criminal history. This is an incredible step forward towards strengthening laws that address the patterned nature of coercive control and lays the foundation for a standalone offense of coercive control later this year.


So where are we now?

I’ve spent many years in domestic violence court, listening to horrific stories and witnessing order after order be handed down. The days and court lists are still as long as when I started, and the cases still break my heart. Even after years of working in this area, the reality that this population faces still deeply affects me on a level I cannot describe. A few years ago, I came across a file that involved a young woman with the exact same birthday as my little sister, and I fell apart. I honestly didn’t expect it to affect me so much. I was inconsolable. It only truly hit me then that these women are our sisters, our mothers, our friends. They are us.

In comparison to a number of years ago, domestic violence isn’t as much of a taboo subject that it used to be. Thanks to the tireless work of advocates and organisations, this issue has recently gained more of a spotlight in the news and the media, and awareness has greatly improved. But despite all this newfound attention, the statistics show we still have a long way to go to truly rid this deep-rooted societal issue.

Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month provides an incredible opportunity to bring this conversation to the forefront of conversation, but it shouldn’t end at the end of the month. Social attitudes, norms and beliefs shape the context in which violence occurs. Violence committed by strangers on other strangers is abhorred by society. But why is violence okay if it’s by our loved ones? The ones who we are supposed to trust?

This isn’t a private issue. This is a societal issue.

This isn’t their problem. This is OUR problem.

This is only the start of the conversation, and we can’t switch the channel.


Support options

Support is available for anyone impacted by any form of domestic and family violence. If you need support, you can contact the services below:

  • 1800 Respect: 1800 7373 732
  • DVConnect Womensline (24/7): 1800 811 811
  • DVConnect Mensline (9am to midnight, 7 days): 1800 600 636
  • Mensline Australia (24/7): 1300 78 99 78
  • Kids Helpline (24/7): 1800 55 1800
  • Lifeline (24/7): 131 144
  • In an emergency, always call triple zero: 000