Australian of the Year and anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty launched a major RMIT University report on family violence on Thursday, 19 March 2015.
[Title] Centre for Innovative Justice - Rosie Batty Launches Family Violence Report
[Short description] Australian of the Year and anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty launched a major RMIT University report on family violence on Thursday, 19 March 2015
The report by RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice, Opportunities for early intervention: bringing perpetrators of family violence into view, has been lodged with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s department.
The report makes recommendations on key ways the justice system can make perpetrators more visible and help break the cycle of family violence.
[Additional information] Close up of speakers faces throughout as they present to a crowd.
Duration: 24: 53mins
Opportunities for early intervention: The launch of the Centre for Innovative Justice report on family violence.
Rob Hulls: Thanks very much, Mark and can I welcome everybody here to this launch. It really is a very timely report.
I want to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present.
I also want to, of course, thank our special guest, Rosie Batty and all those who work tirelessly in this very important field to have taken time to be with us this morning.
A lot's happening, of course, in the area of family violence and about bloody time, too. It's finally an issue on political agendas, a long term national plan is in place; the media is fully engaged and a family violence prevention advocate has been named Australian of the Year. In other words, the Nation's ears have finally tuned into the message that family violence exists, that it is pervasive, that it knows no demographic bounds, as Mark has just alluded to.
At the same time, however, those who live with family violence and those who work in this field know that despite the increased awareness, the cycle of violence and coercion rolls on.
Our existing resources are stretched to the limit with inexplicable cuts to vital support services making the situation even worse.
Meanwhile, far from just one of a range of matters which our courts must address, family violence is actually core court business both directly and as a backdrop to other offending. What's more, it will remain so and victims will remain at risk unless we step back and widen our gaze.
The report that Rosie is launching today attempts to do just that - turning the spotlight on the source of the problem and bringing perpetrators of family violence squarely into view. In doing so, it explains that far from a phenomenon that sweeps invisibly through communities, family violence consists of controlling, coercive, abusive or violent behaviour used by identifiable individuals.
Contact with the Justice system, then, represents an opportunity to intervene with these individuals; an opportunity that, at this point, has not always been seized.
From the respondent churned through the court system who does not understand the basis of a protection order; to the man sitting on a behaviour change waiting list with his motivation waning; from the individual jailed for a family violence assault who receives no rehabilitation; to the man who cannot be located by police when an arrest needs to be made and who ultimately, commits the unthinkable.
Too often the detached operation of the conventional court process serves to propel perpetrators away and cement isolation rather than keep them within reach of effective intervention.
The aim of this report is instead to write those who commit family violence into the analysis. In doing so, it promotes the potential of the justice system as an active and involved participant that can interrupt the cycle of family violence and make those who use it more visible by monitoring a perpetrator's behaviour, by bringing him back to court to account for his commitments, by making sure he's known to relevant service agencies by addressing related addiction, mental health or a combination of problems and by identifying whatever stake he may have in becoming a safer man.
It also means promoting the justice system as a dynamic rather than static actor; one that can adapt and tailor its responses as circumstances change, that can be effective as early as possible with those most likely to work towards safety and which can be freed up to keep those posing a higher risk firmly on the radar.
The report does not suggest, of course, that these are easy solutions or that there is just one easy solution. The cycle of family violence is so complicated that we cannot assume that one policy such as the glacial road towards a National IVO Register, for example, will make the difference. Instead, we need a range of interventions; ones which a perpetrator encounters repeatedly and which reinforce over and over and over again that his behaviour is something that we simply will not accept.
That said, the report does not call for a blunt or tougher criminal justice response. A lock 'em up and throw away the key approach may sound like perpetrator accountability and certainly, imprisonment is absolutely necessary in many cases.
If this is our only response, however, it abdicates our collective responsibility to address the violence at its source and ensure there are not more victims down the track.
What's more, it abdicates our responsibility to acknowledge that family violence is not something committed by an aberrant fraction who can be pushed conveniently out of sight but by a wide range of individuals whose behavior and sense of entitlement we have, collectively, allowed to endure.
Collectively, therefore, we have to develop a much smarter response drawing on what we already know while harnessing the opportunity that contact with the justice system presents to step in more effectively at the earliest possible stage.
As a result, the report recommends that jurisdictions support a dedicated conference on perpetrator interventions, in addition to any national crisis summit currently being proposed. It also calls for jurisdictions to develop early intervention strategies and to fund a more considered and well-supported sector of men’s behaviour change programs.
The report also recommends the use of call-outs to police as opportunities, not only to apply an appropriate criminal or civil justice response, but also to make referrals to a range of other services.
In particular, the report highlights a need for perpetrators to be referred to crisis accommodation so that they do not spiral into isolation and instead are kept within view.
It also calls for perpetrators to be connected to an active men’s referral service which can provide case coordination, support speedier inter-agency collaboration and ongoing contact with perpetrators prior to a court appearance.
Once a perpetrator has contact with the court, the report suggests ways in which this interaction can become much more powerful, harnessing the potential of a court appearance to connect perpetrators to early referral and treatment including those who may have used family violence but are actually charged with other offences; using bail and remand as an opportunity to do the same; recognising the value of appropriately trained respondent workers and duty lawyers in protection order hearings; using the imprimatur of a judge’s authority to increase a perpetrator’s willingness to comply with orders, applying swift and reliable sanctions and bringing perpetrators back for ongoing monitoring and assessment before the court.
The report, then, recommends ways in which the correction system can be used more effectively. To monitor offenders whilst they’re in the community, to intervene in rather than perpetuate the cycle of violence in custodial settings, to use these settings to screen for and identify family violence perpetration in the general population of offenders and to explore possibilities for ongoing monitoring post-release.
Importantly, the report calls on jurisdictions to interrupt the transmission of family violence between generations by responding more effectively to adolescents who use violence in the home as well as to children at risk of the profound harm that we know that exposure to family violence can cause.
Overall, these recommendations are about removing the burden from victims of family violence and placing that burden squarely on the system. Just as urgently, therefore, the report calls for us to face up to our own accountability as individuals, as jurisdictions, and as a population at large.
Family violence is quite simply the greatest threat to our collective wellbeing. If we’re serious about tackling this threat head on therefore, we need to be prepared to commit to more and targeted resources for support services, first and foremost, but also for additional interventions right along the spectrum which may ultimately see these services experience less demand.
After all, we know enough about the costs of family violence to realise that simply doing more of the same is not going to stem its ongoing drain on our social and economic future.
What’s more, and as an example in this report highlights, interventions which prevent even one family violence related homicide provide undeniable returns on investment. Substantial though the challenge might be, therefore, and as entrenched as patterns of violence are in many of those who use it, understanding of the cause of family violence and the attitudes which support it has reached a crucial stage, as has the community’s motivation to do something about it.
As Rosie herself has emphasised, our overall focus needs to shift from simply expecting a victim to keep herself safe, to leave, to report breaches, to testify; to demanding the perpetrators take responsibility for their violence and an effective intervention is applied.
Equally, our focus needs to shift from hoping that the law will address a single incident to ensuring that repeated interventions might also break the cycle of violence for subsequent generations.
As a former politician, I know they certainly spend a great deal of time talking about valuing families as well as about securing our social and economic future. Addressing the violence occurring within these families then, is a crucial way of doing both.
This report explains there are things that we can do now to mount a more comprehensive and proactive response to family violence. Its aim is to show that if we widen our gaze, we can make a start, broadening the conversation, seizing opportunities, stepping in earlier and bringing perpetrators of family violence clearly, unequivocally, into view.
So I certainly want to thank all those who have contributed to this report and I’d now like to introduce to you Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, to formally launch the report.
Rosie Batty: Thank you for inviting me here today to launch this report. I am thrilled. We need this. We need this because isn’t there a saying that says keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting what you’ve always got. We have to make change.
The momentum that has grown over the past 12 months, 18 months brings us to a point where change is fundamentally possible. We recognise, now, the statistics. So you see, currently, this year alone, there are two women every week being killed by family violence; it's not good enough. It will continue on that vein, uninterrupted, unless we make significant change.
Our response to family violence through our court systems and processes is paramount, integral and integral to the experience the victim receives. At this point, as Rob clearly said, we place all responsibility for the safety on the victim and we still ask the question: why doesn’t she leave? Very simply, there are many reasons. Being launched into poverty and homelessness may be one; breaking up a family and leaving the home that they have worked hard to build may be another; but the most significant reason, and one we’re constantly reminded of, is because when you do choose to leave you are at the greatest risk of being killed and just recently, another death in Canberra of a lovely woman who only had given birth to a baby girl or baby a week beforehand.
So you see it is about power and control; this is a gender issue. It is a gender issue and it is about power and control and I’m living testament to the worst of those cases when my little boy, Luke, was killed as a final act of power and control.
Now, Greg was able to dominate and control the court process because in the current format and the way it operates that happens all of the time. When you do have an incident that you know is serious enough to take to the police, you don’t know what danger you are placing yourself in by escalating the situation that you’ve consta ... you have managed so far.
So an AVO is an option that we’re given as if it’s the final solution and it’s going to solve everything. Well, for many women it just doesn’t because it is a piece of paper. And do we respond to those breaches, seriously, while often they don’t. So right from the very beginning a perpetrator, somehow through his sense of entitlement and that the women is his possession and the children are his possession, doesn’t get that firm message, right from the very beginning, that this behaviour is not tolerated, there are firm consequences should you step out of line, but also what’s absolutely integral is that they are linked into intervention strategies.
Greg had mental health issues, he was homeless, he had marijuana usage, but very importantly, he was violent. So if we have a look at how we intervene with someone like Greg to potentially stop a disastrous outcome, the court process, the judicial response can be the most effective player to link all of this together. But currently, it is a random journey.
You may get an informed magistrate who may understand family violence and its complexities, they may believe the victim and may treat them with respect.
But there are a lot of maybes.
So potentially, a journey for a victim is harrowing; you work hard to be even believed, and in most cases unless you have the physical bruises, your violence, whether it be control, financial, psychological, sexual are harder to prove and give evidence and somehow they’re not perceived as dangerous but a lot of those instances are fatalities; it is power and control, not necessarily the physical violence. But that stepping out of and making a decision to leave the relationship puts you in enormous danger.
So I’m thrilled to see a report that places the perpetrator into focus.
Currently, we victim blame and somehow the perpetrator goes under the radar; they’re allowed to control and dominate the system.
Well, in this kind of model they couldn’t; they would be given an opportunity to break their violent behavior to understand their violent behaviour and to have the symptoms on the other underlying issues treated. And currently, we are looking at cuts to our frontline services. I’ve just come from Mildura where the Aboriginal refuge there is closing; also, the only lawyer that travels into remote country areas, the funding stops.
So how we can support our victims and keep them safe when frontline services are closing is concerning. But whilst we’re looking after our victims we need to be looking after and working out effective ways to deal with our perpetrators.
And as this right report indicates, that is working collaboratively and not in silos and there needs a full overhaul of our judicial system.
And I believe that we are ready for that and I believe there is a lot of good intent within the judicial system to step outside the square and look at how things could be improved. But we need leadership from government, from Federal Government and we’re very lucky, here, in Australia to have Daniel Andrews who clearly gets the violence issue, he understands it being the gender issue and the investment into a Royal Commission is a great investment.
So thank you for coming today and I launch the report and I’m really pleased for Rob and his team, again, to have worked so smartly, not just off on a tangent but to actually invest in stakeholders who are working on the ground on the frontline services and have done so for decades because they have helped contribute, too, to this report.
And quite often those types of services and those people with that expertise get overlooked. So Rob, I’m thrilled that I was part of the report, it’s very relevant to me and it’s very relevant to every victim that’s currently unsafe and going through a very, very harrowing court process. Thank you.
Elena Campbell: And thanks to Rosie’s courage and generosity, we’re all very familiar with her story. Having been asked to investigate early interventions in the justice system and having decided to focus on family violence, what struck us, in particular, about it was the way in which the justice sector kept sending Greg away, bouncing him off the system, entrenching isolation and distorted thinking; in short, leaving it until things were too late rather than stepping in early to intervene.
In many ways, then, Rosie’s story crystallised the focus of this report and we are incredibly grateful for her generosity, not only in meeting with us early in its development, but of course for her presence here today. We’re also very grateful, however, for the input of so many others in the sector which I think is, perhaps, the report’s greatest value.
When we first asked stakeholders to participate we were very conscious that potentially, here was yet another report into family violence, a subject that was and still is attracting a great deal of attention and demanding a great deal of professional time.
A large volume of work already exists that describes the deficiencies of the legal system, all of which needed to be reviewed, of course, in order to understand the challenge. Just another research project, however, could easily end up on the shelf, something that we at the Centre for Innovative Justice are loathe to see occur.
Instead, and thankfully, we encountered incredible openness from the sector with both their time and ideas; many spending considerable hours talking about their experiences and their thoughts for the direction in which efforts should head.
In particular, and though unfortunately he couldn’t be here today, Rodney Vlais from No to Violence was a source of great knowledge and possibility pointing us in a range of directions but never prescribing the end result and I really want to thank him.
More broadly, we were fortunate to speak with a wide range of professionals interstate and internationally. We spoke to behaviour change practitioners, policy officers, magistrates, court staff, lawyers, academics and, of course, women’s support services and our hope is that this report highlights in some small way the amazing work that all of these people are doing and their determination to keep women and children safe.
Another hope is that this report demonstrates that the same themes emerged time and time again throughout all these consultations. Just one of them was that perpetrator accountability is a complex concept and means more than just one thing.
First and foremost, of course, those consulted told us that accountability means making victims of family violence safe. Beyond this, it means keeping the perpetrator firmly in view, not isolating him or propelling him from scrutiny.
It means leveraging the authority of the justice system and whatever stake in conformity a man has to ensure that he complies with orders. It means measuring the right things. It means keeping not only the violence and its user visible but also the system’s response. It means every part of the system bearing responsibility and the victim setting the pace.
Just as importantly, it means coming to terms with the fact that family violence is core business in the legal system and has to be treated and funded as such.
A further theme was that although perpetrators of family violence often exhibit similar traits they are still individuals with whom the justice system can and must intervene.
What’s more, different interventions will be more or less successful with some than with others. For that reason, while we continue to use the terms perpetrators for reasons of consistency with the National Plan, we’ve also attempted to use language that writes men back into an unapologetically gendered analysis.
Language that unpacks the homogeneous descriptions, which we believe have perpetuated the system’s failures for both women and men alike.
A final theme to emerge from our consultations was that there was obviously no magic solution, no quirky initiative as one sage cautioned upon which we could stumble and hold triumphantly to the sky.
This was never the ambition of this report.
Those who have been working in this field for decades or have lived with family violence, even for a day, know that it is far too complex to be met with just one response. Instead, the more modest ambition for this report was to reflect a certain level of consensus, to highlight opportunities, to synthesise ideas and to do so in language which might enable them to be taken up down the track.
Many in the field have been saying it for a long time, the National Plan says it too, we have to talk more openly about perpetrator accountability and our hope for this report is that it provides a platform for this conversation to occur.
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