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Introduction and methodology

In January 2009, the ACT VoCC commissioned the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) to conduct a review of the ACT’s FVIP. The main purpose of the review was to describe the effectiveness of the current program, including its governance arrangements. FVIP began as a pilot program in 1998 following recommendations of the ACT Community Law Reform Committee for a coordinated interagency response to family violence. The FVIP does not purport to be a solution to family violence and focuses instead on monitoring and improving the criminal justice system response to allegations of violence made within families and intimate relationships (Holder & Caruana 2006). The program is discussed in more detail in The Family Violence Intervention Program section of this report.

This review describes incidents of family violence that came to the attention of the ACT’s criminal justice system during the 2007–08 financial year. The timeframe was chosen as it provides the most recent year from which finalised matters could be analysed. This review also describes the experience of the criminal justice system response to family violence reported by a sample of victims whose matters led to charges being heard before the ACT Magistrates’ Court.

The specific tasks identified to inform the review were:

  • to identify emerging good practice in criminal justice interventions to address family violence;
  • to describe victims reporting incidents of family violence to police;
  • to describe defendants charged before the court for family violence offences;
  • to describe results from a survey of victims; and
  • to identify recommendations for improved governance and future directions of the FVIP.

This report presents the results of the review.

Methodology

The review methodology was refined in consultation with a Project Reference Group comprising the AIC research team, VoCC, the manager of DVCS and the manager of the justice advocacy unit, VS ACT. Incorporating quantitative and qualitative data, the key components included:

  • literature review;
  • description of family violence data compiled by ACT Policing and the Magistrates’ Court;
  • survey of victims of family violence in the Australian Capital Territory;
  • case file audit; and
  • stakeholder interviews.

Literature review

The purpose of the literature review was to inform the recommendations on future directions for FVIP and its governance. The literature search was limited to criminal justice system responses to family violence in line with the focus of FVIP. The discussion of extant research focuses on interventions across Australia and overseas under each arm of the system (police, courts and corrections), with a particular focus on emerging good practice, evaluated programs and programs designed to coordinate service delivery.

Topics covered in the literature review include the construction of family violence intervention policy, characteristics of successful models, reporting family violence to police, pro-arrest policies, specialist courts and therapeutic jurisprudence, and offender intervention programs.

The research team acknowledges that family violence is a social problem requiring system-level responses targeted towards reducing a societal tolerance of violence and improving knowledge about the social, economic and health impacts for individuals, vulnerable groups and communities. As much research has been conducted exploring these systemic issues, including the gendered nature of family violence, such research are not duplicated in this report.

Description of family violence data

Data requests were submitted to the Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing) and the ACT Magistrates’ Court. The purpose of the data collection was to enable the research team to provide a profile of victims and offenders involved in family violence incidents during the 2007–08 financial year and where possible, to compare these data to those published in previous FVIP-related reports, including the 2001 evaluation of the FVIP conducted by Urbis Keys Young.

Data on victims are collected by ACT Policing using their Police Real-time Online Management Information System (PROMIS). Operational police enter a range of data about incidents into PROMIS, including a small range of data specifically about victims and offenders. Family violence matters are identified or flagged in PROMIS using a Family Violence tick box. The variables requested from ACT Policing PROMIS database for the purposes of this review include:

About the victims and offenders

  • gender;
  • age group;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status;
  • victim and offender relationship;
  • charges laid; and
  • repeat victimisation.

About the incident

  • type;
  • location;
  • time; and
  • resolution.

The ACT Magistrates’ Court records information about matters coming before the court against unique case file numbers that pertain to each young person or adult defendant’s case. This information includes demographic information, charge types and court outcomes. The Magistrates’ Court does not record Indigenous status. Those matters flagged as family violence incidents were available for analysis in this review. In addition to 2007–08 data, the Magistrates’ Court was asked to provide data for 2006–07 to update data previously published. The data provided is consistent with that provided during the 2001 evaluation and includes:

  • gender;
  • whether the defendant is an adult or a child/young person;
  • numbers of matters appearing before the court;
  • length of time taken to finalise matters;
  • how matters were finalised; and
  • sentence outcome.

Offender intervention programs data was requested from and provided by ACTCS. Data was also collected from the 2007–08 annual reports of ODPP and DVCS.

Survey of victims of family violence in the Australian Capital Territory

Telephone interviews were conducted, by an ACT Government project officer, with 42 victims of family violence in the Australian Capital Territory who had contact with the criminal justice system and whose matters had been completed in the 2007–08 period. The surveys were designed to explore the victims’ experience with the criminal justice system to gauge what works effectively and also to identify areas for improvement.

In consultation with the Project Reference Group, it was decided that the survey sample be restricted on the basis of the following criteria:

  • female victim/male accused;
  • both parties over 18 years old; and
  • partner/ex-partner relationship.

These inclusion criteria were set to ensure a sufficient and internally comparable sample size for analysis. The limitations of the survey itself and the sample are further explored under Experience of Family Violence in this report.

With the assistance of the VoCC, an officer from the Restorative Justice Unit, Justice and Community Safety Directorate, was seconded to conduct the interviews and case file audits described at Case file audit below. The manager of DVCS facilitated access to a list of 430 clients whose matters had been finalised during the 2007–08 financial year. The project officer then selected every fifth name, moving on to the next name if the matter did not fit the inclusion criteria. Each potential participant was asked to provide verbal consent to participate and was provided with information to ensure their consent was informed. In total, contact was made or attempted with 105 clients. In 54 cases, either the telephone number on file was not current or the client was not successfully reached after three attempts. In nine cases, consent to participate was declined. In two cases, analysis of the survey results identified that they did not fit the inclusion criteria. These cases were removed from the analysis and the information utilised in the case file audit results. The survey instrument is attached at Appendix A.

Case file audit

An audit of DVCS case files was undertaken to validate the survey sample and findings, and to present a more accurate representation of family violence victims seeking support in the Australian Capital Territory.

A total of 72 files were audited, including the 40 surveys included in the victim survey sample and the two that were excluded, and an additional 30 files randomly selected from the original client list provided by DVCS.

Variables recorded from the file audit included:

  • date of incident;
  • gender of victim and offender;
  • relationship between victim and offender;
  • whether the matter had been finalised and how (where available);
  • charges laid and sentence outcomes; and
  • any evidence of referrals to other agencies or support services.

Stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews were conducted to gather the experiences of government and non-government agency staff who coordinate FVIP and other agency representatives who work directly with victims and offenders.

These interviews were conducted on the basis that no comments would be directly attributed to either the individual or their organisation. Twenty-one interviews were conducted by AIC research staff. A semi-structured interview schedule was prepared to guide the discussion and was modified for some interviewees. The standard schedule used is attached at Appendix B.

Report summary

This report presents the findings from the current review of FVIP. The Family Violence Intervention Program section provides further detail about the organisation of FVIP, its key partners and how family violence matters are handled at an operational level. The Literature review presents an overview of criminal justice system interventions targeted at addressing family violence and improving the system level response. Profile of family violence examines the data provided by participating agencies in relation to victim, offender and incident characteristics over the 2007–08 financial year. Experience of family violence presents the findings from the survey and case audit of victims. Family Violence Intervention Program–inside views explores stakeholder comments about the current and future directions of FVIP. Time for action identifies key recommendations, stemming from the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children plan that may impact on FVIP operations. This component is outside the scope of the current review but was viewed by the research team as an important inclusion to inform the recommendations. The report finishes with Conclusion and recommendations addressing the effectiveness of FVIP and its future direction and governance.

Terminology

Family violence

Across academic literature, legislation and policy, a range of terms are used to describe violence directed at family members and the people affected by this violence. The terminology used in this report corresponds to that commonly used by practitioners across FVIP agencies in the Australian Capital Territory.

In this report, family violence is used to describe abusive or criminal behaviours that have occurred between people in an intimate, personal and/or family relationship with each other. The term, therefore, covers spouse/ex-spouse abuse (domestic violence) and abuse between a young person/adult and their parent, between siblings and by a parent against their child. It is acknowledged that the term family violence is also preferred by Indigenous communities (Holder & Caruana 2006).

Spouse/ex-spouse is a broad description of a category of relationship between two people. A spousal relationship may include persons who are of the same or different gender and who may be legally married, living in a de facto relationship, and may be residing in the same or different residences together. An ex-spouse relationship could be any one of these but where the parties have finished their relationship (Holder & Caruana 2006).

People involved in family violence

Australian literature generally uses the term perpetrator in reference to a person who has, or allegedly has, committed an offence. In this report, the word offender will be used to be consistent with the terminology used within the Australian Capital Territory by ACT Policing, ACT Corrective Services and relevant legislation. The term young offender, rather than juvenile, is used to refer to an offender who is a child or young person aged between 10 and 18 years. Likewise, the terms alleged offender and defendant are used to reflect the language used by the ODPP and Magistrates’ Court.

In this report, victim means (as defined within the dictionary of the Victims of Crime Act 1994)

(a) a person (the primary victim) who suffers harm—

(i) in the course of, or as the result of, the commission of an offence; or

(ii) in the course of assisting a police officer in the exercise of the officer’s power to arrest a person or to take action to prevent the commission of an offence; or

(b) where a primary victim dies as a result of the commission of an offence—any person who was financially or psychologically dependent on the primary victim immediately before his or her death; or

(c) a person who witnesses the commission of an offence in circumstances in which it is probable that he or she would suffer harm; or

(d) a primary victim, a related victim or an eligible property owner within the meaning of the Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance) Act 1983.

The use of the term victim in this report is consistent with the terminology used by ACT criminal justice system agencies. It is acknowledged, however, that this term is not necessarily preferred by the people experiencing family violence. DVCS uses the terms persons subjected to violence and persons using violence to refer to victims and offenders respectively and these terms will be used in figures depicting DVCS data.

Good practice

Many different terms are used to describe practices that are seen to promote excellence in particular fields. In this report, the term good practice (rather than best practice or promising practice) is used to acknowledge that there is no one manner in which complex social problems, such as family violence and its impacts, can be conceptualised. Creativity in approaches should be encouraged to account for the diverse and complex needs of persons involved in family violence incidents.