The effectiveness of legal protection in the prevention of domestic violence in the lives of young Australian women


Domestic violence is a criminal issue of public concern. The first large national survey of women and violence found that 23 per cent of women who had ever been married, or lived in a defacto relationship, experienced violence by their partner and that 3 per cent of women currently in a relationship had experienced violence by their partner in the last 12 months (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1996). International studies have shown that for young women, the risk of violence by a partner is 3-4 times higher than the risk for women overall (ABS 1996, Rodgers 1994, Mirrlees-Black 1995, Bachman and Saltzman 1995). The limited data on violence by boyfriends, a situation in which young women are likely to be disproportionately represented, show that injury by boyfriends is relatively high: 56 per cent of women assaulted by a boyfriend were injured in the last incident, compared to 31 per cent of women assaulted by married or defacto partners (ABS 1996).

This report describes a large national study of young women who experienced physical violence by a partner. In particular, it examines the effectiveness of legal protection in preventing repeated violence and compares outcomes after legal intervention from the police or the courts, or both. It is an observational study of the “natural history” of partner violence against young women in the community, rather than an experiment to test intervention strategies to prevent recurring violence, or police responses, as in the mandatory arrest experiments in the USA. As such, it reports the outcomes for women who used strategies other than legal intervention, as well as those who sought legal intervention in response to violence.

This paper is taken from the report of research undertaken with the assistance of a grant from the Criminology Research Council.