On Monday 19 November 2018 the Victorian Family Law Pathways Network held a forum on the recent changes made within the Victoria Police in response to the ongoing issue of Family Violence in Victoria.
In the year ending June 2018, a total of 76,124 family violence incidents were reported by Victoria Police, of these the majority were for breaches of previous orders followed by assault and related offences.
In the last 12 months, approximately 75% of the 76,124 reported affected family members were female, 71.5% of whom were aged between 20-49 years old.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence in 2016 made various recommendations as to actions the be taken by Victoria Police to aid in the fight against Family Violence, including:
- Support and Safety Hubs in local communities throughout Victoria, to make it easier for victims to find help and gain access to a greater range of services;
- An immediate funding boost to services that support victims and families; and
- An expanded investigative capacity for police and mobile technology for front-line police.
Many of these recommendations have been implemented and were discussed at the forum.
The Victoria Police Family Violence Unit investigates serious offences in which family violence is identified to be the determining factor. There are currently 21 Family Violence Units across the state, with one ‘Command Centre’ which manages larger cases.
The Family Violence Unit has a focus on “high risk” or “priority incidents”. These are incidents in which there may be high levels of aggression, or escalating or erratic behaviour.
In addition to the creation of the Family Violence Unit, the recommendations of the Commission has seen the introduction of the Safety Notice. A Safety Notice is similar to a court awarded Intervention Order, however is issued on the spot by Police Officers. Safety Notices are interim in nature, listing a court date on which the person in question is required to appear. Safety Notices work to prevent the respondent from using family violence, and may include similar conditions to an Intervention Order. A Safety Notice continues until a Magistrate makes a decision as to whether an Intention Order is necessary.
A central discussion at the forum was in regards to Risk Assessment, and the factors used by Police Officers whilst on the scene of a family violence incident in determining what steps are to be taken moving forward.
Responding Police Officers conducting a risk assessment on scene are looking to identify the following factors:
- Assault; including threats, weapons, strangulation and sexual assault;
- The frequency of family violence incidents; officers particularly look at whether the frequency of the incidents are escalating;
- Whether there is an Intervention Order in place, and whether the Intervention Order in question is sufficient;
- Contributing factors, including:
- Financial difficulties
- Drugs, alcohol or prescription medications
- Pregnancy or new birth
A primary development has been the reclassification of children present at the incident. Previously, children were only considered to be ‘present’ if they were physically involved in a family violence event. It is now understood that a child is ‘present’ for family violence if they experience the preceding events, or the aftermath of the incident itself.
When considering whether to involve the Department of Health and Human Services, the Family Violence Unit considers the risk to the child. Often, this does not only involve the family violence incident itself, but can include the consideration of external factors such as the child’s clothing, the environment the child is living in, and previous reports.
The modification and review of risk assessment factors and the development of the Family Violence Unit is aimed at reducing the instances of family violence incidents through the reduction of breaches of previous orders, which, as noted, continues to be the most commonly reported event.
By Charlotte Wyles, Law Graduate