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Photo of Jan Shuard PSM

Jan Shuard PSM

Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor

This is the first of our topic-based reports. It explores the practices informing the accurate identification of the predominant aggressor in responding to family violence. Critically, it shines a light on the all too frequent mistaken classification of a victim survivor as the perpetrator. The unjust consequences are far-reaching. Where misidentification occurs, the system designed to care for victims of family violence is unintentionally causing harm. As one stakeholder powerfully avowed, she ‘burns with the injustice of it’.

It is of note that sector stakeholders universally encouraged our office to explore this subject as their most pressing concern. They are alert to the experiences of misidentification and keen to work together with government to remedy the situation. While our research found no single source of truth on the prevalence of misidentification, the estimates highlight that it occurs far too often, and requires urgent attention.

This report features the compelling stories as told to us by victim survivors who have experienced the injustice of being labelled a perpetrator of family violence. Their stories speak for themselves and alone should serve as a ‘call to action’. It was humbling to receive feedback from the women who spoke to us, with the following comments passed on:

[The consultation] was the first time I’ve told people outside my family and friends everything that happened. It was the first time I felt like an outsider really believed I was a victim, and I had been abused.

Being able to tell you what is happening to me helped me feel heard. It gave me hope that someone is listening and doesn’t want this to happen to other women and children.

My office was greatly supported by Flat Out and members of the Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council (VSAC) in connecting us with victim survivors and expertly guiding us through the consultations. Their unique skills and abilities, compassion and dedication to improving the system is an inspiration for us all to do better. But we must do more than just listen. In reflection of our work together on this project, our VSAC colleagues stated:

Sharing space as an equal alongside professionals may feel insignificant; but to us this is very meaningful. It helps break down the hierarchy of roles and creates space for us to feel we have qualified knowledge and abilities and provides an example of how professionalism and lived experience can co-exist in work together to produce powerful and meaningful outcomes.

Recommendation 41 of the Royal Commission sought to enhance the accuracy in identifying the predominant aggressor and has been implemented. However, as this report highlights, much more is required. I have made 12 proposals directed to the issues identified and four where continued effort is required. Our consultations have provided confidence that agencies such as Victoria Police, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, the legal sector, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, and Family Safety Victoria, along with the service sector all have a strong desire to work together on solutions. I particularly want to acknowledge the openness and transparency of Victoria Police in our examination of this issue. I trust this report provides the focus and impetus to drive the changes required.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the contribution of the many people we consulted during this review. Many of the proposals put forward are their ideas, and while planned work is not reflected in the body of this report, we have seen progress already and a strong commitment to making the improvements.

I look forward to seeing all parts of the system work together to tackle this important issue.

Signature of Jan Shuard

Jan Shuard PSM
Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor