A number of important matters were raised during our consultations that were tangentially relevant to this topic. We did not explore these in any detail, but they are captured below.
Throughout our consultations, stakeholders spoke of women being held to a higher standard than men and being judged by police and the justice and Child Protection systems when they are seen to fail to adhere to gender stereotypes. This reinforces the importance of primary prevention activities that seek to improve gender equality and reduce the likelihood of the double standards that more harshly judge women in situations that may lead to family violence. We also note that primary prevention can play a supportive role in addressing perpetrator misidentification as a broader social issue. It can do this by fostering community awareness and understanding of the many different manifestations of family violence and the key factors that drive perpetration of this violence. This understanding can support objective assessment of family violence situations and overcome biases of judgement that may lead to the misidentification of perpetrators. The continued implementation of Free from violence: Victoria’s strategy to prevent family violence and all forms of violence against women is, therefore, vitally important.
We will examine the topic ‘primary prevention system architecture’ during 2022.
Unintended consequences of justice system reforms
Stakeholders also raised the intersection of misidentification and justice system reforms in increasing the criminalisation of victim survivors. Victoria’s bail laws were toughened in 2018 and the number of women remanded to custody increased substantially.71 Where a woman is charged with a criminal office or has breached an FVIO, she is now more likely to be remanded than in the past. Particular concern was raised with us about ongoing systems abuse by perpetrators after having their victim named as the respondent and prompting reports to police for order breaches.
Criminalisation of coercive control
Arguably, criminalising coercive control could give the police the impetus to respond more definitively to non-physical types of family violence and help to better document a pattern of abuse. However, in the context of misidentification, stakeholders were concerned that women who are already marginalised could have additional opportunities to be misidentified and criminalised. Certainly, it will be vital to consider the risk of misidentification as part of the ongoing debate around the criminalisation of coercive control.
Royal Commission recommendation 59
Recommendation 59 asked the government to consider if Victoria Police should be given the power to issue FVIOs at family violence incidents. In our consultations, several stakeholders expressed concern about police being given this power given the known issues with police practice that are contributing to the continued misidentification of victim survivors. This concern was echoed in a recent review conducted by the Department of Justice and Community Safety about recommendation 59, which highlighted the need for additional research on the prevalence and outcomes of police misidentification.
71 Department of Justice and Community Safety (2021): Corrections Victoria Monthly Time Series Prisoner and Offender Data