There has been a significant investment and an overall cultural shift in Victoria’s response to family violence over the past six years, bringing with it an increased spotlight on perpetrator behaviour. While previously it was seen as controversial to spend money on programs for perpetrators amid the scale of unmet need for victim survivors, there is an increasing understanding that victim survivor safety depends on addressing the behaviour of those using violence. The need to develop a full suite of service interventions for perpetrators isnow widely accepted within the sector. One service provider told us:
I think there’s a greater awareness and support for perpetrator services now compared to 20 years ago. I was constantly told ‘you have to make them [victim survivors] leave’. People didn’t want to discuss change for the perpetrators.
This is a welcome development because it is critical to directly address perpetrator behaviour in order to keep victim survivors safe. However, enforcement of family violence intervention orders (FVIOs) by police and the courts is still the main source of external accountability for perpetrators. With 51,367 breaches of FVIOs in 2021–22, this is placing substantial demand pressure on police and courts (we note that there are likely to be specific opportunities to strengthen the response to family violence perpetrators in these parts of the system but haven’t explored these areas in detail for this report). There is now greater recognition of the need for broader, system-wide responsibility for perpetrator monitoring and accountability.
The Victorian Government’s Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023 describes a long-term vision of a ‘web of accountability’ (see Figure 5) where the service system – and the broader community – works together to stop perpetrators from committing further violence, holds them to account, keeps them in view and supports them to change their behaviour and attitudes. The theory is that:
… every time a person who uses violence interacts with the service system, there is an opportunity to effect behaviour change and intervene. Behaviour change is more likely to happen when the government, the broader service system, community and society are working together to prevent violence happening and intervene early when it does.1
Some important components of this web of accountability that have been put in place are outlined below. These include Family Violence Investigation Units within Victoria Police, the creation of Specialist Family Violence Courts and a statewide network of family violence intake and assessment hubs. The private sector has also stepped up, with initiatives including introducing codes of conduct forbidding the use of company phones and laptops to commit family violence. While some important reforms have been implemented, it is currently unclear how the web of accountability is being and should be operationalised, yet this work is critical to ensuring Victoria has an effective, whole-of-system response to perpetrators that keeps victim survivors safe [relates to action 1]. We suggest that much more work needs to be done to clarify the role of the various actors depicted in the ‘web’, how they should interact with one another, and the work that is occurring to ensure all parts of the ‘web’ can effectively contribute to perpetrator accountability. As Dr Chris Laming, a men’s behaviour change expert, explains:
An integrated family violence service system requires mutual respect between workers and a commitment to build up trust and confidence in one another's respective roles in the endeavour to keepwomen and children safe and hold men in view and accountable.
System-wide approaches and capacity building
MARAM and family violence information sharing reforms represent the main, system-wide approaches to driving consistency of family violence understanding, setting out responsibilities for family violence identification, risk assessment and risk management, and authorising and enabling information sharing across participating workforces.
MARAM Perpetrator-Focused Practice Guides and Tools (also referred to as the ‘Adult Using Family Violence Practice Guides and Tools)
Throughout 2020–2021, Family Safety Victoria worked with Curtin University and No to Violence to develop the new MARAM practice guides and tools for working with adults using family violence. Family Safety Victoria has described the development program as ‘extensive’, involving consultations with more than 1,000 professionals including academics, subject matter experts and workforce representatives. The Identification and Intermediate level perpetrator-focused MARAM practice guides and tools were released in July 2021 for non-specialist workforces. The Comprehensive level perpetrator-focused practice guides
and tools were released in February 2022 for specialist workforces.
The perpetrator-focused practice guides and tools aim to support professionals across the system to identify, assess and manage risk when working with adults using family violence. This may be through observation only, a mixture of observation and prompting questions related to uncovering risk information, or through direct assessment. Across the practice and tools the focus is on identifying perpetrator behaviours, attitudes and patterns of coercive control, including systems abuse. Guidance includes considerations for working with a diverse range of adult perpetrators – including those who are older, Aboriginal, identify as LGBTIQ+, have a disability or are from a refugee or migrant background.
Stakeholders gave feedback that the perpetrator assessment tool is useful but very long, taking between two and four hours to complete – or up to six hours for a client who needs an interpreter. One service provider said that the length leads to services creating their own shorter versions, at the cost of consistency. Stakeholders also expressed that the practice guides are complex and could be simplified so practitioners have time to absorb the key information. To support the sector in implementing the new tools for working with adults using family violence, No to Violence’s workforce development teams have launched a ‘What Now’ webinar series on implementing the MARAM Framework and the practice guides. We welcome this development and suggest that ongoing work is required to support the sector and ensure the practice guides are truly helping to drive perpetrator accountability.
To understand whether the perpetrator Comprehensive Assessment Tool is working as intended, Family Safety Victoria has engaged Curtin University to analyse the information being gathered by services using the newly developed tools. This project will help validate the Comprehensive Assessment Tool and strengthen the underpinning evidence base.
Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme and the Central Information Point
Stakeholders have warmly welcomed information sharing reforms that allow workers in the family violence response sector to access and share potentially life-saving data to inform their assessment of perpetrator risk levels. ‘We have found that information sharing is extremely beneficial … we now have access to information that we previously would have had to fight tooth and nail to get,’ said one service provider.
Stakeholders describe the Central Information Point as a ‘game changer’ due to its consolidation of data from Victoria Police, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Corrections and Justice Services and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (see Figure 6). Men’s behaviour change program providers gave feedback that the reports they received through The Orange Door have been incredibly valuable for gaining an objective picture of the perpetrator’s risk level and progress, rather than relying on an often one-sided version of events from their client.
Central Information Point reports are available to practitioners at The Orange Door and to some Risk Assessment and Management Panels, and are provided in line with relevant information-sharing permissions or authorisations. We understand that Central Information Point management has also expanded direct access to the 24-hour crisis response organisation Safe Steps and to the Men’s Referral Service. This is an important step to ensure timely information sharing on urgent cases.
While overwhelmingly supportive of the Central Information Point initiative overall, stakeholders recommended to reduce the processing time for requests by increasing staff resources. They also voiced their preference to receive the full version of the report rather than a summary prepared by The Orange Door. The team managing the Central Information Point told us that the timeline for responding to requests was often within 24 hours, with more than 16,000 reports produced from the beginning of the project up until September 2022. The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing said that the approach taken to date was to strike a balance between informing risk assessment and protecting privacy. The approval of a team leader at The Orange Door is required to launch a Central Information Point request, and for data protection purposes the overall report is designed not to be printed, with only the most relevant sections copied and shared with the requesting organisation.
Family Violence Investigation Units
Victoria Police has substantially changed its approach to holding family violence perpetrators to account. Police stakeholders told us that officers were now broadly aware that family violence is a ‘real crime’ rather than ‘just a domestic’. Service sector stakeholders spoke positively about the increased level of family violence awareness among police officers. In the words of one stakeholder, ‘Just knowing that you can ring the police and get a family violence response is huge’.
The creation of dedicated Family Violence Investigation Units ensures specialised detectives investigate high-risk cases and are on hand to provide advice to general duties police handling medium and lower risk cases. Stakeholders expressed that this has led to higher quality investigations, including the gathering of video testimony taken at the scene, which increases the chances of perpetrators being held to account in court.
Police stakeholders told us that the Case Prioritisation and Response Model tool was working well to estimate the level of risk based on the data entered in the Family Violence Report (L17). They believed it was positive that the tool allows for manual review to capture the assessments of attending police and their supervisors. As one experienced police officer told us, they rely on both the tool’s calculation and their own professional judgement: ‘The tool is useful, but you still need the human element”
As noted in our report ‘Crisis Response to Recovery Model for Victim Survivors’, a co-responder model has been trialled in some locations, whereby a social worker attends family violence incidents together with police. Once such model is the Alexis – Family Violence Response Model, which was co-designed by Victoria Police and The Salvation Army, in collaboration with other local stakeholders. It involves an Alexis Senior Family Violence Practitioner from The Salvation Army being physically located within the local Victoria Police Family Violence Investigation Unit, and provides a coordinated, multi-agency response to families who are having repeated contact with police and services due to family violence. Benefits of a co-responder model include the ability to have social workers address social welfare issues at the scene of incidents, allowing police to focus on the investigative side. RMIT University found that co-responder models that conduct proactive outreach visits to high-risk perpetrators can reduce recidivism by up to 85 per cent.2
We were also told that the Family Violence Taskforce, which specialises in investigating serial high-risk perpetrators, had recently solved a number of important cases, including one involving a particularly violent perpetrator who preyed on numerous homeless women. A police officer told us: ‘The Taskforce is a great addition to our ability to monitor perpetrators, and gives [Family Violence Investigation Units] a place to go when they need additional resources.’
Specialist Family Violence Courts
As well as supporting victim survivors to have a less confrontational and traumatic court experience, stakeholder feedback suggests that Specialist Family Violence Courts’ expert magistrates and staff have increased perpetrator accountability by providing more tailored responses. For example, magistrates have the power to mandate that perpetrators complete behaviour change programs with a court-appointed provider. Court Services Victoria partnered with the Centre for Innovative Justice to develop the Court Mandated Counselling Order Program, which began operating in 2020. It is currently available at five Specialist Family Violence Courts and will be expanded to all 12 Specialist Family Violence Courts in the first quarter of 2023.
The role of the Respondent Practitioner provides an opportunity to assess risk, provide relevant referrals and ensure the perpetrator understands the court process. Dedicated practitioners for Aboriginal people who use violence have been provided through the Umalek Balit program, and LGBTIQ+ family violence practitioners have also been trialled in selected courts.
Perpetrator interventions in the corrections system
In prisons and community correctional services, perpetrators can be referred to a range of programs based on their risk profile and specific needs. Men’s behaviour change service providers gave feedback that the short prison program ‘Tuning into Respectful Relationships’ is effective for preparing men to attend group work programs on release.
We heard during consultations about an opportunity to strengthen family violence perpetrator programs in prisons because there can be fewer or more manageable barriers to session attendance than in the community, where participants may be dealing with homelessness, lack of transport and work commitments. We note that there may still be some issues such as conflicting legal or medical appointments, or attendance challenges if the program is not mandatory.
The Orange Door
Situating The Orange Door as the central entry point for perpetrator responses, as well as for victim survivor support services, sends a strong signal that perpetrator programming is now integrated into mainstream family violence response.
Between July 2021 and June 2022, The Orange Door received 71,750 perpetrator referrals3 (this refers to the number of referrals rather than distinct individuals, with some perpetrators having multiple referrals). The vast majority (84 per cent) of perpetrator referrals came via Victoria Police’s Family Violence Report (L17.) The Orange Door then makes multiple attempts to contact each perpetrator to encourage them to take part in programs to address their behaviour. Participation is voluntary because there is no legal requirement for perpetrators to engage with The Orange Door after being referred. Figures on how many perpetrators had received services via The Orange Door were not available, suggesting there is room to develop information management and coordination to monitor the level of perpetrator uptake of services and keep them in view.
Risk Assessment and Management Panels
The Risk Assessment and Management Panels (RAMPs) have been strengthened since the Royal Commission, with an increased focus on keeping perpetrators in view to reduce the onus on the victim survivor to manage their own safety.4 According to Family Safety Victoria, RAMPs are effectively linking relevant parts of the system (such as corrections, police, alcohol and other drugs, and mental health) to identify and manage the risk factors that are contributing to the use of family violence. This improves visibility of perpetrators across the system and is said to be reducing reoffending. Family Safety Victoria also notes that continued work on embedding the MARAM Perpetrator-Focused Practice Guides into the RAMP program guidelines will further improve consistency of responses.
Other stakeholder feedback on RAMPs suggests that agencies have generally collaborated well to share information and mitigate risk. We heard that one area of improvement in a few regions of Victoria is to review the RAMP membership to confirm that attendees are the decision-makers with the capacity to act in the relevant cases.
- Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2020): Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023: Perpetrators and People Who Use Violence.
- RMIT University (2017): Alexis- Family Violence Response Model Evaluation Final Report, pp. 5-6.
- Data supplied by Family Safety Victoria.
- Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor (2020): Fourth report to Parliament (as at 1 November 2020), p. 87.