Trends identified by our Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services

Victims misidentified and service gaps that could help break cycles of violence

By Janice Waring (Manager, Sydney WDVCAS) and Farah Assafiri (Manager, South West Sydney WDVCAS)

In our work, we see how challenging and traumatising it can be for women affected by domestic and family violence to navigate the legal system, claim their rights and keep themselves safe.

Our Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (in Sydney and South West Sydney) support women through this process so they can make their own choices and regain some control in the system.

 

What do our WDVCAS teams do?

In 2021, we supported over 6,500 clients with court matters. Funded by Legal Aid, we provided access to Safe Rooms at court, liaised with police and court staff on clients’ behalf and assisted them with immediate needs (including referrals to crisis housing, counselling, grocery vouchers and a phone).

Our team completes a safety assessment to determine if a client is at high risk or serious threat of harm. Our Safety Action Meeting Coordinators meet regularly with police, other government agencies and non-government organisations to develop safety action plans for women assessed as being at serious threat of injury or death from domestic or family violence.

 

Women misidentified as the perpetrator

We remain concerned about the number of women reporting they were wrongly identified by police as the perpetrator in a domestic violence matter. Sometimes, women are also named as a defendant in a cross application by the perpetrator (once police have made an application for an ADVO to protect her).

Many of these misidentified women are our former clients, who have previously experienced abuse from their partner and sought our support. This trend in misidentification has also been identified by Women’s Legal Service Victoria and ANROWs.

We don’t know exactly what is causing this trend, but our experience suggests contributing factors include police misunderstanding of domestic violence dynamics and poor communication with victims.

In the past, we have provided training to police officers about the dynamics of domestic and family violence, about why women may not report violence and why they may not necessarily want to leave an abusive relationship. We have seen positive results from this training and hope for more training opportunities that may improve responses for victim-survivors.

 

The pandemic has revealed critical service gaps that could help break cycles of violence

For many families, the pandemic has created new stressors, such as job loss and adult children returning to the family home. Of our older clients, they have often experienced abuse from their adult child who is their carer.

We also see a continuing gap in availability of mental health services and alcohol and other drug (AOD) support services (as well as counselling and DV group programs, financial assistance and multicultural specific supports) for many of our clients.

While there is little evidence that alcohol consumption is a primary cause of domestic violence, there are strong correlations between alcohol use and violence against women, including, for instance, in the severity of the violence (see ANROWS, 2017). More recent research from ANROWs into pathways to intimate partner homicide (2022) identified opportunities for risk prevention in providing support to families early, and linking perpetrator interventions with AOD and mental health services to target certain risk factors for serious violence.

This research aligns with what we see on the frontline of services provision, where many families need support to reduce the risk of violence escalating.

 

Supporting women and children experiencing domestic violence

Find out more about how we support clients or become a supporter of  South West Sydney Legal Centre: