In the Victorian family violence responses system, the police and justice system have key roles in increasing safety for victim survivors and keeping people using violence in view.
Particularly for victim survivors who are at serious and immediate risk of harm, the current service system and the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) framework centres police as first responders for responding to and managing risk posed by someone perpetrating family violence. However, there are many victim survivors who will not contact police to report family violence incidents due to valid feelings of mistrust and fear based on individual and community experiences of systemic harm, discrimination and marginalisation.
Victim survivors with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim survivors, victim survivors of colour and from migrant and refugee backgrounds, victim survivors of a police and correction officer using violence (including victims who themselves are police officers or have had adverse experiences with police), victim survivors with criminalised history, victim survivors with alcohol or other drug use, and victim survivors within the LGBTIQA+ communities are some of the groups who face additional systemic barriers to accessing support and safety. Police are more likely to misidentify people from these groups as the primary aggressor in a family violence incident, and then named as the respondent on a safety notice or intervention orders and be criminally charged, which can lead to the removal of their children.1
Within this context, specialist family violence services and practitioners navigate the system alongside victim survivors to manage dynamic risk posed by people using violence. They do this by using the systemic responses available for responding to and managing family violence risk, while being mindful of upholding the agency of victim survivors, alongside their own legislated roles and responsibilities under the MARAM and Information Sharing Schemes.
Victim survivors who do not engage with police may be left without support options. They can experience systemic collusion and, consequently, become isolated from services. They can also have system responses imposed on them, which may inadvertently increase their risk of family violence or systemic harm.
About this resource
This reflective practice tool was developed in partnership with survivor advocates and practitioners from Flat Out, Switchboard, inTouch, and Elizabeth Morgan House to support family violence practitioners to identify and implement tailored anti-oppressive responses for victim survivors who do not consider calling police to be a safe option. Victim survivors from priority communities informed and shaped this resource, and we thank them for generously sharing their knowledge and experiences.
This tool is aligned with MARAM Framework, the Code of Practice for specialist family violence services, and the Case Management Program Requirements, all of which call for centering the voices of victim survivors and recognise that victim survivors are experts of their own level of safety and risk.2 To achieve positive client outcomes in a specialist family violence context, it is essential for victim survivors to trust both the service and the worker, to feel that their voices are respected and to feel capable of making fully informed decisions 3
You can use this resource to support reflective practice in individual or group supervision settings, to identify and advocate for anti-oppressive, person-centered approaches to supporting victim survivors’ safety in circumstances where they do not view police as a safe option responding to and managing their family violence risk posed by the person using violence.
Intersecting forms of power and privilege create differences and inequalities in the responses people across our community receive from the systems and services set up to support them.
Our culture and social systems are underpinned by structural and systemic inequalities based on oppressive constructs such as colonisation, sexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersex discrimination. For many victim survivors from priority communities, this has created intersecting compounding forms of disadvantage, discrimination, and injustice perpetrated by various elements of the human service system including the police, child protection and the criminal justice system – leading them to choose not to engage with police and the justice system if they experience family violence.
Therefore, we need to use an intersectional analysis to understand how power, privilege and oppression intersect with the various risks, impacts and barriers that victim survivors face in their relationship with police and other statuary bodies such as the courts or child protection.
Some accounts of those barriers and impacts are:
- Research shows that due to existing structural and systemic barriers in the justice system, victim survivors from priority communities experience greater rates of misidentification as aggressors and in many instances are subject to over-policing and disproportionately high rates of criminalisation and child removal because of incarceration. It has been found that First Nations women, women from migrant and refugee communities, women with disability, women whose perpetrator is a police or corrections officer, women living with mental illness, women experiencing homelessness, and women using substances are all over-represented as misidentified persons.4
- When the person using violence is a police officer (or has strong connections with police), the victim survivor often experiences institutional resistance and biases and a high rate of misidentification, poor police responses, and systemic harm. Victim survivors of police officers often experience systemic harm by the justice system, which tends to favour the police officer’s statements and discourages victim survivor engagement with police and the judicial system.
- People using violence often use their own police connections or victim survivors’ personal circumstances and identities – such as their ethnicity and cultural background, visa status, gender, disability, mental illness, use of alcohol and other drugs, criminal history or employment history – against them when contacting police, without this type of abuse and control being addressed or considered in the police intervention. When this happens, victim survivors’ circumstances become the focus of the intervention, rather than the perpetrator’s violence, which further discredits victim survivors in the justice system.
- For victim survivors from priority groups there is a risk they will be perceived as ‘difficult’ or ‘angry’, or known by police for other unrelated criminal matters, there is a risk that those matters, rather than the family violence, become the focus of police intervention.
- Engagement with police may result in short- and long-term community, cultural and family cost (and possible employment cost) for a victim survivor. In addition to the family violence, they risk becoming isolated from community, social networks and losing family ties, including their children and friends.
- Although victim survivors want the violence to stop, some may wish to remain in a relationship with the person using violence and keep connections with family, community and other social networks, which can be compromised when police are involved. Furthermore, there may be fear for the person using violence, especially when they are from a priority community, due to community experiences of systemic violence.
Tools and resources
This reflective practice tool and these case studies were developed in partnership with survivor advocates and practitioners from Flat Out, Switchboard, inTouch, and Elizabeth Morgan House to support family violence practitioners to identify and implement tailored anti-oppressive responses for victim survivors who do not consider calling police to be a safe option.
You can use this resource to support reflective practice in individual or group supervision settings, in order to identify and advocate for anti-oppressive, person-centered approaches to supporting victim survivors’ safety when they do not want to contact police in responding to and managing family violence risk posed by a person who use violence.
You can use these case studies as a powerful tool for evidence-based collective learning.
You can use following case studies independently or in groups, together with the reflective tool to build skills and knowledge to support practice.
[i] Reeves, E., 2023. A Culture of Consent: Legal Practitioners’ Experiences of Representing Women Who Have Been Misidentified as Predominant Aggressors on Family Violence Intervention Orders in Victoria, Australia. Feminist legal studies, Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-022-09506-5, pp.1-22.
[ii] Family Safety Victoria (2021). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 57.
[iii] Safe and Equal (2022) Client Outcomes Framework for Specialist Family Violence Services, Safe and Equal. Available at: https://safeandequal.org.au/wp-content/uploads/REP_CoDesigning-the-foundations-for-a-client-outcomes-framework_Sept22_FINAL.pdf, page 16.
[iv] Reeves, E., 2023. A Culture of Consent: Legal Practitioners’ Experiences of Representing Women Who Have Been Misidentified as Predominant Aggressors on Family Violence Intervention Orders in Victoria, Australia. Feminist legal studies, Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-022-09506-5, pp.1-22.