Should There be a Domestic Violence Register in Australia?

Should there be a domestic violence register in Australia?

Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women in Australia. According to Access Economics an estimated 1.6 million Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced domestic violence at some point in their life. Domestic violence assault rates in Australia are the highest they have been in 12 years. One woman across the country is hospitalised every three hours due to domestic violence with one woman dying every week.

A report done by Women NSW revealed that in NSW alone, “81 percent (21 out of 26) of female homicide victims were killed by someone with whom they were in a domestic relationship” and “in 2013, female homicide victims were nearly four times more likely than male victims to be killed by someone with whom they were in a domestic relationship.”

However, less than half of all domestic violence cases are reported meaning the real numbers are much higher.

The Costs of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence significantly impacts victims and their families on a social, emotional and economic level. . The economic costs associated with domestic violence are both direct and indirect such as: legal costs, the costs of medical treatment or support services for victims, income support, resettlement costs and losses in productivity.

These costs are not incurred by the victim alone. Australia must also bear the burden of domestic violence through its social support networks and services. In 2002/2003 the total annual cost of domestic violence in Australia was estimated to be $8.1 billion with Australia incurring 388 million in healthcare costs alone (Henderson 2000). The total lifetime cost of domestic violence was estimated to be $224,470 per victim.

Should there be a domestic violence register in Australia?

Domestic violence has the highest recidivism rate to any other crime. It also keeps victims and those affected by domestic violence from fully and equally participating in society. In its Domestic-and-Family-Violence-Policy, Legal Aid NSW recognises that “domestic violence has significant and long lasting effects on its victims, including poverty, social exclusion, poor health and homelessness.” Especially on its most innocent victims, children.

For any significant change to happen, the culture of silence surrounding domestic violence must change. Both whistleblowers and victims need to be protected and feel safe to come forward.

Clare’s Law and NSW’s Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS)

Last year the UK enacted a new law known as Clare’s Law. Clare’s Law is a disclosure scheme that was established to protect people from domestic violence. It gives people the “right to ask” and “right to know” if the person they are with has a history of domestic violence and gives them a mechanism in which to protect themselves from a potentially abusive situation.

In March the Premier and the Minister for Women announced that NSW would pilot a similar initiative to Clare’s Law with its Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) in an attempt to increase the safety of people potentially at risk of domestic violence. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Premier Mr. Baird suggested that the “registry would be for men with domestic violence convictions and Apprehended Violence Orders” and NSW would be the first state in Australia to do this. The DVDS would enable people to find out if their partner has a history of committing domestic violence. It will also give police and other service agencies the ability provide better support and protection to those at risk of domestic violence.

The aim of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is to reduce incidents of domestic violence and abuse, and to decrease the economic, social and emotional costs associated with this crime. Even with the disclosure scheme in place, the information police and other agencies hold on individuals is private. Since Clare’s Law was introduced in the UK earlier this year 3,760 domestic violence disclosures have been requested. However, out of those requests made only 1,300 disclosures were granted because police need to believe there is a strong enough reason to share this information. If the police do not think the risk of abuse is high enough – even if the person has a history of violence – they will not make a disclosure.

There is also variation on disclosure criteria depending where and by whom the request for disclosure is requested. Therefore careful policy planning with recognised and consistent processes need to be put in place for the Domestic Violence Registry to really be affective.

Due to privacy rights it is also critical that it is the courts that decide whether or not an offender goes on the register.