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Experience of family violence

Overview

One of the key functions of the FVIP is to coordinate the criminal justice system response to family violence. A survey of family violence victims was undertaken to provide a snapshot of how victims experience the response of the criminal justice system.

The survey sample included 39 completed surveys and one partially completed survey. This latter participant did not withdraw consent to use her information, but found it emotionally difficult to proceed with answering questions. The sample was selected on the basis of matters being finalised within the 2007–08 financial year; however, in order to obtain a sufficient number of surveys for comparison, a limited number of matters from 2006 and 2005 were included.

The survey instrument (see Appendix A) was designed to focus on general features of the family violence incident and the victim’s experience with the criminal justice system process. Some of the survey questions were designed to allow direct comparison to be made with victim survey results from the Urbis Keys Young evaluation of the FVIP published in 2001 (Urbis Keys Young 2001).

The core survey contained 48 questions and was designed to follow the criminal justice system process. Victims were asked about the incident, police involvement, court case (including contact with the prosecution), contact with DVCS and other support services, and their experiences and needs in the aftermath of the court process. Due to the length of the core survey, and potential for survey fatigue, it was decided to limit the demographic questions to age, Indigenous and culturally diverse background, care responsibilities and current relationship status.

The survey is not representative of all victims of family violence in the Australian Capital Territory. The survey was only undertaken with adult female victims where the alleged offender was her current or ex adult male intimate partner at the time of the incident. As identified in the literature review on family violence and data extracted by ACT Policing (presented in the preceding sections of this report), family violence affects men, women and young people as partners, parents and other family members. The survey sample is also too small and selective to be representative of all women experiencing family violence from a partner. Many family violence incidents are unreported to either the police or support services. The sample for this survey was taken exclusively from the DVCS and therefore, is only representative of victims who accept or seek the services of DVCS.

An audit of administrative data contained in DVCS case files was conducted to validate information received from telephone survey respondents and to assist in the validation of the sample selection. The latter audit included each person who agreed to a telephone interview and allowed the researcher to compare stated information against that which had been recorded in the file.

A second element of the audit involved the selection of random files. This element of the audit allowed the research team to more broadly describe the characteristics of individuals who come into contact with DVCS.

Summary of findings

The results of the family violence survey and case file audit identified the following characteristics of clients accessing the services of DVCS:

  • 80 percent of victims were adult females offended against by their current or former male partner;
  • 34 percent of victims were between 35 and 44 years; and
  • 19 percent of victims identified as being from a CALD background.

The survey results indicate:

  • 75 percent of victims identified they had primary care responsibilities for a child or young person;
  • 70 percent of incidents took place in a private home;
  • 75 percent of victims were injured during the family violence incident;
  • 63 percent of incidents involved property damage; and
  • 63 percent of victims reported the incident to the police themselves.

Survey responses indicated strengths of the criminal justice system response and areas for potential improvement. Areas of strength included being supported and assisted by the police and support services. For example:

  • 90 percent of victims reported that the police were sympathetic and supportive at the time of the incident (comparison data with the 2001 evaluation is discussed later in this section); and
  • 100 percent of victims who reported receiving a crisis visit from DVCS were either very or fairly satisfied with it.

Victims also reported strengths in agency delivery of services. For example:

  • 85 percent of victims strongly agreed or agreed that the police investigated the incident thoroughly;
  • 83 percent of victims were either very or fairly satisfied with the way the police handled the case at the time of the incident;
  • 77 percent of victims were very or fairly satisfied with the their contact with the prosecution; and
  • 78 percent of victims were satisfied with the contact they had with DVCS in the lead up to the court case.

Victims identified the provision of information as an area requiring improvement. For example:

  • 68 percent of victims were unsure what was going to happen with their case after the police attended;
  • 46 percent of victims felt there was a lot about the court proceedings they did not understand; and
  • 69 percent of victims stated they did not have any contact with ACTCS following the finalisation of the case.

Information provision received mixed results from the Holder (2008) survey respondents. In that survey, 58 percent of victims identified that the police did not, at reasonable intervals, keep them informed of case progression, however, 77 percent identified that they were adequately informed about the trial process and their rights as witnesses. These data may reflect disconnection between where victims expect to receive information from and how agencies prioritise and organise their information exchange.

Victims reported mixed results in terms of their satisfaction with some aspects of the prosecution and court case. For example:

  • 33 percent of victims reported they felt satisfied with the outcome, 38 percent of victims reported they were not satisfied with the outcome and 23 percent were uncertain whether they were satisfied with the outcome. In the 2001 evaluation, 47 percent of victims reported they felt satisfied with the outcome, 18 percent of victims reported they were not satisfied with the outcome and 21 percent were uncertain whether they were satisfied with the outcome. (Urbis Keys Young 2001);
  • 54 percent of victims felt they were a part of the criminal justice system decision-making process; and
  • 40 percent of victims agreed or strongly agreed that the prosecution case was well prepared (36% in 2001); 20 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed (29% in 2001). The views of these domestic violence victims across all offence types are generally consistent with findings in another ACT survey of victims conducted by the VoCC in 2007. In that survey, the majority of victims identified that they were fairly treated by police and a significant majority were also pleased with how they were treated by the prosecution (Holder 2008).

Victim profile

Gender

The files that were reviewed to obtain the telephone survey sample and case file audits reflected that approximately 80 percent of victims seeking support from DVCS are women who experienced family violence from a male partner.

In order to obtain the desired 40 completed telephone surveys, a total of 127 files were reviewed. One hundred and two files (80%) fit the inclusion criteria of adult female victim, with adult male partner as the accused. It is from these files that the survey sample of 40 was obtained. Of the remaining 25 files extracted for the telephone survey sample:

  • nine files indicated the incident was female to male violence;
  • three cases were female to female violence;
  • one matter was brother to sister violence;
  • one matter was adult male to father-in-law violence;
  • one matter was male parent to child violence; and
  • 10 cases were adult son to parent violence.

In the case file audit sample, six male victims were identified, representing 18 percent of the sample.

Age

Of the women who participated in the telephone survey, the majority were over 25 years of age, of Anglo–Australian background, had children and were residing with the offender at the time of the incident.

Figure 28 provides a breakdown by age category from the telephone surveys and case file audits. Forty-five percent of the women surveyed were between 35 and 44 years at the time of the incident. Their average age was 35 years. Of the case file audits where age was known, 22 percent of victims fell within this age range and their average age was 36 years.

Figure 28: Distribution of survey and audit identified victims by age in years (n)

Figure 28

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey, case file audit

Culturally and linguistically diverse background

Of the total survey and audit sample, 19 percent of victims identified as having a CALD background (7 persons from each sample). Their backgrounds included one male and one female Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, one Russian male, two Italian women and nine women who identified as African (country not stated), Burmese, Chinese, Fijian, Finnish, Indian, Samoan, Thai or Vietnamese.

Having a CALD background may impact on a person’s ability to fully participate in the criminal justice system response, either because of a culturally based reluctance to proceed with charges or communication difficulties arising from a non-English speaking background. One of the survey respondents effectively communicated to the interviewer that her statement, as recorded by the police, contained many inaccuracies due to language barriers and that both she and her partner would have benefitted from an interpreter service. In another case, the woman indicated that for cultural reasons she did not want to progress with criminal charges. This woman stated that the arrest, charge and prosecution of her partner would ‘ruin’ the family reputation.

Caring responsibilities and Care and Protection Services contact

Seventy-five percent of the survey respondents stated they had primary care responsibilities for a child at the time of the family violence incident. One woman reported that she had already had her children removed from her care as a result of previous incidents of family violence. Surveyed women were specifically asked about their contact with Care and Protection Services (CPS). The case files were also examined to explore current and prior CPS involvement. Figure 29 reflects CPS involvement with these families. Contact with CPS is identified as:

  • current, where contact from CPS occurred at the time of the incident;
  • previous, where contact had occurred prior to the incident;
  • both, where prior and ongoing CPS contact was made;
  • neither, where no contact from CPS was indicated;
  • previous only, where contact was only indicated at some stage before the incident in question; and
  • current only, where CPS contact was made only at the time of the incident and no evidence is available to demonstrate any prior contact.

Approximately equivalent percentages of survey participants and file audit clients experienced CPS contact at the time of the incident, only at the time of the incident or both at the time of and prior to the incident. Forty percent of the survey respondents and 18 percent of audit clients had experienced previous contact from CPS and 35 percent of survey respondents and 42 percent of audit client files did not indicate contact with CPS. When the two samples are combined, 19 percent of the clients are recorded as having contact with CPS both at the time of the incident and prior to the incident.

Figure 29: Care and Protection Services contact by sample participants (n)

Figure 29

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey, case file audit

Relationship status

The survey was undertaken with the victims of family violence incidents that occurred between current or former intimate partners. The case file audit represented other relationships between victims and offenders; however, the majority (57%) of incidents took place within the context of an intimate partner relationship. Two of the case file audit sample were women who had participated in the telephone survey but whose surveys were excluded from the sample because the incident did not fit the inclusion criteria. In each of these cases, although another person was the principal victim of the family violence, the women indicated that the other person had ‘gotten in the way’ and that they were the actual primary target. Figure 30 depicts the relationship status between victims and offenders from the survey and case file audit results.

Figure 30: Relationship between victims and offenders by gender and sample participant (n)

Figure 30

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey, case file audit

Table 26 represents the relationship between the survey respondents at the time of the incident and at the time the survey was conducted. The majority of respondents were in a current relationship at the time of the incident (57%) and of these, 52 percent maintain these relationships. In one case, partners who were separated at the time of incident have since reconciled.

Table 26: Relationship status at time of incident and survey
At time of incident At time of survey
n % n %
Spouse 19 47.5 Spouse 8 42
Ex-spouse 4 21
Separated 7 37
Ex spouse 3 7.5 Ex-spouse 3 100
Boy/girlfriend 4 10.0 Boy/girlfriend 4 100
Ex boy/girlfriend 2 5.0 Ex-boy/girlfriend 2 100
Separated 12 30.0 Spouse 1 8
Ex-partner 5 42
separated 6 50

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

Figure 31: Location of incidents (n)

Figure 31

n=40

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

Other matters

Victims were asked to identify if they had other matters before a court around the time of the family violence incident. Of the 39 women who responded to this question, three stated they had family court matters being heard (divorce and/or custody) and one identified a personal criminal matter (driving while intoxicated).

Child and young person victims

Children and young people may be the primary victims of family violence or the unintended secondary victims. Sixty-three percent of the women surveyed identified that children were either present at the time of the incident as witnesses, or were in close proximity. Research indicates that children and young people are affected by family violence even if they have not actually seen the abuse or violence (Humphreys, Houghton & Ellis 2008).

Incident profile

Incident location

The majority of survey respondents (70%) identified that incidents took place in either a home shared with the offender or their own home. Of the 20 percent of incidents that did not take place in a home, 63 percent reportedly took place in a vehicle or car park.

Injury and property damage

Survey respondents were asked about the nature of the injuries they sustained during the incident of family violence. Twenty-five percent of respondents stated they did not sustain any injury. Of the remaining 75 percent, no respondent identified a sexual assault, although three respondents said ‘not this time’. Seventy-three percent of these respondents identified multiple injuries (see Table 27).

Table 27: Injuries sustained by victims
n %
Bruising or abrasions 23 77
Cuts or lacerations 11 37
Redness/swelling 21 70
Concussed 3 10
Broken bone/fracture 4 13
Hair pulled out 7 23
Some other type of injury 7 23
Not injured 10 25

n=40

Note: This question allowed the participant to select more than 1 category

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

As in the previous Urbis Keys Young evaluation (2001), the most common injury type was bruising or abrasions, followed by redness/swelling and cuts or lacerations. Women who identified some other type of injury described these injuries as carpet burn, shock, being grabbed and shoved, being punched in the stomach while pregnant, having a knife held to their throat, having a previous back injury exacerbated and being strangled unconscious, receiving cigarette burns and being made to go to the toilet on the floor.

Figure 32 depicts the proportion of incidents where substantial, minor and no property damage was reported. Property damage was reported in 63 percent of incidents. The previous Urbis Keys Young (2001) evaluation found 49 percent of victims reported property damage. This reflects a 28 percent increase in reported property damage. In the Urbis Keys Young (2001) evaluation, most of the property damage was reported as minor (33% versus 15% substantial). In the current survey, more property damage was reported to be substantial.

Survey respondents were also asked to identify whether there were any injuries sustained by or threats made to pets. Sixty percent of respondents identified that they did not have a pet and 40 percent that their pet was not present at the time of the incident. Three respondents commented that they used to have a dog and that the presence of the dog had offered them some protection in the past.

Figure 32: Reported property damage

Figure 32

n=40

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

Reporting to police

Victims reported the incidents to police in 63 percent of the matters. Figure 33 depicts the number, by source, of incident reports made to the police. Witness reporters of the incident included two children of the victim, a neighbour, one other family member, an off-duty police officer and two persons not known to either the victim of accused. Persons who did not witness the incident but made the report to police were informed of the incident by the victim and in most circumstances were asked by the victim to report the incident on her behalf. These persons included two neighbours, four family members or friends and two people from whom the victim sought assistance who resided near to where the incident took place.

Figure 33: Incident by who reported it (n)

Figure 33

n=40

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

Figure 34: Protection orders taken out (n)

Figure 34

n=40

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

At the time of the incident, eight women reported that they had a protection order in place, three of whom reported that they, or the police, also took one out as a result of the incident. Approximately equal numbers of women reported that they had never taken out a protection order (n=15) or that they did not apply for an order as a result of the incident (n=17). Survey respondents were not asked to provide a reason for their decision to pursue or not pursue protection orders. Some women advised the interviewer that the offender’s bail conditions were sufficient for protection.

Experiences of the criminal justice system

Police attendance and initial intervention

Victims were asked to qualify how they felt about their contact with the police at the time of the incident (see Table 28).

  • 85 percent (n=34) strongly agreed or agreed that the police investigated the incident thoroughly;
  • 90 percent (n=36) agreed or strongly agreed that the police were sympathetic and supportive of them at the time of the incident;
  • 25 percent (n=10) felt the police left the decision to charge the offender up to them;
  • 60 percent (n=24) agreed or strongly agreed that they felt reasonably safe as a result of the police intervention; and
  • 68 percent (n=27) were unsure what was going to happen next with the case.

The 2001 Urbis Keys Young (2001) evaluation also asked this series of questions (although with slightly different wording). The above results are similar to those found in the 2001. Overall, the current survey results demonstrate improvement against each of these questions.

  • 71 percent strongly agreed or agreed that the police investigated the incident thoroughly;
  • 82 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the police were sympathetic and supportive of them at the time of the incident;
  • 38 percent felt the police left the decision to charge the offender up to them;
  • 71 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they felt reasonably safe as a result of the police intervention; and
  • 49 percent were unsure what was going to happen next with the case.
Table 28: Victim perceptions of police responsea
Statement Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree Don’t know
n % n % n % n % n %
The police investigated the incident thoroughly 18 45 16 40 3 8 1 3 2 5
The police were sympathetic and supportive of me at the time of the incident 23 58 13 33 2 5 0 0 2 5
The police seemed to leave it up to me as to whether or not charges were laid 0 0 10 25 14 35 12 30 4 10
I felt reasonably safe once the police left as a result of their attendance/intervention 12 30 12 30 7 18 8 20 1 3
After the police left I was unsure what was going to happen next with the case 10 25 17 43 10 25 1 3 2 5

a: Row percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

n=40

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey

Victims’ feelings of safety

The reasons victims provided for feeling reasonably safe as a result of the police’s attendance or intervention varied. Six women did not respond to this question. Of the remaining 34 women, six provided multiple responses.

Twenty-four respondents (60%) either strongly agreed or agreed that they felt safer as a result of the police’s intervention at the time of the incident. Three of these respondents did not provide an explanation for their feelings of safety. Fifteen of these respondents (63%) cited their feeling of safety as arising from the fact that the offender was taken away. One respondent stated she felt it was a ‘one off thing that I never thought would happen again’. Other responses described the police as helpful by taking out protection orders, providing information on services and providing protection. One respondent stated that these measures provided her ‘peace of mind’:

They [the police] had taken ownership of the situation...so concerned about me, they were so thorough... all of them cared about me. I was given numbers to call people. They wanted me to be safe and I felt safe.

Fifteen respondents (38%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed that they felt safer as a result of the attendance or intervention of police. One woman stated that her feeling of safety had ‘nothing to do with the police’ as her partner had ‘taken off’. She therefore felt safer, but did not attribute her feeling of safety to anything the police had done. In one circumstance, the respondent felt there was no issue. This person felt that she was safe regardless of the police attendance since the situation had been a misunderstanding; she described the situation as a family argument.

Twenty-two women (65%) attributed their feeling of safety, whether positively or negatively, to whether the offender had been taken into custody or removed from the scene. Fifteen of these women (44%) either strongly agreed or agreed that they felt reasonably safe and seven of the women (21%) expressed disagreement or strong disagreement that they felt safer as a result of the police attendance or intervention.

Offenders were generally not taken into custody because they were not at the scene when the police attended. One woman stated that although the police didn’t find the offender that night, she strongly agreed with feeing safe because the police kept her informed and he (the offender) didn’t know where she was. For seven women, the level of uncertainty over where the offender was or what they would do when they returned caused distress. In these seven circumstances, the woman identified not feeling safe because:

  • she was not informed, until the following day that the offender had been arrested;
  • she had to go home and her ‘ex will follow’;
  • the arrest did not take place until the following day;
  • the offender had fled the scene but is perceived to be ‘always not far away’;
  • the offender was ‘playing games with me—saying all this stuff about me—said I made it up’;
  • the offender was released from custody after ‘only’ two days and the respondent was ‘unsure how he would respond to me’; and
  • the victim continued to receive threats (via text messages) while the police were in attendance.

One of these women stated ‘they didn’t have him, I was alone’.

Satisfaction with police handling of the case

The majority of survey respondents (83%) reported that they were either very or fairly satisfied with the way the police handled the case at the time of the incident. The same question asked in the Urbis Keys Young 2001 survey yielded a 74 percent positive response rate. Table 29 reflects the overall satisfaction of survey respondents to the police handling of the case.

Table 29: Victim satisfaction with police handling of the case at the time of the incidenta
n %
Very satisfied 15 38
Fairly satisfied 18 45
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied 3 8
Fairly dissatisfied 1 3
Very dissatisfied 3 8

a: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC Experience of family violence survey (n=40)

Women who were satisfied

Respondents who were very or fairly satisfied with the police handling of the case attributed overall satisfaction with the police to the information, support and assistance they received, or the thoroughness of the police response.

Information

One woman stated she was kept informed and provided with advice. Others said:

[the police were] fantastic the whole way. [I] knew exactly what was going to happen.

police [were] really good, they came to [my] house, took a statement, rang me when they’d picked him up and explained [the] bail conditions.

from beginning to end the police rang to check on me...were very kind on the night it happened...[I] never felt like I wasn’t being listened to...[the police] took care of my needs the whole time.

the way they kept me informed, checked I was ok.

Support and assistance

One woman stated she received help from the police in accessing other services including a doctor and refuge. Another woman said the police were very good with follow-up and supportive of her children who had been frightened by the experience.

One woman stated that she’d had a ‘pretty poor experience’ in the past but that this time ‘[the police] dealt with it very well’. She described the officer who took her statement as ‘sympathetic, not rushed, very compassionate and ‘put in what I said’ [in the statement].

Others said:

they were sympathetic, provided support—connected to DVCS...listened to me.

think they displayed an appropriate level of care—approached us carefully/calmly, quietly, respect and right amount of sympathy—absolutely perfect.

Thoroughness

One woman cited a specific officer by name stating she was very satisfied because he ‘was brilliant, knew the steps and stages and dealt with it’. Others said:

I just think they were so well trained and very thorough.

They didn’t stop until they got him and responded quickly.

They did all they could.

Some respondents who were fairly satisfied with the police were critical of some aspects of the way they handled the case. These women reflected that:

  • although the police demonstrated concern for her, they did not tell her the offender would be at court and she was very frightened, went by herself and he ‘came at’ her.
  • the police frightened her child and she felt they could have been more sympathetic, although she acknowledged they were sympathetic and supportive of her.
  • one woman felt there were investigative procedures that should have occurred but still felt fairly satisfied overall.
  • one woman said the police were sympathetic but ‘pushy’ as they wanted to take her statement that day. She felt she needed time to ‘calm down’ first.

Women who were dissatisfied

Four women identified that they were fairly or very dissatisfied with the way police handled the case at the time of the incident. For women who were satisfied with the police, information and sympathetic and supportive behaviour were important. Women who were dissatisfied cited a lack of information and unsympathetic and unsupportive police behaviour as reasons for their dissatisfaction. The length of time taken to resolve matters was also cited as a reason for lack of satisfaction.

Lack of information

One woman stated she wanted to know the offender’s bail conditions but was informed that she couldn’t be told.

One woman stated the police had informed her that they would notify her of the court outcome but they failed to do so. She stated that this information came instead from her partner’s parole officer.

Unsympathetic or unsupportive behaviour

[The police] spoke badly to me—didn’t help...the police said they couldn’t prove he’d [the offender] done it.

One woman said she felt the police wanted to ‘get out’ and ‘not bother’. She felt hurried and that she was not being listened to. Another woman felt the police did not listen to her; however, this was because they would not acknowledge that there was no issue or assault. She was upset and felt that mistakes were made in the police report and that an interpreter should have been present for her statement.

Length of time

...took a long time to get onto the police to go and give a statement...thought the police had forgotten about it. [I] was ‘freaking out that nothing would happen [and the offender] would get away with it.

...it took two years to get him and to serve protection order papers.

One woman also said:

in that situation you don’t want the police there, but they have to be there. [It’s] not a situation you are thinking if the police are good or not.

Charges

Victims reported a range of charges being laid against offenders (see Table 30). Thirty-five percent of survey respondents identified multiple charges. Seventy-eight percent of victims reported charges of assault, 38 percent identified property damage charges and 13 percent identified breaches of protection orders.

Table 30: Victim reports of charges laid
n %
Common assault 22 55
Assault occasioning actual bodily harm 7 18
Some other form of assault 2 5
Damage to property 15 38
Breach of protection order 5 13
Other chargesa 5 13

a: Other charges were reported as 3x possess weapon (knife), 1x drunk and disorderly/obstruct police and 1x original charge of attempted murder subsequently reduced to assault occasioning actual bodily harm

n=40

Note: This question allowed the participant to select more than 1 category

Source: AIC Experience of Family Violence Survey. Multiple response question

The majority of victims (63%) reported that they did not, at any time, try to have the charges dropped. This finding is lower than that of the 2001 Urbis Keys Young evaluation where 74 percent of respondents said they had never indicated to police, the prosecution or the court that they wanted the charges dropped. Almost half (48%) of the women surveyed for the current review cited the need for the offender to understand that his actions were unacceptable or to be held accountable as the reason for not wanting to drop the charges. Six respondents (24%) remarked ‘enough was enough’ and five (20%) stated that they didn’t try to have the charges dropped because they knew they could not.

Fifteen women (38%) identified that they tried to have the charges dropped, although their reasons varied considerably. Six respondents noted that there was either pressure from the offender to drop the charges or guilt over bringing the matter to the attention of the police (including not wanting the offender to get a criminal record). Two women noted that the offender ‘needed help’ and two other women stated that other matters (custody and divorce matters) would be easier if criminal matters were not pursued. One woman stated ‘I just wanted it all to stop’.

Previous and subsequent charges

Approximately half of the women (48%) stated that the incident in question was the first and only time charges had been laid against the offender for family violence. The previous Keys Young (2000) evaluation recorded 67 percent of cases as being the first time charges were laid against the offenders. This, however, does not mean that this was the first time these women had experienced family violence.

As an indicator of previous involvement in family violence, survey respondents were asked to identify how they first came to be clients of DVCS. Twenty-four women (60%) identified that they were already DVCS clients at the time of the current incident.

Figure 35 reflects survey respondent statements as to whether prior and/or subsequent charges in relation to family violence had been laid.

  • five women (1%) identified previous charges;
  • nine women (23%) identified charges subsequent to the matter discussed in this survey; and
  • six women (2%) identified both prior and subsequent charges.

Prosecution phase

One-quarter of survey respondents were unsure what the accused person’s plea was in relation to the family violence charges against them. The majority of respondents identified that a plea of guilt was entered (60%) and that these pleas occurred at various stages of the court process. The Keys Young (2000) survey identified that 43 percent of matters were resolved by early pleas of guilt at the first or second court appearance. This apparent shift to later pleas of guilt may be a result of increased complexity in family violence matters and more defendants exercising their right to a committal to the Supreme Court as indicated in the 2007–08 annual report of the ODPP (ODPP 2008).

Victim satisfaction with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions

Table 32 reflects survey responses relating to satisfaction with the ODPP. The amount of contact victims have with the prosecution will depend on when the plea of guilt was entered. The earlier the plea, the more limited the contact with the prosecution, as there would be limited victim involvement in the court case. Twenty-six respondents stated that they had contact with the ODPP prior to the court case being finalised. Of these, 20 women (77%) stated they were very satisfied or fairly satisfied with the contact. Few respondents articulated reasons for their responses. This lack of response, particularly in contrast to similar questions asked about ACT Policing and DVCS, may be attributable to the survey design. Survey respondents were not asked as a separate question why they were or were not satisfied with the contact they had with the prosecution. Women who did offer an explanation did so voluntarily at the time they were asked to qualify their experience of the contact. Those who did provide contextual information stated that the ODPP:

always returned calls promptly and answered perfectly.

were wonderful, they were right and I was wrong. I was trying to have the charges dropped—didn’t want to deal with it.

[were] ‘flippant’ about dropping the charges.

didn’t have the experience or sensitivity that police did. The issue was I was just a witness. I couldn’t have character witnesses but he could. I was disgusted with my lack of rights and how protected he was.

Unfortunately, only 17 women responded to this question in the 2001 Urbis Keys Young evaluation. The authors of that report did not comment on their results because the number of responses was too low to warrant interpretation.

Table 33 reflects survey responses relating to victims’ experience of the prosecution process. Survey respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements about the prosecution process. The majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements:

  • I felt satisfied with the contact I had with the police in the period leading up to the court case (63%);
  • I felt satisfied with the contact I had with DVCS in the period leading up to the court case (78%); and
  • I felt satisfied with the amount of notice I was given about the date and time the case was going to court (79%).

Survey respondents were also asked if they went to court and if they did, if they testified. Thirty-nine women responded to this question. Seventeen (44%) stated they went to court and nine of these women (53%) testified. Given that only 17 women went to court, it is somewhat surprising that 20 women were able to respond to the statement I felt well prepared for giving evidence in court. For some of these women, however, the decision or need to go to court may not have been decided until late in the process and therefore, some case preparation may have occurred. In addition, 37 women responded to There was a lot about the court proceedings I didn’t understand, although only 17 women stated they had been to court. These somewhat contradictory responses may have been in relation to the process as they understood it, as it was explained to them or as they experienced it.

Similar questions, with similar results, were asked in the 2001 Urbis Keys Young evaluation. However, the Likert scale used in the that study included a ‘hard to say’ category rather than ‘neither agree nor disagree’ and did not include ‘not applicable’. Thirty-six percent of Urbis Keys Young and 40 percent of current respondents identified that the prosecution case was well-prepared. In the Urbis Keys Young study, the statement was phrased as poorly prepared, therefore, the 36 percent represents persons answering disagree or strongly disagree to the statement.

  • 55 percent of Urbis Keys Young and 51 percent of current respondents identified that they had plenty of opportunity to ask questions about what might happen in court.
  • 48 percent of Urbis Keys Young and 46 percent of current respondents identified that there was a lot about the court proceedings they didn’t understand.

There were also differences in the current and previous survey responses:

  • 54 percent of Urbis Keys Young and 79 percent of current respondents identified that they were satisfied with the amount of notice they received about the date and time the case was going to court.
  • 40 percent of Urbis Keys Young and 23 percent of current respondents identified that they felt well-prepared for giving evidence. It is difficult, however, to draw any conclusions from this result because as noted above, the majority of respondents to the current survey did not go to court.

It is difficult to draw any conclusions from the victims’ assessments of satisfaction with the prosecution case preparation, ability to understand proceedings, and any differences between the current and previous survey results. This is because, as noted above, many of these respondents did not attend court. Of the 17 women who stated they went to court, only two strongly agreed and five agreed that they did not fully understand the proceedings. That means that 11 women who did not attend court accounted for the remaining responses for those preferences. This may be a relevant result as there should be an expectation that whether they attend court or not, they will understand the procedures. However, it may be that the question was intended to ascertain what their experience was during a court session in order to determine if the justice professionals were including the victim in the process. The difficulty in assessing the responses to these questions suggests that great care must be taken when developing survey instruments.

According to survey respondents, the majority of cases (54%) resulted in a conviction and three percent resulted in a finding of not guilty. Twenty-three percent of the respondents identified that some of the charges were dropped. These charges may be represented in the outcomes recorded as convictions. Eighteen percent of the women did not know what the outcome was. These figures are reflected in Table 34.

Approximately equal numbers of respondents reported that they were or were not given the opportunity to prepare a Victim Impact Statement (n=19 and 18 respectively). Three victims were not sure. Victims of crime only have the right to submit a Victim Impact Statement to the court if the defendant is convicted of an offence where the maximum penalty is a term of imprisonment of five years or more.

Satisfaction with the case outcome was mixed. The main reason cited for satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the case outcome was the perception of whether the sentence was appropriate. Of those who were satisfied, nine women (69%) felt the sentence held the offender accountable. Two of these nine women stated the offender got the help they needed. Of the remaining four women, one stated there was no issue and she was pleased that the charges were dropped and three women stated they were satisfied because ‘nothing bad’ happened to the offender.

Of those who were dissatisfied, nine women (60%) stated that the sentence was too lenient, one was displeased with charges being dropped and another woman believed the offender ‘hasn’t learnt his lesson’. The remaining responses centred on the perception that part of the system was unresponsive, whether it be the magistrate or the prosecution. Two women stated they felt there should be an alternative to the criminal justice system and one woman was unsatisfied because the process took too long.

Satisfaction with the case outcome did not appear to be related to either satisfaction with the police or the prosecution. Of the 13 survey respondents who were satisfied with the outcome, 11 had also stated they were satisfied with the police and either had been satisfied with, or had no contact with, the prosecution. Of the 15 women who were not satisfied with the case outcome, 10 also stated they were satisfied with the police and 12 had either been satisfied with, or had no contact with, the prosecution. In the previous Urbis Keys Young evaluation, a greater percentage of victims were satisfied with the case outcome (47%), but it is not known whether this was linked to the sentence received or conduct of criminal justice professionals.

Feeling part of the criminal justice system process

Victims were asked to identify if they felt a part of the criminal justice decision-making process. The majority of respondents (54%) stated that they did not, while 44 percent stated that they did and one respondent was unsure.

The victims’ reported reasons for feeling or not feeling like they were a part of the decision-making process were varied, but can be broadly characterised by the level of input they felt they had and the level of communication between them and the criminal justice system agencies. The women’s remarks demonstrate the varied experiences they had with the system.

Women who felt part of the criminal justice system decision-making process

I knew they [the prosecution and police] were influenced by me and what I asked.

I was able to give evidence, part of the whole thing.

The police asked me what I wanted.

I got into it.

I had access to the DVO unit at court.

Police listened but did what they had to, regardless of me.

Prosecution consulted me.

The police and prosecution rang regularly [updated on progress].

ODPP spoke to me about the process and they listened to me.

The prosecutor did take me aside and told me it [the case] was going to be thrown out.

Had meetings, constantly phoned me, asked if I was satisfied with the information they were putting to the court.

There is so much going on. All too much when you’re scared and got kids.

Women who did not feel a part of the criminal justice system decision-making process

I didn’t have any say.

I had no say in any of it.

They’ll ask you but in the end your opinion doesn’t mean much—they are all higher than you, lawyers etc that’s the way it is—how life works.

If someone had gone through his evidence with me it may have been a different outcome.

No one talked to me. They haven’t got him yet.

I felt very weak after [the] incident trying to work, raise a child, a lot to take in. I shouldn’t have had to get [an] AVO, should be automatic on release [from prison]. If victim is too terrified to give evidence, past history should be allowed to be used as evidence. Feel if [I] was stronger at the time, maybe he’d still be in jail. [The] system doesn’t realise how powerful men can be over women, what fear there is, finding time for counselling etc. System [is] too complicated...terrifying experience, my son [was] traumatised, [I’m] angry...never goes away.

They didn’t listen to me—it was a family argument. My husband wasn’t given the opportunity for an interpreter...he was frightened by the police.

Felt like everything, after charges were laid, I felt forgotten about.

I should’ve been spoken to by his lawyer about what really took place. I was not prepared or given enough information.

Not regarding the handing down of justice— no justice, he just got a slap on the wrist.

I was not really wanting to engage—was downplaying it all. I should’ve been stronger but I was scared.

Sent letter with a date—that was it.

It got taken out of my hands...once he’d admitted it he was charged regardless of me.

It wasn’t discussed with me by any of the services.

Not really—didn’t want to engage, wanted it out of my life.

They never gave me a real opportunity to do anything.

If they’d asked me I would have said throw the book at him. He was mentally and emotionally controlling me and nobody would hear me.

Didn’t get asked about anything.

Contact from ACT Corrective Services

The majority of respondents (69%) stated they did not have contact from ACTCS following the finalisation of the case. Only nine women identified that they had any contact. During the 2007–08 financial year, ACTCS supervised all persons on community-based orders and periodic detention. The FVSC Program was only undertaken with offenders on a GBO, bail order or parole order.

Figure 36 represents offender sentence outcomes based on the statements of survey respondents and DVCS case file records. Those persons sentenced to terms of imprisonment would have been supervised by the NSW Department of Corrections. Persons receiving a suspended sentence would also have received a GBO. Therefore, 21 offenders (53%) received a supervised or unsupervised GBO, eight (20%) received a monetary penalty, four (10%) received a term of imprisonment, three (8%) received periodic detention, three (8%) were found not guilty and one case outcome was unknown. The DVCS files further indicate that in nine circumstances, the offender was ordered to attend a counselling or rehabilitation program.

The types of contact from ACTCS reported by victims varied. Five women described the contact as related to the program their partner was undertaking. Two women stated they were contacted, by letter, in relation to the ACT Victims register. Two other women stated they received a telephone call in relation to the outcome.

Of the nine women who received contact from ACTCS, eight identified that they were happy with the contact and did not require more. One stated she would have appreciated the person who called to have been more supportive and another stated the information provided was not useful. Two women stated they were pleased to have been kept informed. One woman was glad she was given the opportunity to clarify what the offender said he was doing at the program. Two women said they were pleased with the worker who called and felt that person was supportive.

Involvement with support services at the time of the incident

Twenty-five (63%) of the 40 survey respondents identified that they had been a DVCS client prior to the family violence incident. At the time of the incident, 37 of the 40 cases (93%) were referred to DVCS by the police. In the other three cases, the referral came from the victim.

In the previous Urbis Keys Young evaluation (2001), 20 percent of respondents stated they did not have any contact with support services. Of those who did, 56 percent saw a counsellor, 54 percent had contact with DVCS, 18 percent had a court support worker and five percent used the services of a refuge.

Seven women (18%, n=39) from the current survey identified that they had been involved with other support services at the time of the family violence incident. Two of these women identified that they were involved with multiple services and five identified one service. Services identified included VS ACT, OCYFS, Communities at Work, a women’s refuge, ACT Mental Health, Bright Future and a private psychologist.

Respondents identified the following assistance as most beneficial from the support services:

  • counselling;
  • accommodation support;
  • provision of food vouchers;
  • rent assistance; and
  • maintenance of contact.

Ten respondents identified other support services they would have liked to have received. These included:

  • supported housing;
  • legal and police process information;
  • financial assistance; and
  • easier processes of committal for people at risk of harm to self or others.

Contact with Domestic Violence Crisis Service

Thirty-nine respondents answered questions in relation to their contact with DVCS. Thirty-five women (88%) stated it was either very or fairly easy to access DVCS. No respondents reported any difficulty accessing DVCS, although two victims stated they could not remember if they had accessed the service.

Survey respondents were asked to report the ways DVCS was helpful. There were multiple responses to this question. The greatest proportion of responses (46%) focused on the communication received from DVCS; that DVCS made contact and listened. Twenty-six percent of respondents cited general support provided by DVCS (which included making contact and providing information) and 36 percent stated that onward referrals and outlining available options was most helpful. One woman stated that DVCS did not offer the type of support she wanted. She felt a need for a ‘middle ground’ response to the incident.

Survey respondents were also asked what other support they would have liked to have received from DVCS. Twenty-four (62%) respondents stated there was nothing else they would have wanted. Nine (23%) did not respond to this question. The remaining respondents identified a desire for accommodation support, assistance with interstate protection orders, provision of home security assessments, more follow-up and counselling services.

Survey respondents were asked to qualify their level of satisfaction against each of the services DVCS provides. For each service experienced, the majority of respondents were very or fairly satisfied. Some services were not experienced by all clients. Table 36 depicts their responses.

Survey respondents were asked how easy it was for them to go through the criminal justice process in relation to the family violence incident. One-third (33%) of respondents reported that it was fairly or very easy, 13 percent reported that it was neither easy nor difficult and 54 percent stated that it was either fairly or very difficult. Victims were also asked how easy it would have been without the support of DVCS. All of the respondents who said it was either fairly or very easy reported that it would have been fairly or very difficult without DVCS. No respondents felt it would have been a fairly or very easy process without the support of DVCS. The responses indicate that 51 percent of respondents felt that support from DVCS improved the ease of their experience with the criminal justice system process. These responses are reflected in Table 37.

Aftermath

Thirty-nine survey respondents were asked a series of questions about the aftermath of the case. Respondents were asked if, following the court case, they were able to move on with their lives. Twenty-three women (59%) stated that they were able to move on with their lives, 12 (31%) that they were not and four (10%) were uncertain. Respondents were also asked what assisted them the most to move on with their lives. Twenty-nine persons responded to this question with multiple responses. Their responses were categorised and are presented in Table 38. Support from family, friends and services was reported as being of the most assistance in moving on after the family violence incident.

Survey respondents were asked what might have made a difference to them being able to move on with their lives. Twenty-eight women provided responses to this question, four of whom provided multiple responses. With the exception of three women who raised an issue in relation to their incident not being taken seriously enough by the criminal justice system and three others who stated they wanted financial assistance, the responses were substantially different. Responses identified a range of unmet needs and expectations. These responses have been categorised as issues relating to criminal justice system delivery, support service delivery or issues between the offender and the victim. The range of responses is identified under these broad categories below.

Criminal justice system delivery:

  • better service from the ODPP;
  • ensuring the offender is made to feel responsible;
  • providing safety for the victim;
  • not pursuing the process (it was described as harmful and this person identified that it was the criminal justice system process that hurt her not the family violence incident);
  • quicker criminal justice system response; and
  • written information being provided on the outcome.

Support services delivery:

  • financial support;
  • peer support for the offender;
  • peer support for the victim; and
  • providing active referrals not just contact details.

About the offender and the victim:

  • cessation of alcohol abuse;
  • offender to leave victim alone;
  • victim to leave the offender earlier; and
  • victim to have never met the offender.

Victims were asked how likely they would be to call the police for assistance, be involved in another prosecution or have contact with DVCS if they were hurt or assaulted in a family violence situation in the future (see Table 39). Nineteen respondents (49%) identified that they would definitely be involved with all three service providers, if necessary, in the future. Five respondents (13%) stated they would either probably or definitely be involved with the three service providers in the future. One person was uncertain about future involvement with all of the services. The remaining 14 respondents (36%) stated they would probably call for police assistance but either didn’t know or definitely wouldn’t be involved in another prosecution and/or have contact with DVCS.

Survey respondents were asked if they had been re-assaulted and if they had contacted police. Twelve respondents (31%) identified that they had been re-assaulted and a further five (13%) stated that the offender had breached a protection order. All five of these latter women contacted police. Of the 12 who had been re-assaulted, five did not report it to the police. These five women had answered that they definitely or probably would report to the police, as outlined in Table 37. The reasons for not reporting to police varied. One woman stated she was too confused or upset at the time. Another stated she told someone else instead. One reported that there was nothing the police could do and two cited other reasons involving cultural issues.

Finally, the women were asked what made the biggest difference to them as they went through the criminal justice process and whether they had any other comments they would like to make. Six women identified that there was nothing specific that had made the biggest difference to them. The responses from the remaining 32 women who responded to this question suggest that being and feeling supported and assisted made the biggest difference to them.

Twenty-four women (75%) identified a specific support service, person, agency or process as having a positive influence on their experience with the criminal justice process. Some women provided multiple responses. All of their comments are recorded below:

About support or assistance generally

Having someone in court with me—not being alone.

Well everything was good yeah, yeah, felt a bit sad.

Support from services/everybody very good.

Family.

Had so many people calling me to see how I was going—even the police officer called me.

[The] level of support was almost overwhelming, but necessary.

Knowing that people understood my situation, moral support, phone calls, updates they cared. [What] was really important was to be told the steps in the process.

To be a normal family in an extraordinary situation.

Services that were available. I was really amazed that they existed for me and my kids.

Family, friends and kids.

What helped was being able to make adjustments to the protection order.

Knowing what my rights are.

About Domestic Violence Crisis Service

DVCS ladies and men...they were great and I constantly felt cared for.

DVCS really supported me.

DVCS absolutely—having them there on the night, 12:30 am, they were there every step of the way. You could ring day or night and someone would pick up the phone, help, support and encourage you to make decisions.

DVCS—if not for them, it’s a cold horrible environment.

DVCS people did the nicest thing [support for a DVO application] and the worst thing [contacted CPS].

That I came in contact with DVCS—that in the future they will help me.

The DVCS people were very supportive.

About support from other providers

Definitely DVCS and particularly [worker] from victim services. She never seemed like she was doing a job. I dealt with one person all the time. One downfall of DVCS was not having a set caseworker.

Help getting a job and accommodation.

Appreciated the dedication of the prosecutor—she was experienced.

DPP staff were great—striving for me all the time to the point they were able to get a variation of Bail to keep him out...while I packed up.

People from DVCS and DPP.

Information I did get from various places like the DPP and DVCS.

Really good support from police.

The police were fantastic. I knew it was all over when I called the police. I felt safe. I didn’t feel afraid of him—this enabled me to get away from the relationship.

Eight women (25%) identified either criminal justice process issues or problems they faced as having a negative impact on their experience. All of their comments are recorded below:

The justice system—as a woman who has put up with DV for 17 years, the criminal justice system hasn’t backed me up.

A more friendly neutral environment to get orders—privacy is an issue—appearing at court to get a DVO is frightening—even leaving with an interim order and not knowing if it has been served—not a nice place to spend the day.

ACT/NSW issues—no one could work together.

The fact that I had to run away and felt very isolated from all the decisions—my life was in limbo for 6 months.

The thing that would help me go through it again? I don’t think my husband got a fair deal that night—he was taken away.

Nothing good about it—my opinion is he has a life now and I still suffer—part of me is not sure I’d report it again—this will hurt me forever—no justice.

If the police had’ve picked him up/arrested him long ago.

I was hurt by this process, it was a family argument.

Final comments from survey respondents identified that some women were not prepared for the court process or found fault with it.

One thing that bothered me about going to court was he walked in right past me and I was terrified—that shouldn’t happen. I was afraid to testify.

With cross examination I didn’t think it would be so long and hard, very combative/adversarial.

When I finally stood up to him the system let me down very badly.

There is a strong need for an alternative intervention (not criminal justice process).

I healed from the incident, having to sit in the court and be taken apart by the defence lawyer—I had to get counselling. What they did to me damaged my life—another situation that compounds the trauma. The court experience/trauma still affects me—I didn’t have a lawyer represent me.

I don’t feel justice was served—you don’t just get over it.

Biggest thing about this whole thing was not being able to use history of his use of violence against me.

Other women pointed to the positive experiences they had:

Couldn’t have done anything without DVCS and outreach services.

DVCS excellent—couldn’t do enough to help.

Learnt a lot—am grateful I came out of this well—emotional damage will heal.

Put it all behind me—got him some help and it worked.

Three women used the opportunity for final comments to express a hope that ‘it never happens again’.

Discussion

Family violence affects a diverse range of persons in the Australian Capital Territory, as in other communities. The women who participated in the survey for this report shared a broad range of experiences and perceptions of the criminal justice system response to their case.

This survey attempted to explore how these women felt at various points throughout the criminal justice system process in order to ascertain where response failures and strengths occurred. The survey instrument design divided the experience of family violence into sections (initial incident, police response, prosecution, support services and aftermath), anticipating responses confined to experiences had within those sections. It is evident from the responses to the survey questions that for many, if not all of these women, compartmentalising their experiences into the prescribed format of the survey questionnaire was difficult. The responses seem to indicate that the entire experience of family violence is remembered and reflected upon as a whole. This includes all of the experiences leading up to the incident, the criminal justice system response and the effect of the experience on their lives.

In some circumstances, the responses to questions seemed to indicate that the view being expressed related to the overall experience and not necessarily to the experience when it actually took place. In these cases, the timeframes and events appeared to be blurred. This was evident in a number of responses. For example, where women expressed opinions about the court process and yet had also stated they did not go to court. They may have been referring to conversations they had held with the prosecution about the court process or may have been answering on the basis of the outcome of the court process.

Given the stressful and traumatic nature of family violence, it is not surprising that victims of family violence reflect upon their experience with system responses and agents as a whole. It does, however, make it difficult to ascertain what needs to happen operationally at various points along the system response to improve the victim’s experience, lessen their anxiety or sustain the positive assistance they are receiving.

Information or a lack of information was also critically important to the majority of these women’s experiences. There appears to be a lack of coordination between agencies as to who informs the victim about particular processes and when they are occurring. Many of the women who commented on the lack of information provided to them had also indicated that they had wanted the charges dropped or were dissatisfied with the process. This leaves the impression that once they disengage from the process their entitlement to information is withdrawn.

A number of women commented upon the failure of the system to respond as they would have liked. Some felt let down by the system; others felt the process was too difficult or expected different outcomes. Not understanding the roles of and processes undertaken by agents in the criminal justice system response appeared to have caused some survey respondents distress. From this survey, there is no way of knowing if information was clearly conveyed to the survey respondents, but their responses indicate that information was either not given or not understood. For example, one woman was highly dissatisfied with the criminal justice system response to her case and frequently mentioned that she felt the offender’s past history should have been admissible in court. This woman also indicated that the offender had not had charges laid against him in the past nor had she, in the past, contacted the police in relation to family violence incidents in which she was a victim, but had ‘put up with it’ for years and in the end, was ‘let down by the system’.

Agencies within the FVIP have disparate roles and given their legislatively prescribed functions, cannot actively engage at every level of the criminal justice system response to family violence. However, the fact that victims contextualise their experiences as a whole may illustrate a need for system-level responses to acknowledge the experiences of the victims they are dealing with, appreciate the effects their own and other agency responses have on these experiences and provide accurate and full information in relation to what they can and cannot do.