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Literature review

The literature reviewed in this section of the report focuses on criminal justice system responses to family violence across Australia, with some consideration of interventions undertaken in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

This is not an exhaustive literature review. It does not explore the dynamics of family violence, effects on particular groups of victims or offenders, theoretical perspectives underpinning responses or the economic and social costs of family violence. Instead, this review is restricted to identifying good practice elements of policy and practice models that interface with the adult criminal justice system. This review briefly describes the construction of family violence across Australia, good practice components of intervention models, criminal justice system responses and requirements for developing good practice family violence frameworks.

Throughout the literature, the terms domestic violence and family violence are used to refer to acts of violence committed between family members. Both terms are used in this section of the report and reflect what is used in the material under discussion.

Construction of family and domestic violence

In a comparison of 2006 Australian public policy documents, Murray and Powell (2009) concluded that although the construction of family violence across Australia has some similarities, there are marked differences in how this type of violence is understood. This may

play out in terms of provision (who receives funded services and in what forms), protection (who is protected and from what), and prevention (what we are preventing and what we are working toward) (Murray & Powell 2009: 548).

All Australian jurisdictions support coordinated responses to family violence. Most policies refer to the importance of victim safety and focus on improving criminal justice system responses and enhancing support services. However, there are distinct differences in how family violence is ‘named and framed’ (Murray & Powell 2009: 532) in policy and legislation.

Murray and Powell (2009) suggest that varying definitions of family violence reflect differing levels of reliance on gendered understandings. All Australian jurisdictions use the terms domestic or family violence or both. Domestic violence has traditionally been used to describe violence between intimate partners where the offender is male and the victim female. Tasmanian legislation limits identification of family violence to current or former spouses and partner relationships. South Australia further restricts the definition of a spouse to a person of the opposite sex. Family violence is broadly seen as a more inclusive term and acknowledges that violence occurs within all family and domestic relationships. Australian jurisdictions, other than South Australia and Tasmania, frame their legislation to include violence between all family members, spousal, defacto, ex-partner and other domestic relationships, regardless of gender. The term family violence is also preferred by Indigenous people, as reflected in Australian Government policy and in this context, refers to the extended social and kinship ties that Indigenous peoples have with one another.

Murray and Powell (2009: 534) note that whole-of-government strategies and other policy that supports them, represent ‘a framework of intentions for the future’. Public policy, therefore, may express the shared understanding of a problem to target interventions but may also influence future interpretations and legislative change.

Policy and legislation within jurisdictions identify family violence differently. Policy generally identifies elements of physical, emotional, economic and/or social abuse as family violence. Within legislation, however, with the exception of Tasmania and Victoria, the definition of family violence is restricted to acts that fall under the umbrella of standard criminal legislation. These acts include property damage, threats, stalking, assault and homicide. Tasmania’s Family Violence Act 2004 and Victoria’s Family Violence Protection Act 2008 broaden the definition of family violence to include economic and emotional abuse as well as other types of threatening and controlling behaviour.

Good practice for family violence intervention models

Responses to family violence in Australia seek to identify the unique nature of this offence and the need for a tailored response, in that the antecedents to a family violence incident are unlike any other violent crime. The Gold Coast domestic violence criminal justice project identifies contextual differences between stranger and domestic violence which necessitate a differential community and criminal justice system response (see Table 2).

Table 2: Contextual differences between stranger and domestic violence
Stranger violence Domestic violence
single event multiple events
limited time period occurs over time
single intensity level accelerating levels of intensity
identifiable motives obscure motives
often random never random
no prior relationship with victim partner, family member
no children in common often children (custody, visitation)
no economic ties economic interdependence
socially condemned socially minimised and condoned
offenders are blamed victims are blamed
next victim unknown next victim known
uncertain and variable rate of recidivism high rate of recidivism
no post-crime contact with victim ongoing contact with victim
victim supports prosecution victim may oppose prosecution

Source: Gold Coast Criminal Justice Pilot Project 2008

The complexity of the relationships and the intensity of conflict and impacts on secondary victims (such as children and other family members) and requires an integrated response from a range of agencies. Throughout the literature, this interagency collaboration is regarded as a requirement of good practice (eg see Mulroney 2003; Pence & McDonnell 2001).

Different models of intervention have been developed across Australia and overseas as specialised responses to family violence. Integrated interventions endeavour to improve victim safety, offender accountability and system-level responses. The agencies involved in achieving these aims vary, as does the focus on community awareness and prevention. Responses focus on the individual needs of those affected by family violence, improvements to service delivery and changing social attitudes that underpin violence and allow it to continue (Mulroney 2003).

Examples of good practice integrated responses to family violence, as identified on the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse website, include:

  • Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (the Duluth model, United States);
  • Hamilton Abuse Project (New Zealand);
  • Family Violence Intervention Program (Australian Capital Territory);
  • Gold Coast Integrated Response (Queensland);
  • Family Safety Framework (South Australia);
  • Safe at Home (Tasmania);
  • New Response to Family Violence (Victoria); and
  • Armadale Domestic Violence Intervention Project (Western Australia).

In a report on interagency responses to domestic violence, Wilcox (2008) compiled features of good practice, represented by the above interventions, which may be used to plan responses to family violence (see Table 3). The extent and manner in which these features may be applied will differ depending on the setting of the intervention. Interventions may be whole-of-government or tailored to particular service providers such as the child protection, health and/or justice sectors.

The good practice principles identify a need for strong support from government and non-government agencies through funding and resources and a commitment to collaborative work. Souhami (2008), in a discussion of multi-agency practice with young offenders, suggests that bringing representatives from a diverse range of agencies together allows for better identification of client risks and needs and the development of a service delivery strategy to address them. This concept is transferrable to work with victims and offenders of family violence.

Multi-agency work allows for the consolidation of resources from a diverse range of services into a single structure which ‘can allow for a better coordinated and more efficient use of resources—whether funding, expertise, effort or information’ (Souhami 2008: 211). In addition, multi-agency work can lead to innovation through discourses between diverse professionals and increase the recognition and improve the status of the intervention by the involvement of multiple partner agencies.

Table 3: Compilation features of good practice in interagency responses to family violence
Focus on victim safety and offender accountability
Inclusion of all family violence-related services at all levels (service delivery, policy, problem solving)
Shared missions, aims, values, approaches to family violence protocols
Collaborative approach to policy development and memoranda of understanding
Willingness to change organisational practice to meet the aims of the response and develop operating procedures to achieve this
Practices and protocols which ensure cultural safety, inclusivity and access and equity issues
Information sharing system
Adequately trained and professional staff
Senior level commitment and coordination
Adequate resourcing
Workable structure of governance, with coordination, steering, troubleshooting and monitoring functions
Transparency, particularly in regard to outcomes, including criminal justice system outcomes and evaluation processes
Commitment to continual self-auditing, with data collection and monitoring processes to enable this
Regular and frequent coordinated case management meetings
Mechanisms to enhance legal equality, such as access to legal services and representation
Identification of service gaps (eg children’s counselling) and development of new services to address them
Incorporation of specialist courts with concurrent family law jurisdiction

Source: Wilcox 2008

Criminal justice system responses

Integrated family violence interventions that focus on the criminal justice system attempt to address a perceived gap between victims’ experiences of violence and the justice system’s response to that violence.

Holder (2001) identified a range of dilemmas and concerns over the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence including:

  • criminal justice agencies not treating family and domestic violence matters seriously;
  • despite a policy position that domestic violence is a crime, low charge and conviction rates suggest it is being considered otherwise;
  • a lack of systemic and case coordination across the criminal justice system;
  • neither victim safety nor offender accountability are practically and consistently addressed by criminal justice agencies;
  • insufficient attention is paid to ‘belief on reasonable grounds’, evidence gathering, victim safety and arrest options at the time of the incident;
  • there appear to be irreconcilable dilemmas in balancing victim ambivalence over whether to proceed with responsibilities to uphold the criminal law and protect vulnerable persons; and
  • sentencing options are ineffective in reducing repeat offending, do not provide for victim input and pay insufficient attention to compliance with court orders.

Justice agencies across Australia and overseas have implemented a number of strategies to address these and other issues. In 2008, the Australasian Police Commissioners committed to a policing strategy to prevent and reduce family violence (Commonwealth of Australia 2008). This strategy aims to:

  • achieve more effective frontline policing responses both locally, nationally and internationally;
  • enhance support for victims of family violence;
  • shift the focus from reaction to early intervention and prevention of family violence;
  • identify, document and share standards and principles of best practice;
  • achieve widespread support for and acceptance of a collaborative approach to family violence, including with government and community;
  • achieve greater consistency across Australasia in the investigation and management of family violence incidents; and
  • improve the quality and outcome of prosecutions for family violence (Commonwealth of Australia 2008: 4).

The strategy identifies a number of outcome and process measures to be used to serve as indicators of success including:

  • a recorded increase in the number of family violence incidents reported;
  • a recorded decrease in the number of repeat police attendances to the same household/offender/victim;
  • a recorded increase in the amount of successful family violence prosecutions processed by the courts;
  • a recorded increase in the number of offenders completing behaviour change and other similar treatment programs;
  • the development of better working relationships between the police and child protection services and police and family violence support services; and
  • the development of integrated case management systems that reflect best practice protocols (Commonwealth of Australia 2008: 4).

A number of interventions have been developed across Australia and overseas that reflect a commitment on the part of justice sector agencies to the above, or similar aims. A selection of evaluated interventions is at Appendix C.

One of the difficulties associated with responding to family violence is that victims are often reluctant to report their abuse. Urbis Keys Young (2002) identified a number of barriers to victims accessing the civil and criminal justice system. These barriers include:

  • fear of retribution by the offender;
  • a belief by the victim that the offender will change and cease the violence behaviour;
  • fear of embarrassment and shame if they report the abuse;
  • a preference for seeking assistance from more informal sources such as friends, family and neighbours; and
  • fear of violence from ex-partners who use child contact and residence as an opportunity for further violence and harassment.

In addition to these factors, Wolf et al. (2003: 122–124) provide a detailed list of other barriers that may contribute to a lack of reporting of domestic violence including race, cultural attitudes, economic dependence on the perpetrator and socioeconomic status. In one study, it was shown that these barriers were most pronounced in women from CALD backgrounds (Erez & Hartley 2003). This study indicated that

immigrant victims in general and battered immigrant women in particular are reluctant to report crime and cooperate with authorities due to an intricate combination of cultural, social and legal reasons (Erez & Hartley 2003: 158).

For many women from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, maintaining norms of behaviour are of heightened importance, as ‘a woman who violates social and gender norms may also be disowned by her family and harassed by her community’ (Erez & Hartley 2003: 158). Of additional concern for these women is the fear that reporting domestic violence may negatively impact on their immigration status, in that ‘deportation is an omnipresent weapon for abusers to threaten their immigrant partners, regardless of their partners’ immigration status’ (Erez & Hartley 2003: 158).

Financial dependence on the perpetrator is another barrier that is regularly identified as preventing many women from reporting domestic violence. Some researchers have argued that for many women, particularly those from middle and upper classes, ‘reporting victimisation to police may jeopardise their partner’s source of income and the victim’s means of support’ (Hart in Hickman & Simpson 2003: 609). As Hickman and Simpson (2003: 609) conclude however, to date, ‘the relationship between financial dependence and victim reporting has not been adequately addressed’ by researchers.

Finally, one of the most frequently cited barriers to reporting domestic violence is the victim’s negative perception of the police response to previous incidents. The literature indicates that,

victims who perceive that police are hostile or blaming are less likely to call them for assistance than victims who perceive that police are caring, supportive, and concerned’ (Hickman & Simpson 2003: 611).

These studies suggest that when victims perceive that the police response is compassionate and victim-focused, the likelihood of reporting future incidents is significantly increased. For this reason, the role of police in responding to domestic violence matters regularly goes beyond investigation and apprehension, in that police are often required to engage with victims to support their immediate needs. Consequently, ‘this has resulted in domestic violence training for police officers...and the development of protocols for dealing with domestic violence’ (Owen & Owen 2006: 13). The most prominent of these protocols has been the development of ‘pro-arrest’ policing for domestic violence.


The evolution of police responses to family violence are well documented in the literature (Buzawa & Hirschel 2009; Douglas 2008). Training and incident response protocols and procedures are now standard across jurisdictions to ensure the police response to family violence incidents promotes the safety of victims and accountability of offenders. Many US jurisdictions employ a mandatory arrest framework; however, across Australia and in the Australian Capital Territory specifically, a pro-arrest policy is advocated.

Mandatory arrest and pro-arrest policies are predicated on the belief that law enforcement agencies should be able to reduce domestic violence crime and victimisation through the application of criminal law (Clement et al. 2009). These policies are similar in that they attempt to remove ‘the leverage that abusers may use on victims to threaten renewed harm unless the charges are dropped’ (David & Smith cited in Hare 2006: 611). The policies differ, however, in the amount of discretion police are able to exercise in the execution of their duties. The rigidity of mandatory arrest policies have been criticised, not only for eliminating police discretion but also for providing no flexibility for officers to respond to specific incident circumstances. It is asserted that to produce just outcomes for all, particularly in domestic violence cases, the law must be ‘responsive to the circumstances of the particular case rather than subsuming individuals, acts and actors under general classes’ (Hudson cited in Douglas 2008: 440). For this reason, it may be of benefit to provide police officers with greater scope to assess the particular circumstances of a domestic violence case before arresting those involved.

In the Australian Capital Territory, the guidelines for dealing with domestic violence matters stipulate that officers must take action ‘in the collection of evidence and the active pursuit of charges’ (Lines 2003: 34). Previous guidelines did not clearly articulate either this position or the wider role of the police in domestic violence matters. However, the new guidelines make it clear that the police mandate in domestic violence is ‘pro-charge, pro-arrest and presumption against bail where evidence exists that a criminal offence has been committed’ (Lines 2003: 34). Police are, therefore, able to actively engage with the parties involved in the incident, assess the circumstances, gather evidence and make an arrest where it is appropriate and supported by that evidence.

In a recent study, Iyengar (2009) compared domestic violence homicide rates between US jurisdictions that had mandatory arrest laws and those jurisdictions where arrest was only recommended The study, utilising FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, found that mandatory arrest laws increased the number of domestic violence homicides. Iyengar (2009) suggests that mandatory arrest laws may lead victims to not report the abuse and offenders to increase the intensity of their attacks.

A number of studies, particularly in the United States, have explored the effect of arrest in domestic violence matters on subsequent offending. The results have been mixed, with some studies finding a short-term deterrent effect that decreases over time and others identifying long-term deterrence of at least 18 months (Tolman & Weisz 1995). The differences in these studies appear to be those that focus attention solely on arrest and those such as Tolman and Weisz (1995) that explore both arrest and prosecution. The Tolman and Weisz (1995) study concluded that arrest and successful prosecution had an effect on subsequent offending. This study further identified the value of advocacy to successful prosecutions.


Pro-active prosecution makes an important contribution to integrated responses to family violence. Prosecution outcomes and processes in family violence matters are under-researched. However, it is commonly asserted in policy that providing support and information for victim witnesses of crime, having experienced and specialised staff to handle cases and training police in charging determinations and evidence-based prosecution methods contribute to the ability of the criminal justice system to hold offenders accountable.

‘[V]ery low rates of criminal prosecution continue to be associated with domestic violence matters throughout most of Australia’ (Douglas 2007: 220). Part of the problem with prosecuting domestic violence cases is that unless sufficient evidence exists, the ability to prosecute is closely associated with the active participation of the victim. ‘[R]esearch to date suggests that police and prosecutors rarely proceed with cases without a co-operative complainant’ (Ellison 2002: 834). Furthermore, a recent study found that ‘in over 75 per cent of cases where the complainant withdrew her support for the prosecution the case was terminated as a result’ (Ellison 2002: 835). In order to overcome this heavy reliance on the participation of victims to prosecute domestic violence, there has been a move towards the development of ‘victimless prosecution’, whereby the evidentiary burden rests more with police and prosecutors than with victims.

Research shows that ‘measures introduced to facilitate victimless prosecution [include] specialised evidentiary rules...and the development of enhanced evidence gathering techniques and procedures’ (Ellison 2002: 835). By expanding the role of the police to include the collection of evidence while attending a domestic violence incident, reliance on victim participation is significantly reduced. Research suggests that of the cases that reach court,

about 70% of cases are provable without the victim based on...photographs, medical records, spontaneous declarations by the victim to officers, admissions by the defendant, neighbour testimony, relative testimony and general police officer testimony related to the cases and the subsequent investigation’ (Ellison 2002: 842).

Police in many jurisdictions have taken on this greater responsibility and collect evidence while attending domestic violence incidents.

Guidelines prepared for the prosecution of domestic violence cases by the US Department of Justice Domestic Violence Prosecution Committee identify a number of recommendations to improve prosecution processes and support the rights of victims. These include:

General recommendations:

  • develop pro-prosecution policies;
  • provide coordinated victim-sensitive services;
  • provide training for specialised prosecutors;
  • actively pursue new charges and violations of protection orders;
  • develop a domestic violence identification system for case files;
  • participate and take the lead in coordinating prosecution efforts with other agencies; and
  • collaborate with domestic violence support and advocacy services.

Victim/witness recommendations:

  • routinely provide information on the status of the case;
  • provide opportunities for victims to have input into the case;
  • focus on victim safety and offender accountability; and
  • protect the confidentiality of victim information.

Trial considerations of relevance in the Australian Capital Territory:

  • develop evidence-based prosecution strategies to reduce the reliance on victim testimony;
  • discourage the use of dismissals and deferred prosecution; and
  • assess whether violations of subpoenas by victims are in response to a safety issue before taking action (Domestic Violence Prosecution Committee 2004).

A prosecution policy that makes it clear to the offender that the prosecutor and not the victim is responsible for decisions regarding criminal prosecution may enhance victim safety. By relying primarily on the evidence collected by police, rather than solely on the victim’s testimony, the prosecutor may be able to reduce the risk of retaliation by the offender against the victim and increase the likelihood of a successful prosecution.


The literature reviewed in this part of the paper has been divided into two sections. The first section reviews four prominent evaluative studies of domestic violence courts and outlines their various contributions to victim safety and offender accountability. The second part outlines the main tenets of therapeutic jurisprudence and describes how they are applied in specialist courts both in Australia and overseas.

Numerous articles have been written on the need to redirect traditional criminal justice approaches to domestic violence towards a therapeutic model, due largely to perceptions of a lack of protection for victims and a lack of accountability for offenders (Eley 2005; Powell & Murray 2008; Simon 1995; Shaffer 2004; Ursel 1997). Establishing a domestic violence court recognises that problems due to domestic violence are multiple and complex (Stewart 2005). Some have noted that domestic violence ‘is frequently linked to other issues, such as substance abuse, mental health problems, and family problems’ (Shaffer 2004: 4). Moreover, one evaluation indicates that as many as

40%–50% of the offenders who were processed by the domestic violence court were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the domestic violence incident (Gover, MacDonald & Alpert 2003: 111).

Domestic violence is socially corrosive, in that it has numerous ‘repercussions for the quality of life in a local community [with] far-reaching financial, social, health and psychological consequences’ (Carrington & Phillips 2006: 5). Recent evidence has shown that ‘[43] percent of homicides between intimates in 2006–07 had a domestic-violence history with police involvement in some form prior to the homicide incident’ (Dearden & Jones 2008: 2). Establishing a specialised court that understands the dynamics of domestic violence has the potential to improve victim safety by addressing the complex needs of offenders before their behaviour escalates.

Since the late 1990s, the number of domestic violence courts has been steadily increasing both in Australia and overseas. There are over 300 operating in the United States (National Center for State Courts), more than 50 operating in the United Kingdom (Home Office) and there are specialist domestic violence courts operating throughout Canada, including in Winnipeg.

Domestic Violence Courts may operate under different models—specialist jurisdiction, integrated and problem solving. Specialist jurisdiction courts operate in a number of jurisdictions including Australia (Canberra), Canada (Winnipeg) and the United States (Brooklyn). These courts overlay specialist procedures on a more traditional criminal justice court process. Integrated or multi-jurisdictional courts operate in locations in the United States (Brooklyn Felony Court, discussed below) and the United Kingdom (Croydon). An integrated model sees the ‘court as the central player, the focal point, from which other responses from a range of agencies flow’ (Stewart 2005: 5). In particular, integrated courts enable access to criminal, civil and other family jurisdictions rather than oblige victims and families to engage with multiple processes in multiple courts (Labriola et al. 2009). Problem solving courts, more traditionally associated with substance use issues, operate in a domestic violence context in both Alberta and the Yukon in Canada. These courts have been described by Berman and Feinblatt (2001: 131) as endeavouring to:

  • reduce recidivism;
  • improve health outcomes (usually for offenders but in some cases for victims);
  • improve relationships between victims and offenders;
  • effect system change;
  • provide judicial monitoring; and
  • employ a collaborative approach.

Problem-solving courts and specialist courts are not one and the same, in that

specialist courts tend to be geared towards handling complex areas of law, whereas problem-solving courts are more concerned with complex social problems that the law alone is unable to resolve (Blagg 2008: 3).

However, these types of courts may employ similar components and attempt to achieve similar outcomes (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Domestic violence court components

Figure 1

Evaluating specialist domestic violence courts

Some important evaluations have been conducted identifying the main principles of successful domestic violence courts both in Australia and overseas (Cook et al. 2004; Fritzler & Simon 2000; Knaggs et al. 2008; Malcolm 2007; Roberts & Indermaur 2007; Rodwell & Smith 2008). In addition, University of Stirling academic Susan Eley offers a comprehensive outline of the various specialist domestic violence courts operating in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The most notable of these is the Winnipeg Family Violence Court established in 1990, which is widely regarded as the pre-eminent model of a domestic violence court (Eley 2005: 112). Moreover, the Plotnikoff and Woolfson (2005) authored review commissioned by the UK Department for Constitutional Affairs also provides a detailed account of various specialist courts that operate in English-speaking jurisdictions and the specific characteristics that contribute to their effectiveness. These characteristics include that:

  • Specialist courts require new judicial skills and training is needed for members of the court ‘team’, including the judge.
  • Judicial monitoring (oversight by the judge of the offender’s progress through the court programme) is believed to contribute to offender compliance and rates of retention in court programmes.
  • Courts need to address community expectations, which may initially regard the specialist regime as a ‘soft option’ (Plontnikoff & Woolfson 2005: i–ii).

Some practitioners within the specialist court process, such as Hon Wayne Martin and Hon Michael S King, have observed that ‘the merits of court intervention programs cannot be measured by reference to the wellbeing of the participants’ alone (LRCWA 2008: 8). It is argued that unless specialist courts achieve outcomes that are beneficial for the whole community, as well as for victims and offenders, then their establishment cannot be justified. The implication is that while there is benefit to the community in promoting victim safety and increasing offender accountability, the fundamental ‘purpose of court intervention programs is to reduce crime’ (LRCWA 2008: 8). Consequently, the success of specialist courts must be evaluated in light of their ability to produce demonstrable reductions in the number of domestic violence cases, over and above increasing victim safety.

There are four prominent studies that support this review, namely Cook et al. 2004 (the UK model), Mazur and Aldrich 2003 (the New York model), Knaggs et al. 2008 (the New Zealand model) and Rodwell and Smith 2008 (the NSW model). This section collates the key recommendations from these evaluations, as a synthesis of good practice principles in domestic violence courts.

Evaluative studies have identified three key areas to measure the success of domestic violence courts:

  • bringing more perpetrators to justice;
  • improving the support, safety and satisfaction of victims; and
  • increasing public confidence in the criminal justice system (UK Home Office 2008).

It has been observed that in seeking to evaluate these outcomes, domestic violence courts are limited by a lack of adequate control groups (Roberts & Indermaur 2007) and purported high levels of under-reporting. A significant number of incidents of domestic violence are not reported to police and even more do not progress to court. Naturally, exact figures of unreported domestic violence do not exist; however, one study from New Zealand estimates that only 15 percent of total cases are dealt with by police (Lievore 2003). Moreover, studies from the United States observe that ‘less than 20 percent of domestic violence incidents come to the attention of the police’ (Greenberg & Ruback in Hickman & Simpson 2003: 608). Nevertheless, preliminary evaluations have shown that once perpetrators reach the specialist court stage ‘about half were convicted, mainly following a guilty plea’ (Cook et al. 2004: 36). Similar outcomes were found in Canada, with evidence indicating that domestic violence courts produced

...a lower rate of withdrawals and dismissals, a higher rate of guilty verdicts (both guilty pleas and finding of guilt after trial), and a higher number of victims who were present in court and willing to co-operate with prosecutors. Even more importantly, a study which tracked offenders who successfully completed [offender] intervention programs found that few of them committed repeat offences (Hubbard 2000: 3).

It is too early to conclude that domestic violence courts increase offender accountability, with further empirical research required in this area. However, by encouraging victims and offenders to participate in the administration of justice, domestic violence courts ‘are perceived...as producing fairer outcomes and as being generally more satisfactory than conventional courts’ (Eckberg & Podkopacz cited in Turgeon 2008: 353).

United Kingdom

The Home Office, in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Court Service, provides a highly detailed ‘resource manual’ for the successful operation of a domestic violence court system (UK Home Office 2008). Apart from highlighting the components of effective governance and management of the court process, it also delineates basic requirements to develop an interagency collaborative response. These include:

  • a dedicated role to coordinate the work of agencies within the specialist domestic violence court system;
  • regular strategic forums of key partners, with protocols on roles, responsibilities and processes;
  • operational groups to carry out the day-to-day management of cases are crucial; and
  • equal participation of all partners—especially in relation to the voluntary sector (UK Home Office 2008: 5).

The manual emphasises the need for information sharing between agencies for the purpose of tailoring individualised solutions. To date, ‘a limited amount of research suggests that increased collaborative efforts between agencies...can lead to reductions in domestic violence recidivism’ (Gover, Macdonald & Alpert 2003: 112). Gover, Macdonald and Alpert (2003: 112) conclude that until further domestic violence recidivism research is conducted, ‘it is unclear whether designing specialised domestic violence courts provide any improvement over traditional methods of adjudicating domestic violence cases’. However, independent evaluations of the integrated court models used in the United Kingdom have found significant positive impacts on the court process. For example, in the final report of the evaluation of the Caerphilly/Croydon domestic violence sites, Vallely et al. (2005: 72–74) found key policy and practice changes which led to:

  • increased reports of domestic violence being brought to justice;
  • increased quality of service to victims (as identified during interviews);
  • increased confidence of victims (identified during interviews);
  • increased conviction rates;
  • increased first time guilty pleas;
  • reduced ineffective trials;
  • reduced discontinuance rates; and
  • reduced time for cases to go through the system.

New York

In New York, the first domestic violence court was established in Brooklyn in 1996. This jurisdiction operates with the mantra ‘one family–one judge’ (Mazur & Aldrich 2003: 7), with felony and misdemeanour offences and the relevant sanctions, such as protection orders, processed in the one court under the supervision of one judge. Apart from streamlining the court process, this integrated approach allows for ongoing monitoring of both offender compliance and victim safety. The New York domestic violence court addresses the needs of victims by providing them with a comprehensive range of support services. The types of services offered to support victims in regaining independence include ‘counselling, job training, immigration services, child services’ (Mazur & Aldrich 2003: 8), as well as victim advocacy and court support. In assessing the various (therapeutic) outcomes of this model, ‘independent researchers from the Urban Institute concluded that victim services are clearly expanded under the specialised court’ (Mazur & Aldrich 2003: 8). The New York domestic violence court model places significant emphasis on both ensuring victim safety and incorporating victims actively in the judicial administration process.

New Zealand

Apart from seeking to assess victim safety and offender accountability, evaluations of the New Zealand domestic violence court process also address the time efficiency of the court process. Knaggs et al. (2008: 8) found that ‘delays with defendant hearings were thought to be affecting victims’ safety’ and that delays were predominantly caused by a high volume of cases and limited court time. This evaluation stressed the need to increase both the number of domestic violence courts as well as their operational times. It concluded that improving the time efficiency of cases would

increase the likelihood that victims will want to proceed with the case, and reduce opportunities for them to be coerced by their partners or husbands (Knaggs et al. 2008: 46).

In this way, improving efficiency can also lead to increased victim safety and psychological wellbeing.

New South Wales

In evaluating the NSW model of domestic violence courts, Rodwell and Smith (2008) found that a number of stakeholders raised concerns about the lack of consultation with and between agencies involved with ‘pre-existing’ service provision. Some agencies highlighted a lack of clarity around the roles of other agencies and perceptions existed that there was an overlap in some services. Concerns such as these further underline the need for improved information flows between agencies and ongoing interagency collaboration.

Figure 1 provides a visual representation, based on the literature reviewed, of the various components that may operate within successful domestic violence court models.

Defining therapeutic jurisprudence

Therapeutic jurisprudence is an interdisciplinary tool for assessing the psychological and emotional impact of the legal process on the participants. It is about studying ‘the extent to which a legal rule or practice promotes the psychological and physical well-being of the people it affects’ (Schma 2003: 26). Emerging in the United States in the early 1980s as a critical response to the perceived anti-therapeutic outcomes experienced by participants in the administration of mental health law, principles of therapeutic jurisprudence can now be found in a variety of other legal areas including criminal, personal injury, medical and family law (Wexler & Winick 2003).

A therapeutic jurisprudence approach does not undermine legal principles such as due process or human rights. It frames the law not as an ‘autonomous discipline’ (Finkelman & Grisso 1993: 245) but rather ‘as a helping profession’ (Schma 2003: 26). In this way, therapeutic jurisprudence has the benefit of ‘humanising the law and concerning itself with the human, emotional, psychological side of the law and legal process’ (Wexler 1999: 1). It is a more considered approach to the delivery of justice and has been utilised to resolve sociological problems such as domestic violence and substance abuse, which have traditionally been difficult to address within the adversarial system.

Whilst therapeutic jurisprudence has precipitated a number of positive reforms to the administration of particular areas of law, it is not without criticism. One of the most prominent criticisms is that therapeutic jurisprudence can potentially subvert autonomy and personal responsibility. Some researchers have concluded that therapeutic jurisprudence is merely paternalism in action, where psychologists and psychiatrists are given unrestricted authority and control (Finkelman & Grisso 1996; Petrila 1993). Outcomes that are seen as therapeutic, such as rehabilitation and court monitoring, are often prescribed rather than requested by participants. It is argued that, ‘people who can provide the best information about the therapeutic...consequences...find themselves the subject of...legally sanctioned coercion’ (Petrila 1993: 881). Petrila’s concern is specifically focused, for example, on the issue of ‘who decides what represents a therapeutic outcome?’ (Petrila 1993: 881). Outcomes might be therapeutic for one person and anti-therapeutic for another. In response to this argument, Wexler and Winick (1993: 909) outline that therapeutic jurisprudence ‘is merely a lens designed to shed light...[on] issues relating to the therapeutic impact of the law’. In this way, therapeutic jurisprudence should be utilised primarily as a guiding philosophy in judicial administration.

Application of therapeutic jurisprudence

Over the past 15 years, therapeutic jurisprudence has become an increasingly popular theoretical and practical foundation in problem solving courts both in Australia and overseas. Winick (2000: 41, 60–67) has suggested that therapeutic jurisprudence principles apply to all parties involved in the family violence court process, including victims, because these principles support:

  • providing advocacy and support services, swift prosecution of charges and issuance of protection orders;
  • the need for judicial officers, police and prosecutors to consider the situation and wishes of victims, and be trained in the effects of family violence;
  • justice system professionals giving voice, validation and respect to victims;
  • justice system professionals expressing empathy and listening; and
  • videotaping testimony to be used in court in circumstances where a victim does not wish to confront the offender (King et al. 2009: 157).

With regard to the application of therapeutic jurisprudence in domestic violence courts in Australia, a significant proportion of the literature focuses on the therapeutic role that can be played by judicial officers (King 2003; King & Auty 2005; Malcolm 2007). Simple things such as the manner in which judges and lawyers engage with victims, as well as involving victims more proactively in the judicial administration process, can produce therapeutic outcomes. It has been observed that ‘judicial officers actively listening to participants, courteously allowing them to fully present their case...are examples of techniques that can have a therapeutic effect’ (Petrucci cited in King 2003: 4). Further, King (2003: 4) states

therapeutic jurisprudence implies the use of processes [by the judiciary] to promote the positive involvement of participants in the court process and thereby promote[s] respect between the judicial officer and participants.

In this way, by providing not only a more positive experience of the court process but also a greater perfunctory role in the decision-making process, it can be argued that applying therapeutic jurisprudence in domestic violence courts produces outcomes that victims regard as being fairer than outcomes achieved through traditional adversarial processes.

Domestic violence courts focus primarily on victim safety and offender accountability. Specialist, integrated and problem-solving courts provide a unique opportunity for therapeutic outcomes to be delivered, such as perpetrator treatment and connecting victims with various support services. They provide a range of

new responses to chronic social, human and legal problems—including problems like family dysfunction, addiction, delinquency, and domestic violence—that have proved resistant to conventional solutions’ (Berman & Feinblatt 2001: 126).

King et al. (2009: 158) advocate a therapeutic jurisprudence approach within family violence courts when offenders are included in a family violence program that involves judicial supervision because the therapeutic jurisprudence approach ‘offers the best prospects of promoting positive behavioural change’. King et al. (2009) assert that due to the lack of empirical evidence that family violence intervention programs reduce reoffending, courts tend to focus on deterrence rather than rehabilitation. They contend that

[i]n the long term, court processes that recognise that many victims want to maintain the family unit may be more successful than punitive responses that do little to deal with the offender’s problems or the relationship itself. A supportive court process may, indeed, encourage more victims to report their crimes by reducing their fear of retaliation (King et al. 2009: 158).

Finally, it has been observed by some criminal justice academics, such as David Carson (2003: 126), that one of the strengths of a therapeutic jurisprudence approach to judicial administration in specialist courts is that ‘supporting therapeutic jurisprudence does not presuppose any particular political position...a virtue of therapeutic jurisprudence is that it is, at least apparently, apolitical’. Therapeutic jurisprudence remains central to judicial administration as a mechanism to evaluate the impact of the law and legal processes on its participants.

Restorative justice

The use of restorative justice as a response to family violence is controversial. Some advocates argue that restorative justice is an appropriate response to all types of offences (eg Braithwaite & Strang 2002), while others express concern that restorative justice does not adequately address the safety risks of victims (Stubbs 2004).

One of the primary difficulties in assessing the application of restorative justice to family violence is that there is no agreed definition of what restorative justice entails. It can be stated, however, that the emphasis of restorative justice is on reparation of harm to victims, addressing the needs of offenders and sending offenders a message of disapproval about the impact of the crime (Bazemore 1997).

The primary benefit of restorative justice may be in allowing victims to be heard. This potential positive benefit was conceptualised by Barbara Hudson (2003: 183, emphasis in the original):

The conference or meeting offers the victim the opportunity to choose how to present herself; to abstract herself from the relationship; to select her own supporter and representative. The abuser cannot ignore her, as he could in a conventional court while she is giving her evidence; her story will be told not refracted through legal language, it will be told in her words, the words with which she always communicates with him so he cannot claim not to have understood any more than he can claim not to have heard. Her story will be about her; she will not be confined to dwelling on those elements that relate to him, elements relevant to establishing his guilt and his culpability. He cannot claim, then not to have been told about her feelings, her understanding of events, her wishes and demands for the future...

In a review of the application of restorative justice to family violence, Stubbs (2004) identifies a number of generic models operating in Australia, Canada and New Zealand whose efficacy remain untested and under-evaluated. With victim safety (the primary focus of any family violence intervention), there are a number of factors that may need to be considered before restorative justice principles can be integrated with the traditional criminal justice system response.

Corrective services

Corrective Services supervise individuals remanded in custody or on bail and offenders on community-based and imprisonment orders. The Tasmanian Government’s Safe at Home strategy identifies the following core activities for Corrective Services:

  • take into account victims impact statements and offender risk assessments in the preparation of pre-sentence reports;
  • ensure compliance of offenders with conditions of orders and attendance at court-mandated treatment programs;
  • treat non-attendance at a mandated treatment program as a breach;
  • ensure that breaches of orders are reported to the court in a timely manner; and
  • monitor and report on behaviours that would indicate risk of further family violence offences (Tasmanian Government 2004).

Corrections-based family violence intervention programs

An integral part of an integrated criminal justice system response to family violence is the referral of an offender to a corrections-based family violence intervention program.

Approaches to interventions vary but many are based on the Duluth model. The Duluth model is a psycho-educational program that incorporates cognitive behaviour at work. Although treatment modalities differ, programs based on the Duluth model are underpinned by ‘principles that position domestic violence as an outcome of gender power imbalances’ (Day et al. 2009: 204).

Although the Duluth model has been recognised as a leader in developing integrated service responses, the quality of the treatment offenders receive has been widely criticised. Rees and Rivett (2005) identify that strict program guidelines may not allow the individual needs of some offenders (including mental health needs) to be met or may restrict their participation. Further, adopting the ‘power and control’ thesis limits the ability of program providers to engage ‘some men whose lives are experienced as powerless and out of control’ (Rivett & Rees 2008: 359).

The most prominent criticism of Duluth modelled programs is the lack of empirical support for their effectiveness. Some studies (eg Gondolf 2007) have produced promising results, while others have concluded that there is no significant impact on re-victimisation (eg Babcock, Green & Robbie 2004). Evaluations and program reviews often discover that program integrity has been compromised. In a national survey of domestic violence offender programs, Chung, O’Leary and Zannettinno (2004) identified that although many organisations claimed to deliver programs based on a Duluth model, they demonstrated inconsistent levels of adherence to the principles in ‘practice and conceptualisation’ (Day et al. 2009: 205). Such integrity issues make evaluation outcomes difficult to assess.

Increasing dissatisfaction with the feminist ideals incorporated into messages about ending violence against women (Gelles 2007; Mills 2008) and increasing agreement that there are limitations to the Duluth model approaches (Babcock, Green & Robbie 2004; Feder & Wilson 2005; Levesque & Gelles 1998) have created the impetus to look at new approaches and models. It must be noted, however, that the extent of the dissatisfaction and limitations remain widely disputed (eg see Dutton & Corvo 2007; Gondolf 2007).

Day et al. (2009) suggests that intervention approaches should incorporate evidence of program effectiveness from the broader offender rehabilitation field to match interventions to the individual needs and domestic violence typologies of offenders.

The offender rehabilitation literature identifies principles that underpin effective offender intervention programs. Although the approach is contested (eg see Ward & Stewart 2003), the dominant paradigm used within Corrective Services in Australia, the United States and Canada is the Risks—Needs—Responsivity approach developed by Andrews and Bonta (2004). Under this approach, for interventions to be successful, they must be based on principles of risk, need, responsivity and program integrity.

The risk principle requires that services and interventions are targeted according to the level of risk of reoffending the offender poses. More intensive interventions and services are targeted towards higher risk offenders and minimal intervention to lower risk offenders. The level of risk is generally determined by an assessment of static and dynamic risk factors. The risk principle may also incorporate risk management and duty of care factors (Golias 2004).

The need principle emphasises the requirement for interventions and services to target areas directly related to the offending. Criminogenic needs, or dynamic risk factors, are the areas that are changeable and are therefore treatable (Golias 2004). This principle proposes that addressing criminogenic needs reduces reoffending. Intervention should not be restricted to criminogenic needs however, as other needs may pose obstacles to a person living a constructive pro-social lifestyle. These include housing, employment, poor social supports and mental health issues.

The responsivity principle highlights the need for programs to be delivered in a style and mode that offenders will respond to and engage with. It establishes the guidelines for how programs should be delivered. Responsivity can be divided into internal and external factors. Internal responsivity refers to factors within the offender such as motivation, learning style, age, gender, culture and barriers to learning. External responsivity includes environmental factors such as the interaction between the offender and the staff and/or the setting (Golias 2004).

The integrity principle assumes that there is an evidence-based approach to programs, services and activities. To ensure integrity, an organisation must make certain that staff are properly trained and supervised, that programs and services are delivered as they have been designed to be delivered and that continual improvement and evaluation occurs (Golias 2004).

Day et al. (2009: 211), concurring with Jolliffe and Farrington’s (2007) review of the literature, state that domestic violence intervention approaches need to be further developed

both in terms of greater sophistication in how domestic violence is understood, identifying the needs of treatment participants, and delivering programs in ways that are engaging and motivating for men to change.

One of the good practice principles for offender intervention programs established under the National Partnerships Against Domestic Violence program is mandatory participation for offenders in rehabilitation programs supported by strong sanctions for non-participation. Day et al. (2009) urge caution in using coercive methods to ensure men attend programs, as this has the capacity to undermine program integrity and overall effectiveness. Delivering ineffective programs may have the unintended adverse consequence of increasing risk of victimisation.

Risk assessment

Risk assessment is undertaken at various stages before and during the criminal justice system response to family violence. Assessments focus on the risk an offender poses to a victim and the interpersonal, institutional and cultural risks present in a victim’s life that may make them more vulnerable to abuse. These assessments are undertaken by a range of practitioners and are designed for different purposes.

Health practitioners are increasingly relied upon to identify symptoms. The literature indicates that

over the past 15 years, routine screening for [interpersonal violence] has been introduced in many health settings, to enable health services to address the twin problems of under-identification of abuse and the high use of health services (Eisenstat & Bancroft cited in Spangaro, Zwi & Poulos 2009: 55–56).

In many cases, women who have suffered domestic violence come to the attention of health practitioners before they come to the attention of police. It has been observed in one study that

talking to a health provider about abuse increased women’s likelihood of using an intervention to violence and further found that those who receive an intervention are more likely to subsequently exit the abusive relationship (McCloskey et al. cited in Spangaro, Zwi & Poulos 2009: 57).

Consequently, health service providers have an important role to play in identifying victims of domestic violence and starting the process of intervening to reduce the risk of harm.

Police may also undertake an assessment of risk when attending a domestic violence incident. Tasmania Police conduct a risk assessment for all incidents utilising the Risk Assessment Screening Tool and produce a numerical score that indicates the level of risk the offender poses of repeating or escalating their violence to the victim.

Corrective Services undertake general and offence-specific risk assessments to determine intervention needs, supervision levels and program suitability based on an actuarial prediction of reoffending. Examples of these instruments include the Level of Service/Case Management Inventory, Static-99 and Spousal Assault Risk Assessment. Although the use of these tools is not without an evidentiary base (eg see Andrews & Bonta 2004), they are not without their critics. Concern over the validity of their use across diverse offender populations and more broadly, concern over their use as a move away from rehabilitation to managerialism, are common throughout the literature (eg see Brown 2000; Hannah-Moffat 2005).

Support and advocacy agencies also employ risk assessment to determine the social risks that may make an individual at increased risk of victimisation or re-victimisation. Effective assessment must take into account the diverse social factors in the lives of victims that impact on their ability to make choices and decisions. Jaaber and Dasgupta (nd) describe these risks as immediate personal risks (including substance misuse, lack of skills and education, homelessness, age), institutional risks (child protection, criminal justice, immigration and social services), and cultural risks (religion, nationality, class, norms and standards).

In the United Kingdom, multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC) are held by representatives of local agencies to discuss the highest risk victims in their areas. Risk management plans are developed that identify risks faced by those victims, agency actions required to ensure safety and the resources available to meet the identified needs.

Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse is a UK-based charity established to encourage the use of independent advocacy to increase family violence victim safety. They have developed a risk indicator checklist that assists practitioners to determine whether a case presents a significant enough level of risk to be referred to MARAC for risk management. The risk assessment allows practitioners to exercise some professional judgment and incorporates the views of the clients who have divulged a family violence incident.

In Australia, the Victorian Government has developed a risk assessment and risk management framework to support an integrated family violence service system. The framework combines three elements to determine the level of risk:

  • the victim’s own assessment of their level of risk;
  • evidence-based risk indicators; and
  • the practitioner’s professional judgement (DVC 2007: 7).

The framework was developed for use by a range of service providers at any entry point to the service system and is designed to assist:

  • the identification of family violence by mainstream professionals who may encounter people they believe to be victims of family violence (including teachers and healthcare providers);
  • preliminary assessment by professionals who work with victims of family violence but for whom it is not their only core business (eg police, disability workers) when family violence has been established; and
  • comprehensive assessment by specialist family violence professionals who will generally have qualifications in social work, psychology, or experience conducting complex assessments (DVC 2007).

Figure 2 represents a victim’s journey through the service system where the assessment framework informs the community response and referral pathways.

Regardless of when and by whom risk assessments are undertaken, the assessment should be framed within the context of a specific desired outcome. In family violence matters, the ultimate objective is victim safety and wellbeing.

Figure 2: The victim’s journey through an integrated service system

Figure 2

Source: DVC 2007

Victim wants and needs

Limited information is available about what victims want and need from service providers, including criminal justice agencies. This is, in part, because the literature tends to focus on arrests prosecutions and because few women may be willing to participate in such research due to the potential re-traumatising effects.

Three pieces of Australian research are presented in this section of the report. They do not purport to identify everything women want and need from justice following their experience of family violence, but they serve to illustrate what service providers may consider when assisting these victims.

In 2003, Holder and Mayo (2003) published an article precisely on the issue of what women want from ACT justice. The report describes the FVIP, interventionist prosecution policy and reports on victims’ experience and satisfaction with the prosecution process in the Australian Capital Territory. From their analyses, Holder and Mayo (2003: 21) found that victims of family violence value ‘consistent, early information, dialogue and sustained support in their engagement with the criminal justice system’. Further, they raise important questions about how satisfaction with the system may be assessed. Specifically they identify a need to:

  • explore further the correlation between satisfaction and sentence, and the relationship of both to the victim’s experience of the offending behaviour;
  • identify the circumstances where satisfaction is not related to sentence outcome and why;
  • identify why some victim/witnesses are not sure about proceeding but then later express satisfaction with the result; and
  • identify the components, for a victim of family violence, of being sure that justice was done (Holder & Mayo 2003: 21).

The experience of eight women moving forward following domestic violence was explored in research undertaken by the Social Policy Research team of the NSW Benevolent Society (2009). The research participants had to have lived free from abuse for a minimum of one year. The women identified the psychological and social effects the family violence had on them during that time and its continued impact on their self-esteem, memory and guilt. Moving forward, participants in the research highlighted changed thinking patterns, resilience, hope, and doing things for themselves and others as internal and external activities that helped them rebuild their lives.

The report also discusses the external services and support, both formal and informal, experienced by the women who participated in the research. Of particular relevance to this report, however, are the barriers women faced to moving forward as these provide a sense of what is missing and what women want or need from service providers and support systems. Women often identified that they did not seek formal supports because they were not flexible, anonymous and/or free. These women experienced financial difficulties and little or no access to services (aside from refuges) outside standard business hours. Some women also identified a need or desire to not have their experiences more broadly known, because of their work, community connections and size and/or feelings of shame and guilt.

Prior experiences with service providers were identified as another barrier faced in moving forward. This included negative experiences with specific service providers, such as feeling patronised, which made the women less likely to seek assistance in the future. Service providers identified the negative impact of disconnected services re-traumatising women who have to continually repeat their experiences.

The research identifies unique challenges faced by the three women from CALD backgrounds who participated in the research. These include being unable to confide in another person, being ostracised by family members and an increased sense of shame. While women of all cultures may experience shame, pressure to stay in relationships (as a result of religious beliefs), or isolation, this research identified that the cultural contexts of women from CALD backgrounds adds to the challenge of moving forward (Benevolent Society 2009).

Research commissioned and compiled by the ACT VoCC explored the experience of Aboriginal family violence in the Australian Capital Territory. Findings from analyses of interviews with 15 Aboriginal women provide some insight into what these women want and expect from the criminal justice system (VoCC 2009). These 15 women identified a number of important things that services can do for women experiencing family violence including:

  • phoning people to see if they’re okay;
  • providing alcohol rehabilitation (including an Aboriginal Alcoholics anonymous);
  • getting agencies to help them meet new people;
  • providing opportunities to talk to other women in the same situation;
  • making sure workers have an awareness of culture and have an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander unit to deal with these problems;
  • gaining an understanding of the difference between family violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and for non-Indigenous people;
  • listening more, hearing their stories;
  • being supportive of the person’s wishes and building trust;
  • ensuring service providers are non-judgemental and acknowledge that it takes time for women to make decisions to leave their partners and that sometimes they don’t want to;
  • providing extra support and assistance in obtaining restraining orders; and
  • providing more assistance with custody and family court matters (VoCC 2009).

Developing good practice frameworks

The literature identifies the need for integrated interventions to have an evidentiary foundation supported by good governance. Criminal justice system responses to family violence involve a number of different initiatives and participants working together to achieve a shared outcome. ‘Defining satisfactory management [or governance] arrangements is frequently complicated by recurring tensions between partners about ultimate control and ownership of outcomes’ (AIC 2009: 1). Developing good practice frameworks and indicators can assist agencies to define and refine their roles in interagency collaborations.

Pence, Mitchell and Aoina (2007: 150) provide an overview of elements required to formulate a family violence policy for practitioners:

  • policy intent and rationale
  • guidelines for processing cases
    • what the practitioner should do under what circumstances
    • using procedures, forms, etc.
    • what, when, and how information should be shared with others
    • applicable laws, definitions, authority.

and, with an added level of detail for administrators:

  • supervision/monitoring
    • how the policy will be monitored by agency
    • steps to ensure compliance
    • record sharing for external monitoring (how, and with whom).

Policy development should include the perspectives of the diverse range of people who will be affected by its implementation. Although this literature review has focused solely on family violence between intimate partners of opposite gender, a diverse range of other individuals are also involved in family violence incidents. The language used in policymaking and practice development should reflect an understanding of family violence as it is experienced by diverse groups (Humphreys, Houghton & Ellis 2008). Examples of diverse groups experiencing family violence are:

  • persons from CALD backgrounds;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders;
  • people living in remote and rural communities;
  • children and young people;
  • men;
  • gay and lesbian people;
  • people with a physical or intellectual impairment;
  • people with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses;
  • siblings;
  • parents;
  • older men and women;
  • adult offenders; and
  • young offenders;

Developing good practice frameworks may enhance the ability of services to promote a shared understanding of goals, reduce duplication of effort, provide consistent service and increase internal and external accountability.


Across jurisdictions, the way family violence is defined and conceptualised differs. Agreement, however, does exist that coordinated efforts are required to have an effective criminal justice system response to family violence. At the centre of these responses are the goals of improving victim safety, offender accountability and community confidence in the criminal justice system.

Due largely to the complex nature of family violence and associated interventions, evaluative research into specific domestic violence programs have tended to focus on component parts rather than system level impacts.

The literature demonstrates a need for a differential approach to family violence crimes. Interventions such as pro-arrest and proactive prosecution policies and the development of specialist courts have demonstrated improvements in the ability of agencies to respond to family violence. Victims have also identified increased feelings of support and satisfaction with the specialist court model. Current literature suggests that therapeutic jurisprudence and restorative justice principles may also have a role in improving the experience of the criminal justice process for both victims and offenders. In the field of corrections, the evidence suggests that interventions may need to be broadly undertaken to meet individual need. Interventions may need to address not only the nature of violent offending but also address any factors that may affect the person’s responsivity to the interventions. Assessing risks of victimisation or further offending requires a focus on interpersonal, institutional and cultural factors. Assessments need to be undertaken by a range of professionals; however, they should be underpinned by a common understanding of their purpose and limitations.

Integrated interventions need to be underpinned by good practice and be flexible to develop promising new practices. Developing practice frameworks can assist agencies to understand what they are trying to achieve and provide the guidance to ensure the needs of victims, offenders and the broader community are met.

Last updated
3 November 2017