Part A: About family violence and the reform context

Part A: About family violence and the reform context

About family violence

Family violence is a pervasive and serious problem in Australia, causing significant harm to individuals, families and the community. On average, one woman a week is murdered in Australia by her current or former intimate partner.[4]

Family violence has serious impacts on the physical and mental health and of adults and children. Family violence has profoundly negative effects on children, whether they are directly targeted, witness the violence or are aware of the violence in the family. Children can suffer from a variety of physical, spiritual, emotional, mental and developmental effects as a result of family violence. Long term effects of trauma from family violence can be carried into adulthood and result in a range of detrimental emotional, mental and behavioural problems.

Family violence differs from other forms of violence: it is generally underpinned by a pattern of coercion, control and domination by one person over another. While family violence can begin at the start of a relationship, it can also increase and change over time. There are times where there is increased risk, including pregnancy and separation (or attempted separation). Family violence is generally part of a longer-term pattern, rather than a one-off event.

Intimate partner violence, between current or former intimate partners, is the most common form of family violence, with the violence generally being perpetrated by a man against a woman. Men can experience family violence, and are more likely to experience violence in different, non-intimate partner, familial relationships, or as elder abuse. Intimate partner violence also occurs in same sex relationships.

Sexual assault that occurs within family violence is common, with women overwhelmingly the victim survivors and their current or former male partner the perpetrators. Sexual violence is a high-risk indicator of further violence and death. Intimate partner sexual abuse is frequently violent and repeated, and sexual and physical violence often co-occur in relationships. As with intimate partner violence, sexual assault, including that experienced by children, young people, people with disabilities and older people, is under-reported mostly due to a failure of the service system to ‘ask’, identify signs, adequately respond to disclosure, or provide support to those impacted.

Research about population-level risk factors and individual risk factors for intimate partner violence is that violence-tolerant attitudes and gender inequality are underlying causes of violence against women. This includes stereotypes and social norms that dictate ‘appropriate’ behaviour for men and women. To inform how best to respond to the individual family violence risk behaviours and actions presented by perpetrators, an understanding of their attitudes and beliefs, which are reinforced by broader social norms, including in the context of their broader service needs, is required.[5]

People from Aboriginal communities, as well as particular groups in the broader community such as, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ people and those in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, face particular risks and forms of violence, and may also face barriers to accessing services and support. Older people may experience abuse along the continuum of behaviour recognised as family violence, and can be particularly impacted due to limited service system recognition and fragmented responses.

The Framework recognises the need to continue to develop the evidence base to ensure effective and targeted responses for these communities.

The need for change — an enhanced Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework

The Framework has been redeveloped in response to the Commission findings. The Commission’s terms of reference specified that it was to:

  • prevent family violence
  • improve early intervention to identify and protect those at risk
  • support victim survivors — particularly women and children — and address the impacts of violence
  • hold perpetrators accountable
  • develop and refine systemic responses to family violence
  • better coordinate community and government responses
  • evaluate and measure the success of strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services introduced to put a stop to family violence.

The Framework is a key instrument to address these aims. The Commission recommended that the Framework should continue to act as the overarching risk assessment and management mechanism in Victoria and that its original intent as a framework for the entire service system be re-established and further embedded. Opportunities for enhancing the Framework identified by the Commission, at recommendation 1, included:

  • a comprehensive framework that sets requirements including determining responsibilities for screening, identification, risk assessment and management, information sharing and referral (including through collaborative, multi-agency arrangements)
  • improving responses to victim survivors and perpetrators across the spectrum of seriousness of risk, including developing a weighted risk assessment tool
  • recognising specific risks for children
  • being more responsive to the needs of the diverse range of family violence victim survivors and perpetrators, among them older people, people with disabilities, and people from Aboriginal, culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTIQ communities.

How has the Framework changed?

Improvements to the Framework respond to contemporary evidence and recognise a wider range of risk factors.

Its authorising environment has been strengthened through the creation of a new Part 11 of the FVPA, establishing the Framework as a legislative instrument when approved by the relevant minister. The FVPA also:

  • empowers the relevant Minister to prescribe as prescribing as ‘Framework organisations’ the organisations and agencies that provide services relevant to family violence risk assessment and management
  • sets out that public service bodies and public entities must require organisations and agencies that provide services relevant to family violence risk assessment and management (i.e. ‘section 191 agencies’) to comply with the Framework through state service agreements.

All organisations that are required to align with the Framework will be referred to in this document as ‘Framework organisations’. Regulations made under the FVPA define prescribed matters for ministers to report on, relating to actions taken to support organisations alignment to the Framework, including the ‘Framework requirements’.

The FVPA places obligations on Framework organisations to align their policies, procedures, practice guidance and tools with the approved Framework, through the set of principles and the Framework requirements.

Continuous review and development

Part 11 of the FVPA requires the relevant Minister to periodically (up to every five years) review the Framework’s operation and for Ministers responsible for Framework organisations to report annually on the Framework’s operation. Periodic review seeks to ensure the Framework continues to reflect evidence-based best practice over time.

A 2017 review of weighted, evidence-based risk assessment approaches across Australian and international jurisdictions identified that there is a lack of an evidence base for weighted risk assessment tools outside intimate partner violence. For this reason, a weighted tool as recommended by the Commission is not part of the Framework. The Victorian Government has committed to evaluation and ongoing review to support continuing development and the validation of weighted risk assessment in the future.

Family Violence and Child Information Sharing Scheme

The Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme enables the operation of the Framework. It has been established under Part 5A of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008, enabling relevant information to be shared between prescribed information sharing entities to assess and manage family violence risk, as set out under Pillar 1 and associated practice guidance.

The Child Information Sharing Scheme, established under Part 6A of the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005, enables prescribed information sharing entities to share information with each other in order to promote the wellbeing and safety of children, including in situations where family violence is suspected or established as being present.

Guidelines issued under each of the information sharing schemes require information sharing entities to refer to the MARAM Framework where family violence is present. Information sharing entities are supported by this MARAM Framework for family violence risk assessment and risk management practice guidance.

[4] Australian Institute of Criminology, Homicide in Australia: 2012–2013 to 2013–2014: National Homicide Monitoring Program.

[5] The Commission, The nature, dynamics and effects of family violence, page 17.