The Effectiveness of Legal Protection in the Prevention of Domestic Violence in the Lives of Young Australian Women

Article excerpt

Domestic violence is a criminal issue of public concern. The first large national survey of women and violence found that 23 per cent of women who had ever been married, or lived in a defacto relationship, experienced violence by their partner and that 3 per cent of women currently in a relationship had experienced violence by their partner in the last 12 months (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1996). International studies have shown that for young women, the risk of violence by a partner is 3-4 times higher than the risk for women overall (ABS 1996, Rodgers 1994, Mirrlees-Black 1995, Bachman and Saltzman 1995). The limited data on violence by boyfriends, a situation in which young women are likely to be disproportionately represented, show that injury by boyfriends is relatively high: 56 per cent of women assaulted by a boyfriend were injured in the last incident, compared to 31 per cent of women assaulted by married or defacto partners (ABS 1996).

This report describes a large national study of young women who experienced physical violence by a partner. In particular, it examines the effectiveness of legal protection in preventing repeated violence and compares outcomes after legal intervention from the police or the courts, or both. It is an observational study of the "natural history" of partner violence against young women in the community, rather than an experiment to test intervention strategies to prevent recurring violence, or police responses, as in the mandatory arrest experiments in the USA. As such, it reports the outcomes for women who used strategies other than legal intervention, as well as those who sought legal intervention in response to violence.

Adam Graycar

Director

Avenues for the Prevention of Violence by Partners

Women who are assaulted by their partners use many strategies to deal with the situation - they call the police, they seek help from the courts, doctors, and other health services, they discuss the problem with their family and friends, they leave their homes, and they leave the violent relationships (Zawitz 1994, Egger and Stubbs 1993, Kantor and Straus 1990, Gelles and Cornell 1990, Pagelow 1981, Strube and Barbour 1983).

In Australia and overseas, women are encouraged to obtain legal protection from police and /or courts to prevent further violence by partners (Egger and Stubbs 1993, Sherman 1992, Stubbs and Powell 1989). In Australia, protection orders are readily available to those who fear future violence, regardless of the nature of their relationship with the person they fear (National Committee on Violence Against Women 1993, Trimboli and Bonney 1997, Egger and Stubbs 1993, Ferrante et al. 1996). Protection orders appear to be increasingly used in Australia and it has been speculated that women may be applying for orders more often than they report domestic violence to the police (Ferrante et al. 1996, Egger and Stubbs 1993).

Benefits or Otherwise of Legal Intervention in Prevention of Violence by Partners

Despite reforms to improve the legal response to domestic violence, there are serious limitations to existing data on the effectiveness of protective strategies (Roberts et al. 1993, Egger and Stubbs 1993). There are a few studies on outcomes after protection orders. However, there are no Australian data on outcomes after police intervention, nor any studies here or overseas which compare the benefits of police intervention and court orders. Furthermore, we know little about the course of domestic violence in the absence of legal protection. Thus, there is hardly any research on outcomes for women who do not seek legal protection compared to those who do, since a comparison group of women without legal help is typically omitted from studies on police or protection orders (Sherman 1992, Trimboli and Bonney 1997, Egger and Stubbs 1993). Yet, there is a large proportion of women whose violent situation does not come to the attention of the police (ABS 1996, Rodgers 1994, Zawitz 1994, Matka 1991, Ferrante et al. …