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Across Australia, protection orders (known by various terms, including family violence orders [FVOs] and domestic violence orders [DVOs]) are the primary mechanism in each of the eight jurisdictions’ system-based responses to domestic and family violence (DFV). Although there are many differences across these jurisdictions’ legislation, each has been amended numerous times. In the Australian Capital Territory, a number of DFV homicides in 2015, most notably Tara Costigan, and three inquiries aimed at investigating how the ACT was dealing with DFV resulted in the Family Violence Act 2016 (ACT), which took effect on 1 May 2017. The purpose of this report is to assess to what extent the Act (and its implementation and operation) has increased the protection of family violence (FV) victims and resulted in systemic and/or cultural change, and to look at possible ways to increase its effectiveness.
By gathering relevant stakeholders’ observations, experiences and ideas concerning the Family Violence Act 2016 (ACT), this report is intended to provide law and policymakers in the Australian Capital Territory with experiential ideas from the coalface to contribute to best practice FV legislation and practice.
We conducted interviews with and received written submissions from two cohorts: professional stakeholders and people with lived experience of FV and the Act.
The first cohort included 33 interviews and written submissions, representing 27 of the targeted organisations and 38 individual stakeholders, as some interviews involved more than one representative. The interviews were primarily conducted face to face (n=30), with five completed by telephone and three providing written submissions. The questions were developed in consultation with representatives of the ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate and were designed to elicit stakeholders’ observations about and experiences with the operation of the Act and their suggestions for improvement. The interviews were audio-recorded and professionally transcribed, with participants’ approval.
The second cohort consisted of eight people with lived experience of FV. The risk of distress for these participants was minimised in numerous ways. The interview schedule for this cohort included several open-ended, semi-structured questions, which asked participants about their experiences with the legislation and their observations concerning its operation and ideas for how to make either the legislation or its systems better.
By gathering relevant stakeholders’ observations, experiences and ideas concerning the Act, this report is intended to provide law and policymakers in the Australian Capital Territory with experiential ideas from the coalface to contribute to best practice FV legislation and practice. For example, almost all participants felt that further changes are required to better support the Australian Capital Territory in improving practices in both the prevention of and response to FV. Most supported other manifestations of FV being added to the definition, noting that these behaviours also must be included explicitly in FVOs, in order that police officers can act to ensure that breaches are treated as breaches. Many professional stakeholders also called for the legislation to be amended to better protect victims from legal abuse. Additionally, a number believed that victim protection could be improved by changing how contact with partners or ex-partners was managed by those involved in perpetrator programs.
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