The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence is now in its third week. Transcripts are available on the RC website. I have not followed it closely, but bits and pieces have crossed my newsfeed throughout.
The majority of this week seems to be legal submissions, with Tuesday and Wednesday focusing on “Family Violence Intervention Orders” (sometimes called DVOs, AVOs, restraining orders, etc).
The Royal Commission heard from Victoria Legal Aid, their summation here, regarding duty lawyers. One of the participants on behalf of VLA was Family Violence Program Manager, Leanne Sinclair. A quick bio:
Leanne Sinclair is the Family Violence Program Manager at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA). She is responsible for managing VLA’s family violence services, coordinating and advising on law reform directions and strategic advocacy priorities, as well as managing family violence projects throughout the state. For five years she was the Principal Lawyer at Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV), a state-wide Community Legal Centre that specialises in legal matters arising from relationship breakdown and violence against women.
So with her current role and background, she should be aware of all facets of domestic violence.
VLA summation of her contribution to the panel, my emphasis:
Leanne said tailoring an intervention order was critical for ensuring it was understood and complied with.
She said if respondents understood what the order said, what they could and could not do and how they might be able to negotiate children’s matters into the future, they were more likely to comply and this made victims safer.
Asked for her views on proposals for allowing orders to be varied or finalised without court involvement, Leanne said the system should not put efficiency ahead of effectiveness.
She said the result may be that respondents are given orders which they don’t understand and went on to breach, escalating violence and trauma for the victim.
She said legal advice helped ensure respondents understood the criminal repercussions of breaching an order. It allowed people to be referred to drug, alcohol and other counselling services, and allowed people who didn’t speak English to access interpreters.
‘There’s a missed opportunity for that respondent to be visible, to be made accountable and to go before the court,’ she said. ‘It’s when the respondent has this awareness that we are able to promote safer outcomes for applicants.’
Australia is regarded as a multi-cultural society, however, the vast majority of the population do speak English as a first or second language to a reasonable degree. When this is not the case, an interpreter is mandated to be supplied before any legal proceedings can commence.
It seems then, quite the bizarre assertion that Orders are being breached due to ‘lack of understanding’. It would be up to the duty lawyer or other legal representation (and via interpreter if required), to explain to the respondent what the conditions are for the Order (eg: have no contact, phone/text/email with the victim, to say away from her home/workplace, etc). Pretty basic stuff. Not at all hard to understand.
No. The reason so many DVO breaches occur is not due to ‘lack of understanding’—it is due to the nature of abusers, and also the criminal courts not enforcing any punishment for breaches.
There is no reason why most abusers would adhere to DVOs, why should they, in the vast majority of cases, nothing is going to happen to them if they breach it. And they know it.
It is because of this situation that victims are put in more danger than they were before, and a strong possibility that the situation will escalate.
Any change in a situation that is perceived to undermine the abuser’s control, will escalate the situation for the victim. Victims know this, and this reason is one of the main reasons victims do not report assaults, because they know something major like police involvement will anger him immensely. DVOs, impending custody cases, police called, the victim leaving—these are all triggers for an escalation in violence (or homicide), as the abuser has had an interference in his level of control.
There is only one book you need to read to understand abusers. Lundy Bancroft’s “Why does he do that?”. It should be mandatory reading for everyone in the sector—law enforcement, family courts, magistrate courts, social workers, child protection officers, and yes, those running perpetrator programmes, which is what Bancroft really pioneered.
Like most outsiders (ie outside the victim/perp relationship), Bancroft was initially taken in by some of the smoother abusers, their sob stories, but quickly learned, by consultation with the victims, that abusers were spinning tall tales and a pack of lies. They are supreme manipulators, of outsiders particularly, appearing to be anything from ‘the real victim here’ through to ‘bitches be crazy’.
A few snippets from an article on Bancroft’s website. Firstly the range of abuser personalities or styles, and outsider perceptions:
Batterers come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of education. They have the full range of personality types, from mild and mousy to loud and aggressive. They are difficult to profile psychologically; they frequently fare well in psychological testing, often better than their victims do. People outside of a batterer’s immediate family do not generally perceive him as an abusive person, or even as an especially angry one. They are as likely to be very popular as they are to be “losers,”
The contrast of how he behaves around victims, and with outsiders:
He is manipulative: he misleads people inside and outside of the family about his abusiveness, […] His public image usually contrasts sharply with the private reality.
[…] An experienced batterers’ counselor may have to spend several hours with the abuser before the underlying attitudes begin to show. These attitudes are generally evident to victims, however, who often feel frustrated at the batterer’s ability to present a markedly different face to the outside world.
Distorted perceptions and manipulation of others:
Because of the distorted perceptions that the abuser has of rights and responsibilities in relationships, he considers himself to be the victim. Acts of self-defense on the part of the battered woman or the children, or efforts they make to stand up for their rights, he defines as aggression against him. He is often highly skilled at twisting his descriptions of events to create the convincing impression that he has been victimized. He thus accumulates grievances over the course of the relationship to the same extent that the victim does, which can lead professionals to decide that the members of the couple “abuse each other” and that the relationship has been “mutually hurtful.”
Belief systems and predictors:
A recent research study showed that two factors, the belief that battering is justified and the presence of peers who support abusiveness, are the single greatest predictors of which men will batter; these two had a considerably greater impact than whether or not the man was exposed to domestic violence as a child
The “peers who support abusiveness” above, can be extended through to law enforcement officers (LEOs) and the courts. If LEOs/courts are not holding abusers to account, and enacting punishments, they are de facto supporters and enablers of ongoing abuse. They may not see themselves in this role, but the abusers do—the whole purpose of law enforcement is curtail criminal behaviour*, most usually through punishment or other sanctions. When this important step is not enacted, the abusive situation is encouraged, and worsens. In Bancroft’s book, he covers how outsiders like the courts, social workers, and various other parties can enable abusers, and also unwittingly, act as abusers’ proxies.
Bancroft’s article continues, on how the potential loss of his control, can escalate the situation:
An abuser’s desire for control often intensifies as he senses the relationship slipping away from him. He tends to focus on the debt he feels his victim owes him, and his outrage at her growing independence. (This dynamic is often misread as evidence that batterers have an inordinate “fear of abandonment.”) He is likely to increase his level of intimidation and manipulation at this point; he may, for example, promise to change while simultaneously frightening his victim, including using threats to take custody of the children legally or by kidnapping.
Basically, the public personae of an abuser can be remarkably different from the reality. Outsiders fall for this Nice Guy personae all the time, particularly social workers who approach the situation from a gender neutral position, or a long-held belief that family ‘disputes’ are of a 50/50 cause.
And clearly, we can see that the courts and lawyers are falling for this Nice-Guy-who-just-made-a-mistake-and-lost-his-temper routine, and treat the offender as if he just needs some more ‘understanding’ (ie lenient treatment) to see the error of his ways. Some abusers will do an excellent job of appearing full of remorse in front of the court, get a lenient outcome, and have a full-on crocodile smile as they walk out the court’s door, muttering “suckers!” under their breaths. Then go home and punish the victim for putting him through such an ‘inconvenience’ so that she won’t report him again. That is the common outcome of leniency when it comes to abusers, and why the police, in the first instance, should be making every effort to lay charges, and for the courts to have a zero tolerance response, in the same way they would if this were a stranger or ‘coward’s punch’ attack. More frequent custodial sentences for offenders may give the victim the opportunity to re-arrange their lives, make a break, to seek further help, to put security measures in place.
AVO breaches should be acted upon every time, and should attract an automatic custodial sentence. Currently, the majority of breaches escape any form of punishment, generally resulting in escalation, sometimes murder.
While the laws will vary from state to state, routinely near-fatal assaults are being dealt with as Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), and although this is regarded as a serious offence, in reality many of these attacks could be regarded as Attempted Murder, or wilful disregard for life, etc. Acts such as setting the victim on fire (which has happened at least once this year already in Tasmania), or strangulation, particularly to the point of unconsciousness (extremely common), are acts of attempted murder. They are beyond merely inflicting serious harm. These acts (as well as use/access to weapons) score highly within risk assessments, as indicators that the situation may escalate to murder. It is time the legal system recognised these types of assaults more seriously, particularly within the context of family violence.
The reduction/elimination of family violence is multi-faceted. All areas must be worked upon concurrently, else the pressures fall onto the other areas, making many measures/efforts ineffective in curtailing domestic violence. In the following graphic I have grouped various facets into three main groups, my ‘Triad of DV’ if you will:
I have place law enforcement, and both the Family and Magistrate/Crown courts at the ‘pointy end’. This is because these areas have had a poor track record, and appropriate changes and responses will have the most immediate and dramatic effect. The Family Court’s involvement needs to be a post on its own.
Next in the DV Triad, are the victim services (refuges, legal services), social case workers, and child protection agencies. For victim support, historically underfunded (and recently suffering cutbacks and closures), needs adequate funding to cope with current demand, because DV is not going to be resolved or reduced overnight, these are life-saving services, and pay for themselves in reducing homicides and serious injuries. As for social workers and child protection agencies, better education and better case management is needed.
The final section of the Triad, are the social attitude changes, the perpetrator programmes, education (aimed at young people particularly). These are long-term and slow to show effect. These programmes should be funded independently of the support sector, ie, not take funding away from victim services. Perpetrator programmes are most certainly not the Holy Grail here. Again, the change is slow, and for the majority of perpetrators, it will have little change in their behaviour and attitudes. Abusers took ‘a lifetime’ to get where they are now, as well as being highly resistant to change. Most of them already know that ‘DV is bad, m’kay’, which is why most of them do it behind closed doors. A minority will change, sure. The majority are likely to modify their behaviour from less physical to more pschyological forms of control (not non-abusers or cured in my book), and the remainder will not change at all. Offering abusers to attend a perpetrator programme in lieu of custodial sentencing is a huge mistake trialled elsewhere. These abusers have little motivation to change, and will just bide their time during the programme. Perpetrator programmes should be either 1) purely voluntary, and not related to pending , sentences or outcomes; or 2) part of the custodial sentence, and an attempt at rehabilitation. But just don’t pin your hopes that this is the cure-all. The majority of abusers know it’s wrong—they just don’t care, unless it lands them in jail.
Which brings us full circle to Ms Sinclair’s comments at the Royal Commission. The vast majority of offenders already know these no-contact orders mean—they just don’t care, particularly if law enforcement and the courts won’t follow through and punish breaches. These orders become worse than ‘just a bit of paper’, because they actually become ‘fuel on the bonfire’.
It is time to stop catering to and enabling abusers with the group-hug, hand-holding, kumbaya approach. They are not souls who have lost their way, they are deliberate, and calculating in their manipulation of everyone around them, including The System.
Postscript 08 Aug 2015:
Although I have not read any of Barry Goldstein’s books, the summary of Goldstein’s view in this article concurs with my position of hardline and consequences for abusers:
But not everyone thinks therapy is the best course of action.
“There is no research that suggests therapy works for domestic violence abusers,” domestic violence expert and lawyer Barry Goldstein, author of The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion, tells Yahoo Health. “The only thing that has been shown to change an abuser’s behavior is accountability and monitoring.”
Goldstein says that abusers will stop only when they know they will face “significant consequences.”
And a review of one of his books indicates he is also on the same page as Bancroft, when it comes to causes and solutions for domestic abusers:
In “The Quincy Solution” Barry Goldstein alerts the reader with a new awareness of the extent of the problems created as a result of the attention given on sexual violence wife and child abuse in the home and of the need for reformation our legal systems, investigative practices, and in prejudices in courts custody decisions.
Goldstein provides a brief background and history of domestic violence, inequalities between the sexes, and the lack of calling on expert testimony by the courts and the prevailing sense of “it can’t be changed” revealing how we live in a society that ignores or tolerates rather than protects the victims of domestic violence. He goes on to introduces the Quincy Model which focuses on risk assessment and victim safety in cooperation with law enforcement personnel, the courts, and experts in the field of Domestic Violence.
Quincy, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, in Norfolk County became alarmed by the rate of homicides directly related to domestic violence cases. This led to the development and implementation of a model of best practices which dramatically reduced these homicides annually.
So… a dramatic reduction in homicides by not hand-holding these abusers, as well as holding them accountable for their actions, works at reducing domestic violence! At the end of Bancroft’s book, he also says he agrees with the feminist analysis of the causes—male domination (patriarchy) and concepts of masculinity. That is the reason that the most common type of domestic violence is male perpetrator and female victim, and nowhere near a 50/50 female/male rate on perpetrators.
In the case of Ray Rice, the impact of being dropped by his team would have had far more effect on modifying his behaviour (at least in public) than the perp programme. Although, I think Rice was re-instated by the team down the track, which would have largely undone some of the ‘lesson learned’.
Postscript 11 Aug 2015:
It has been proven that getting tough with abusers, and dealing with breaches of orders swiftly, actually works!
(a) to ensure that the offender is adequately punished for the offence,
(b) to prevent crime by deterring the offender and other persons from committing similar offences,
(c) to protect the community from the offender,
(d) to promote the rehabilitation of the offender,
(e) to make the offender accountable for his or her actions,
(f) to denounce the conduct of the offender,
(g) to recognise the harm done to the victim of the crime and the community.