Lawyer Calls for Tougher Response on Domestic Violence Offenders

Domestic violence has become such a scourge in the community, our lawmakers must impose tougher penalties for DV offenders.
A radical solution is needed because, despite all of the talk and good intentions, the incidence of domestic violence continues to be on the rise.
Statistics tell us that last year 80 women were killed by their partners. So far this year the total is 66 homicides. For female homicide victims nationally, 23 per cent die as a result of domestic violence. In Queensland’s it’s worse at 44 per cent. In the 10 year period of 2002- 2012 there were 654 women victims of intimate partner homicide in Australia. Those statistics will be higher when they incorporate children, male victims and extended family victims.
The figures are horrifying. If these statistics related to street violence the community and government response would be immediate and dramatic.
Following the recent Council of Australian Governments Family Violence summit in Brisbane, talk of round table discussions on domestic violence is a start in developing a consistent approach across different community and legislative responses.
I believe domestic violence is so widespread and ingrained, it needs a whole of Government and Community approach to eradicate it. Up until now various groups and agencies were working almost independently and in isolation on DV solutions.
The current splintered approach needs to refocus around a robust policy to deter and appropriately punish domestic violence offenders as well as protect victims and the community.
The current move to round table discussions is a great initiative that should bring some longer term outcomes– but it isn’t enough in the immediate term. Our community and our families need and deserve an immediate response.
Legislators should bring in a stronger, better co-ordinated raft of sentences for domestic violence and sexual assaults of children as a clear statement of the community’s stance against DV.
Tougher penalties should apply to those domestic violence offences that would qualify as criminal charges. They would cover assault, murder, and sexual abuse including rape of a partner.

The issue has become so extreme that it has prompted discussion by some political parties of dismantling the entire family court system.

Domestic violence is not a new issue within Australia.  Worryingly, even alarming statistics don't capture the extent of physical abuse, let alone the often equally as damaging psychological aspects of DV.  Unfortunately, the separation of personal public spheres has kept violence a secret within homes for far too long.
I believe a large percentage of homeless women are in this state because of domestic violence.
The full impact of DV is insidious and goes far beyond mere physical attacks. It is a hidden cancer spreading within the community.
Magistrate Colin Strofield, the first judge appointed to the Gold Coast domestic violence specialist court trial, which began in 2015, has publicly endorsed the effect of the court, which is being trialled ahead of a possible wider roll out.
The Court only deals with domestic violence and related criminal matters and its workload has exceeded all expectations.
I feel a key to successfully, sustainably and holistically addressing Australia's staggering domestic violence rates is changing the stigma and mindsets that facilitate the widespread abuse.
Simply put, we need to harness the community through a strong public stance and resetting of moral and community norms.  The approach now being taken to the "coward punch" offences is an example of such a response.
The power of public opinion, coupled with legislative responses, has transformed what was previously tolerated and almost excused as "street brawling" into the concept of a cowardly attack.
Where before the perpetrators of this violent assault were charged under an array of laws non-specific to their particular action, they now face a specific sentencing range if found to have deliberately struck another individual with any part of their body or object they may be holding.
The result is that whether or not you intend to kill or severely injure someone, if you attack them within the context of a coward punch you will face a specific sentencing range for your crime. So, what parallels can be drawn with domestic violence?
The community would likely be divided on introducing mandatory sentencing for domestic violence, and there are studies which concluded it does not work as a deterrent.
An alternative might be the creation of a specific offence related to, for example, an assault committed against a family member, much like an assault against a police officer is a separate and different charge carrying different consequences to a charge of what is sometimes referred to as “common assault”. The so called “coward punch” now also falls within that separate and specific category.
If we, as a community, reflected by our Criminal Code, recognise assaults on police officers or assaults committed in the context of the so called “coward punch” as deserving of separation and special treatment at law, why wouldn’t we recognise assaults, and other acts of domestic violence that also amount to criminal acts, committed against family members to be a separate and specific category of criminal charge – with a higher sentencing range attached to it.
That approach may, for example avoid the argument in cases like the Baden-Clay tragedy. Is a distinction between manslaughter and murder appropriate in the case of killings committed within families? Should there be a separate charge of, for example, “Homicide of a spouse” that carries penalties analogous to those for murder?
Mr Strofield speaks of the domestic violence court holding people accountable for their behaviour and how perpetrators have seen the error of their ways. We need to build on that. Over the decades community attitudes have re-defined how we regard drink-   driving and smoking. Now the community is uniting in its disgust over coward punches. We need to apply that same mindset toward domestic violence.
A change in legislation would legitimise the growing number of voices that condemn this violence whilst also sending a strong message to the rest of Australia that such action is shameful and completely unacceptable. Public condemnation of domestic violence could be a powerful weapon in defeating this scourge. The fact that this method was successfully and swiftly implemented to deal with coward punch issues bodes well for similar effectiveness for Domestic Violence. So why hasn’t it been suggested?
The domestic court trials on the Gold Coast will be traversed in a report due to be handed to the state Government before Christmas. The trial is scheduled to run until mid-2017.
Sadly domestic violence in all its forms is an Australia-wide epidemic and need a nationwide response. I believe the same hardline stance against DV must be employed against those who sexually assault children. These are behaviours society must comprehensively reject.
If you are struggling with domestic violence and need advice or assistance, contact us and one of our specialist domestic violence lawyers will be able to assist you.