Mandatory reporting of domestic violence

Date: Jan 03, 2009
Document Type: Newsletter

The Northern Territory is set to become the first place in Australia where it will be illegal not to report incidents of domestic violence. The new laws to protect women and children from family violence were introduced into state parliament on 26 November 2008, and will be debated in the February sittings. The proposed amendments to the Domestic and Family Violence Act 2007 (NT) come after statistics recently revealed the following:

  • 52% of assaults in the NT occur inside the home, with more than 80% of those against Aboriginal women:
  • Almost 3,000 domestic violence incidents were reported to police in the 2007/08 financial year, resulting in the issuing of 2,594 Domestic Violence Orders, over 1,800 of those subsequently breached;
  • According to NT police, almost two thirds of domestic incidents were alcohol-related;
  • In recent weeks, several domestic attacks have made headlines, including a man charged with murdering his wife, a 35-year-old woman who was stabbed in the head and a 16-year-old promised bride who was assaulted by a 50-year-old man; and
  • Statistics for the mandatory reporting of child abuse show a 27% increase in reports;

Under the proposed amendments, it will be mandatory for all adults to report domestic violence if they believe another person's life is in danger. It will also be mandatory to contact police if people believe a person has caused, or is about to cause, serious harm to another in a domestic relationship. Northern Territory Minister for Children and Families, Malarndirri McCarthy, said that the government is committing $15 million over four years to support the introduction of mandatory reporting, including more crisis accommodation, increased counseling services and public education campaigns.

A number of women's shelters, together with the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC), are opposing the introduction of the new laws. In their response to the proposed amendments, the ADFVC expressed the following concerns:

  • There is no evidence that mandatory reporting improves safety for victims;
  • There is evidence that a significant number of abused women are opposed to mandatory reporting;
  • There is potential for victims to be deterred from seeking medical treatment because of fears of reports to police and retribution from perpetrators;
  • There is potential for victims to lie about their injuries to avoid detection, and for perpetrators to prevent victims from attending health services to avoid being reported;
  • Health professionals may wish to avoid making a report to police against his or her patient's wishes, and may avoid inquiring about the cause of injuries;
  • Health professionals may feel that making a report to the police concludes his or her responsibility to the patient, and thereby fail to provide the appropriate support, referrals and information to victims;
  • Deterrence would be more likely through strong and consistent police and justice responses to domestic and family violence incidents; and
  • As an alternative to mandatory reporting, increase training to health professionals and workers, implement routine screening for domestic violence, and establish a comprehensive and coordinated referral network.
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