Domestic violence refers to violence initiated by a family member on another. In Queensland, domestic violence presents a societal problem with historical leanings. Indeed, since time immemorial, violence has been visited upon the weaker partners in the family. In Queensland the most affected groups are the women, children, special relationships such as gays, lesbians, and transgender partners. Statistics demonstrate that historically, violence has been perpetrated mainly by the men. The main inspiration is often the need to maintain power balance within the family setup. Violence could take physical, non-physical or both forms. Physical violence includes bodily and sexual assault while non-physical violence is manifested through acts like social isolation, verbal violence and economic depravity. From the 1970’s, activists, feminists and scholars conspired to fight for the eradication of domestic violence. They used various fronts such as academia, political activism and legal institutions to fight for elimination of domestic violence. Sadly, the criminal justice system is yet to fully address the issues of domestic violence. However, it is noteworthy that the trend since 1970’s has seen the decrease of incidences of domestic violence. In addition, people have come out to speak openly about their experiences. All in all with the combined efforts of the executive, the legislature, the criminal justice system and the citizenry, domestic violence in Queensland is set to end.
Domestic violence is the use of violence in family relationships by one partner on the other or on the children in the family. Ideally, it can manifest in two main ways; physical violence and non-physical violence. While the former is more pronounced and adverse in nature, both are illegal, uncivilised and unexpected in the modern world. Physical violence relates to bodily or sexual assault while non-physical violence denotes the following: social violence, verbal violence, and economic violence. Social violence entails the confining and restriction of a partner’s interaction with the outside world, verbal violence involves the use of abusive language while economic violence relates to the neglect of financial obligations in the family. All these manifestations of domestic violence occur in one way or another in the typical family set up. In Queensland, statistics point to the direction that domestic violence is a crisis that necessarily requires government intervention. No wonder the program coordinated jointly by the ministries of Communities, Police and Women, titled Queensland Government strategy to target domestic and family violence.
Domestic violence in Queensland society remains a key problem. Violence was visited upon weaker partners in relationships since time immemorial. A study conducted in 1996 revealed that in Queensland in that year’s police report, 97% of violence cases reported was visited upon women. The fact that women form the larger percentage of victims can be explained by their societal circumstance that ordinarily; women are the weaker parties in social relationships. Men take advantage of their physical, economic, social and age superiority to abuse women. Scholars have reported that in most cases, men are motivated by the need to maintain the power balance in the family. Any attempts to upset the power balance would call for violence against innocent victims. The report in the same strain observes that the women particularly affected by domestic violence would be from one of the following groups: young women just into marriage, old women and disabled women. The average age woman in marriage many a times is spared from domestic violence.
However, since 1970’s activism and campaigns against domestic violence were started aggressively. In the quest for liberation of the women victims and elimination of domestic violence was feminists, women advocates, activists and scholars. The war against domestic violence has been fought on three fundamental and essential frontiers; academic, legal and political. Indeed, a lot of academic literature exists on domestic violence in Queensland thanks to scholars like Barbara Hudson. To sum up Barbara’s arguments, she puts up a front that the criminal justice system should address domestic violence in Queensland through a solution that combines tripartite elements of justice, that is, discursive, relational and reflective in nature. Hudson and others have used the academic front to champion for the liberation of the woman and to an extent the child victim in domestic violence.
On the legal front, a lot of pressure has been placed on the legislative bodies. Of course, the first line of reaction saw the legislation of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 1989. This Act, among other things, outlined the definitions of acts that would fall under the province of domestic violence, the procedures of prosecution and the attendant punishments. Like every other piece of legislation, the Act ought to be read together with other operating sources of law and should be consistent with superior sources of law such as the Constitution. Arguably, one can rightly state that the Act was not perfect, and it is the imperfect nature of the Act that is responsible for the domestic violence still witnessed today. It can be rightly put that the Act has not eliminated the mischief it was meant to dispense with. However, one would not be fair with history if one fails to recognise the mitigation and preventive effects of the Act.
On the political front, activists and politicians have continued to pressure the government to take action. Indeed, the recent intervention by government dubbed “Strategy to Target Domestic and Family Violence” can be attributed to the political pressure that the seat of power continues to get from lobbyists and activists. It should not be lost on us that domestic violence affects women and children, the former constituting an enormous political constituency. Any accountable and long sighted government would want to address issues that go to the heart of such an essential political constituency if not merely for political mileage.
Statistics on Domestic Violence in Queensland
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2005 a survey on Personal Safety was conducted and revealed that thirty one percent of interviewed women had been assaulted by current or previous partners, 64% of the assault cases occurred at home within the precincts of the family. However, only 36% of the assault cases were reported to the police for prosecution. Brownridge Report of 2006 revealed that disabled women in general experienced partner violence by 40% more than ordinary women. O’Keefe et al (2007) revealed that 2.7% of old women above 65 years were being abused. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex relationships failed to report cases of violence which were actually higher compared to normal heterosexual relationships. In 2006-2007 Annual Statistics Review by the Department of Police revealed that Domestic Protection Orders were 13,305 and Temporary Domestic Protection Orders were 7,580. Of these orders, 8,978 breaches were reported. According to Access Economics, costs of domestic and family violence stood at an annual amount of 8.1 billion in Australian economy extrapolating down to 2 billion to Queensland’s economy alone.
Exactly what does the statistics portend for Queensland in relation to domestic violence? It is imperative to read between the lines to obtain the true position of domestic violence. First, one must observe the sad reality that most occurrences amounting and nearing the province of domestic violence do not get reported. It is a known fact that in the rural areas, where domestic violence is commonplace, only few instances see the doors of Police stations. In addition, there is a general poor prosecution of offences and the number of breached orders illustrates the extent to which legal remedies do not find application. This perhaps can also explain away the low reporting incidences.
Another deduction one can obtain from the statistics is that generally domestic and family violence affects the vulnerable groups. The worst affected in this case are the women, the special relationships and the disabled groups. In addition, the effect of domestic violence on the economy is adverse to say the least. With that analysis, one can attempt to answer the question as to whether domestic violence is declining or rising in Queensland. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, one can comfortably indicate that violence is on the decline. It is illustrative to note that since the emergence of activist society in 1970’s, the rates have been lower with the passage of time. It should also be noted that with the information age, the legal infrastructure and women empowerment, the rates of unreported domestic violence has been on the decline since 1970’s. However, one should not start the party yet. Indeed, the fact that Queensland Government is still pursuing the strategy aimed at eliminating domestic violence demonstrates the fact that domestic violence is still an issue worth consideration and consequent fixing.
Criminal justice system on domestic violence and its attendant failures
It is imperative to look into the criminal justice system in Queensland and interrogate its attempt at addressing domestic violence. It is important to revisit the ideas propounded by Barbara Hudson on what the legal system ought to be. First, it is illustrative and convenient at this point out the consensus in among scholars that the criminal justice system has not yet done its best in the fight against domestic violence. Although the Domestic and Family Violence Act, 1899 was progressive and well-intended, it failed to consider critical values and principles essential for the address of the issues at hand. As Hudson puts it, the Act ought to have had a discursive, relational and reflective appreciation. Discursive in this context refers to the appreciation of the circumstances of the cases. Although circumstances would vary on a case by case basis, it is Hudson’s contention that a general aspect ought to be enunciated by any criminal system that appreciates the circumstances. On the other hand, relational principle denotes the appreciation that humanity exists in a network of relationships. To this extent, in light of the fact that domestic violence involves family members, criminal justice should appreciate the relational aspect and demonstrate a deliberate intention to remedy the problem and yet preserve this sacred relationship. Lastly, the reflective principle calls for a demonstration of an appreciation of the context of the cases occurrence.
In light of Hudson’s contribution, one should look at the current challenges that confront victims who seek for legal redress for cases of domestic violence. Incidentally, it has been observed that cases touching on domestic violence had a number of challenges. First, the accused does not always plead guilty for alleged offences. Secondly, the cases took longer at trial as compared to other litigation, perhaps subtly suggesting the attitude taken by the court. And lastly, the victims who were found guilty were often given trivial penalties, hence making a mockery of the process. The latter was made possible thanks to the discretion granted on the judicial officers. These challenges have compelled scholars in the field to re-interrogate the criminal justice system with one scholar correctly summing up the issues in two questions. That is, is the criminal justice system’s response to the heterogeneous nature of domestic violence satisfactory? And, whose goals should be of paramount interest, the system or the victims? These questions are left for further research as they need in-depth analysis. However, scholars have summed the experience visited upon victims who seek legal redress as distressful, disadvantageous and disillusioning. They have left nothing to chance other than pressure government to take decisive action. In fact, the joint strategy by the three ministries demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system in addressing the matters in question.
One may ask what challenges do face victims of domestic violence in Queensland. In answering the question, one is confronted by factors such as isolation, legal protection, police protection, financial insecurity, familial disorganization and disturbance, fear, among other factors. The list is endless; however, this paper examines just a few of them. Isolation results as a consequence of reporting incidences of violence. Chances are that the family members may isolate the victim and ignore her subsequently worsening the situation. Legal protection refers to the legal remedies availed and their practicality. The Protection Orders fall under this category. The fact that they can be breached by the villains exposes the victims to a greater risk than the initial violence. Police protection refers to the police reaction and action to the reported incidences. At times the police fail to play their part or deliberately commit flaws that aid the accused rather than the victim. Financial insecurity refers to the likely financial consequence of reporting cases. In the event the accused withdraws his financial support, the victim is left at a worse economic state. Finally, familial disturbance and disorganization is also likely to results after reporting domestic violence. At best it leads to temporary separation and at worst leads to divorce. This goes against the societal principle of preserving the institution of family.
Queensland Government Strategy to Target Domestic and Family Violence
As mentioned previously, this is an initiative by the government to address the problems at hand. It is being implemented under the joint auspices of the Ministries of Communities, Women and Police. The program is predicated on the following principles: everyone has a right to freedom from violence and is entitled to safety in a relationship, the safety and wellbeing a child is paramount, community must give its support against domestic violence and finally that violent people must be put to accountability for their actions.
The goals of the program are to ensure victims of violence are adequately protected and supported and that people committing such violence are monitored and held accountable for their actions. This program attests to the positive contribution of the government and its commitment to end the scourge that is domestic violence.
While domestic violence in Queensland still occurs. Signs are out there of an onslaught to end the vice. Potential perpetrators ought to be put on the warning. With the passage of time, the combined efforts of the executive, the legislature, scholars and activists promise to bear fruit and see to it that domestic violence remains a historical statistic. This is the future every citizen should aspire to realise. The solution lies in every citizen playing his or her role well by reporting cases of domestic violence so that action can be taken by the relevant authorities.
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