Data collection

31.78 Another important issue identified by the Commissions is the need for ongoing data collection and evaluation. In Time for Action, the National Council highlighted that ‘data relating to violence against women and their children in Australia is poor’,[104] and proposed that one of the tasks of its proposed National Centre of Excellence for the Prevention of Violence against Women would be to ‘coordinate a national research agenda and data collection effort’.[105] The Council noted that:

Data on services sought by, and provided to, victims is not readily available, and the, way in which information is reported is generally inconsistent and does not allow for a comprehensive understanding of family violence against women.[106]

31.79 Similarly, the Family Law Council’s proposal for an expert panel and reference group, discussed above, would also provide a focus for coordinating bodies for improving data collection and analysis.[107]

31.80 The importance of accurate and comprehensive data in informing policy initiatives has been recognised in Victoria through the Victorian Family Violence Database.[108] The database—the only project of its kind in Australia—was developed because ‘access to reliable and meaningful statistics on family violence is essential for the development of appropriate policy response in Victoria’.[109] The Victorian Department of Justice stated in its report, Victorian Family Violence Database: Volume 4, Nine Year Trend Analysis 1999-2008, that:

A lack of meaningful data collection and analysis has long been identified as a pressing issue by government and non-government agencies … The reduction of family violence requires a whole-of-government—and inter-government—evidence-based approach. Accurate and reliable data analysis is central to pursuing such an approach and achieving effective response to family violence.[110]

31.81 In this Report, the Commissions have noted the inadequacy of current data, including: data on federal prosecutions relevant to family violence;[111] court statistics in relation to family violence-related criminal matters;[112] data on the extent of sexual violence against children, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Indigenous women and children;[113] and data on the reporting and prosecution of sexual offences.[114] The Commissions also note that adopting a common shared understanding of family violence will help to facilitate the capture of statistics about family violence, thereby providing more useful and comparable data upon which policies to address family violence can be based.[115]

Summary of recommendations

31.82 In Chapter 8, the Commissions recommend that the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), or another suitable agency, should gather and report data about federal offences committed in the family violence context. This should include:

  • which federal offences are prosecuted and the result;

  • who conducts the prosecution;

  • whether the offences are prosecuted jointly with state and territory crimes committed in the family violence context; and

  • when the offences form the basis of a protection order.[116]

31.83 Similarly, in Chapter 26, the Commissions recommend that the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, the AIC and similar state and territory agencies should prioritise the collection of comprehensive data in relation to sexual assault perpetrated in a family violence context. In particular on:

  • attrition rates (including reasons for attrition and the attrition point);

  • case outcomes; and

  • trends in relation to particular groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.[117]

31.84 In Chapter 12, the Commissions recommend that to the extent that state and territory courts record and maintain statistics about criminal matters lodged or criminal offences proven in their jurisdiction, they should ensure that such statistics capture separately criminal matters or offences that occur in a family-violence related context. In every other case, state and territory governments should ensure the separate capture of statistics of criminal matters or offences in their jurisdictions that occur in a family-violence related context.[118]

31.85 Another major gap in the system identified by the Commissions is the absence of a national protection order database.[119] In Chapter 30, the Commissions endorse the Australian Government’s commitment to the development of a national scheme for the registration and recognition of family violence orders. The Commissions recommend that such a register should, at a minimum:

  • include interim, final and police-issued protection orders made under state and territory family violence legislation; child protection orders made under state and territory child protection legislation; and related orders and injunctions made under the Family Law Act; and

  • be available to federal, state and territory police officers, federal family courts, state and territory courts that hear family violence and child protection related matters, and child protection agencies.[120]

Death reviews

31.86 Another area identified by stakeholders related to data collection aimed at reviewing and analysing deaths resulting from domestic violence. Women’s Legal Services Australia has previously supported such a review, stating that:

WLSA supports any mechanism aimed at monitoring and analysing deaths resulting from domestic violence … The role of the review is to identify risk factors, barriers to effective intervention and gaps in service delivery or the integration of responses. These review processes are not aimed at attributing blame, but rather at making improvements to systems responses and preventing future deaths.[121]

31.87 Domestic Violence Victoria and others, in a joint submission, noted that its members are represented in the Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths led by the Victorian Coroners Court:

It is crucial that other states and territories establish their own appropriately resourced family violence death review, in consultation with family violence victim support services and peak bodies. We believe that national leadership is also important in ensuring that data and research from the various reviews are centrally coordinated so that jurisdictions are able to learn from one another about effective family violence death prevention.[122]

31.88 The Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court of Victoria noted similarly in relation to the Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths that:

The courts believe this process has the potential to provide valuable information about the way the justice system (including its courts) interacts both with its agencies and external agencies in responding to family violence cases. A comprehensive and systematic review of family violence deaths provides a significant opportunity to examine the success or otherwise of integrated responses to family violence.[123]

Commissions’ views

31.89 In the Commissions’ view, a commitment to quality data collection and evaluation is crucial to ensuring systemic change and improvement—and is an important element in an effective and ongoing national response to family violence. Comprehensive, up to date and accurate data help to underpin evidence-based policy and legal responses to family violence, and inform quality education and training programs. Further, the collection and sharing of data are crucial elements of an integrated response.

31.90 In particular, the Commissions are of the view that states and territories should undertake systemic reviews into deaths resulting from family violence. The Commissions agree with the submissions that such data would aid the system in identifying risk factors, gaps in responses and other deficiencies that, if addressed, may help to prevent deaths resulting from family violence.

31.91 Elsewhere in this Report, the Commissions have highlighted many existing examples of good practice in relation to data collection and analysis that have helped the system reflect upon its own practices and inform policy directions. For example, a number of integrated responses have been evaluated, including the ACT’s Family Violence Intervention Program;[124] the Tasmanian Safe at Home program;[125] the NSW Domestic Violence Integrated Court Model;[126] the Joondalup specialised court in Western Australia; and the ECAV evaluation of cross-sectoral training in NSW.[127]

31.92 The Commissions also commend government initiatives such as the Victorian Family Violence Database, which is the most comprehensive database of its kind in Australia. As noted above, the database appears to have played an important role in the formulation of family-violence related policy in Victoria since its inception.

31.93 Finally, the Commissions consider there is role for bodies such as the AIC, or a national body as discussed above—if appropriately funded and resourced—to play a major role in fostering the collection of data and its dissemination to those working in the family system.

Recommendation 31–6 State and territory governments should undertake systemic and ongoing reviews into deaths resulting from family violence.

[104] National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, Time for Action: The National Council’s Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, 2009–2021 (2009), 49.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Ibid, 47.

[107] Family Law Council, Improving Responses to Family Violence in the Family Law System: An Advice on the Intersection of Family Violence and Family Law Issues (2009), 38.

[108] The Database holds data about family violence incidents reported by Victoria Police, intervention order applications finalised in the Magistrates’ Court and Children’s Court of Victoria, family violence services provided by specific agencies funded through the Department of Human Services, family violence–related presentations to Victorian public hospital emergency departments and calls to the Victims Support Agency’s Victims of Crime Helpline and Victims Assistance and Counselling Programs.

[109] Department of Justice (Vic), Victorian Family Violence Database: Volume 4, Nine Year Trend Analysis (2009),18.

[110] Ibid, 19.

[111] See Chs 8, 3–7.

[112] See Chs 12, 22–23.

[113] See Chs 24, 7–9.

[114] See Chs 26, 8–1.

[115] Ch 8, 34.

[116] Rec 8–1.

[117] Rec 26–1.

[118] Rec 12–7.

[119] See Ch 30. The Australian Government has committed to working with the states and territories to establish a national scheme for the registration of protection orders. Details have not yet been released about how such a national scheme would operate.

[120] Rec 30–18.

[121] Women’s Legal Services Australia, Submission FV 225, 6 July 2010, Attachment 4.

[122] Domestic Violence Victoria, Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Victorian Women with Disabilities Network, Submission FV 146, 24 June 2010.

[123] Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s Court of Victoria, Submission FV 220, 1 July 2010.

[124] Urbis Keys Young, Evaluation of the ACT Family Violence Intervention Program Phase II (2001).

[125] Successworks, Review of the Integrated Response to Family Violence: Final Report (2009).

[126] L Rodwell and N Smith, An Evaluation of the NSW Domestic Violence Intervention Court Model (2008), prepared for the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

[127] This report was not publicly available at the time of writing.