In the wake of five women losing their lives within a span of nine days, experts in the field of family violence are advocating for a groundbreaking strategy to curb domestic violence in Australia. This proposal entails monitoring and tracking men identified as potential threats, even before they commit acts of violence against their partners.
As concerns grow over the rising number of Australian women who have fallen victim to severe injuries or alleged murders at the hands of men, experts propose more direct intervention with men showing concerning behaviors, such as stalking, harassment, monitoring, or threats against their intimate partners, even if they have not yet committed an offense.
The approach being suggested draws inspiration from a program initially designed in the UK to safeguard public figures. This program is currently undergoing trials in the UK for potential domestic violence perpetrators. The core idea is to implement a similar initiative in Australia, aiming to de-escalate potential violence against women.
This program would involve specialized police conducting intelligence gathering to identify and closely observe men displaying concerning behaviors. It may include GPS tracking and monitoring of their online and social media activities. If these observations indicate a transition towards violence planning, intervention would follow.
Experts, such as Dr. Hayley Boxall, a violence researcher formerly associated with the Australian Institute of Criminology and now with ANU, argue that instead of focusing on reforming offenders after the violence has already begun, more proactive methods like this could help prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
National Domestic, Family, and Sexual Violence Commissioner, Micaela Cronin, finds the proposal, featured in Boxall’s research for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), worthy of consideration, especially in light of the devastating loss of women’s lives this year.
The recent series of alleged murders of women across the country has deeply affected Cronin, underscoring the fact that violence against women appears to be increasing rather than decreasing. This trend is a cause for concern, and the question on her mind is how to effect real change.
The proposal comes in the wake of the violent deaths of women like Alice McShera, Analyn “Logee” Osias, and Lilie James. Some of these cases have led to charges, but the suspected killer of Lilie James was found deceased by police.
In 2023 alone, 43 women have allegedly lost their lives in domestic and family violence incidents, along with 11 children. Over the years, the number of women dying due to intimate partner homicide in Australia has remained steady at around 68, making it the most common form of homicide in the country.
Recent findings from the Australian Institute of Family Studies revealed that one in three Australian teenagers has experienced intimate partner violence. In New South Wales, the Bureau of Crime Statistics data shows that rates of domestic and family violence have not decreased in the last 12 years.
Cronin emphasizes that while most funding is directed at ensuring women’s safety, there’s a need to shift focus towards altering the trajectory of men who could potentially use fatal violence against their partners. The Pathways to Intimate Partner Homicide research from the Australian Institute of Criminology highlights the need to understand and address the men who commit violence against women.
Boxall’s proposal to implement a system that monitors and intervenes with men displaying early warning signs of potential violence is seen as a promising approach. A significant portion of intimate partner homicide perpetrators in Australia falls into the “fixated threat” category, individuals who haven’t previously come to the attention of the justice system.
These individuals often lead seemingly normal lives in other aspects but display jealousy, control, and abuse within their relationships. Their behaviors tend to escalate as their victims withdraw from the relationship.
A specialized family violence Fixated Threat Assessment program, staffed by expert intelligence-gathering police, could help track and assess such individuals, potentially preventing lethal threats. Many perpetrators, before committing murder, have shared their intentions with friends or family, providing opportunities for early intervention.
As calls for earlier intervention with men at risk of harming their partners grow, there’s a recognition that the focus has traditionally been on victims and their safety. There’s an urgent need to shift the narrative and work towards changing young men’s attitudes toward women.
The data from the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey highlights that a significant proportion of young men believe it’s legitimate for men to dominate women in relationships. This underscores the importance of education on healthy masculinity and addressing harmful forms of masculinity that contribute to violence.
While some police forces in Australia have launched robust one-off family violence operations, existing fixated threat assessment models primarily focus on lone-actor, grievance-fueled violence, not domestic violence prevention.
To date, there is no specific center for family violence prevention. However, it is recognized that police will act upon identifying a threat to any individual, including a partner or ex-partner. The decision to fit trackers to family violence offenders remains a government matter.
Despite efforts to combat family violence, some states have faced job cuts in organizations dedicated to family violence reforms. Family violence incidents have continued to rise, with over 93,000 acts committed in the past year in Victoria alone.
The government has invested significant resources in prevention and response to family violence, but there’s a pressing need to tackle deep-seated attitudes and values that perpetuate violence.
The saturation model, a promising strategy from overseas, involves a community-wide approach to promoting respect, equality, and safety over time. It focuses on early intervention with boys and young men to reshape attitudes towards women, while also ensuring women have access to necessary services for leaving dangerous relationships.
Kate Fitz-Gibbon, professor in criminology and director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, emphasizes that addressing the scale of violence against women in Australia requires not only service provision but a shift in attitudes and values.