Putting victims first
Improved safety for victims is at the centre of the Government's continued investment in Victoria Police.
Crime Statistics Agency figures show that victimisation rates have continued to decline in the last decade and are now at their lowest rate since July 2004. The Government is assisting Victoria Police in building on a victim-centred approach.
This approach has included investing in 415 family violence specialists and the rollout of Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) to enable police to capture statements at family violence incidents to be used as Evidence-in-Chief in court proceedings.
Case Study Body Worn Cameras (BWCs)
No Victorian community is unaffected by family violence. Victoria Police is committed to a process that reduces the trauma for the victim as much as possible. BWCs were trialled in a pilot project in Ballarat and Epping.
The footage captured by the cameras has accelerated court processes with early guilty pleas in at least four cases so far.
A victim-centred approach means prioritising victims' needs and using methods that ease any ongoing trauma. Obtaining early guilty pleas in four cases gave us a good indication that BWCs can assist in the often-challenging legal processes for victims of family violence.
Using BWCs aims to avoid victim survivors having to relive the trauma of family violence incidents when they provide evidence at court. It provides a more accurate and real-time representation of a victim's emotional state and the impact of violence. It is hoped that the digitally recorded evidence will assist with police investigations and might increase guilty pleas by providing higher quality evidence in court.
Using BWC footage as evidence for family violence cases ensures that high quality, impactful statements from victims is captured and used in court. In line with the victim-first approach, BWCs mean that victims do not need to tell their story more than once. Crucially, footage from BWCs can potentially reduce the number of court hearings for contesting intervention orders.
BWCs have already led to quicker results through the courts and offer victims a quicker and less traumatic route through legal proceedings.
Victoria Police commenced the deployment of BWCs to all frontline members in early 2018. The state wide roll out will be complete by the end of 2019, with approximately 11,000 BWCs in place. The BWC is used to capture general police duties including police responses and interactions with victims and perpetrators of family violence incidents attended. Between April 2018 - May 2019 Victoria Police captured in excess of 200,000 evidence files which equates to 37,000 hours of BWC footage. It is hoped that the use of BWCs will assist with police investigations and may increase guilty pleas by providing higher quality evidence in court.
Greater support for victims
What we have been doing
Family violence remains Victoria's biggest law and order issue, impacting families, communities and our emergency services.
Tackling the scourge of family violence must continue to be a core part of police business.
Recommendations from the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence are being rolled out across the state, with more than half already complete.
That includes more than $2.7 billion investment to further hold perpetrators to account and put victims first. As part of this response, the Government has ensured strengthened powers and capability for Victoria Police.
Family Violence Centre of Learning
Police are often the first outside contact victim survivors engage in a family violence incident. It is essential that police are trained to deal with the situation in an experienced, informed and sensitive manner.
An $11.5 million investment saw a new Family Violence Centre of Learning open at the Police Academy. Family violence experts have already delivered core family violence training to over 14,000 police officers and tripled the family violence training given to new graduates.
It's why our state has 249 new specialist family violence officers, with a total of 415 to be deployed by June 2020.
These officers work to help prevent breaches of intervention orders, while making sure victim survivors are safe and supported.
Court processes are also being made more victim friendly by permitting the use of video and audio in some proceedings, including the use of recordings taken from BWCs. Court powers to issue Family Violence Intervention Orders (FVIOs) have been expanded, preventing perpetrators from drawing out court proceedings.
New information sharing laws have also been introduced so the privacy of a perpetrator does not take priority over the safety of a victim. The rights of family violence perpetrators to consent to relevant information being shared has been removed and a 'trusted zone' of organisations that can share information has been created.
These are landmark reforms that will help save the lives of women and children across Victoria – and result in tougher consequences for perpetrators.
Improved protection and enforcement
Around 40 per cent of police time is spent responding to family violence. The establishment of Australia's first Family Violence Command to lead police efforts to combat family violence in addition to a commitment of 415 new specialist family violence officers and family violence investigation units is improving Victoria Police's capabilities to respond to the scourge of family violence. The deployment of more than 200 of the new specialist family violence officers is making a difference with a substantial increase in the number of family violence order breaches and offenders processed.
Commitment in 2019-20
Better support for victims involved in the justice system
As part of the implementation of recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s 2016 report on The Role of Victims of Crime in the Criminal Trial Process, from November 2019, the new Victims of Crime Commissioner will have expanded powers to better support victims going through the justice system. The Commissioner will be able to review the outcome of a victim’s complaint and make recommendations to improve the practices of criminal justice agencies, including Victoria Police. The Commissioner will also monitor and report to Parliament on criminal justice agencies’ compliance with their obligations.
Commitment in 2019-20
New penalties for strangulation
The Government will deliver legislation for a stand-alone offence of strangulation, to enhance the protection of victims and to make it easier to hold offenders to account.
Strangulation is the leading cause of death among women killed by a current or former male intimate partner.
In circumstances of family violence, strangulation is rarely an isolated event and often reveals an ongoing and escalating pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. In Victoria, strangulation was recorded in 4.1 per cent of total family violence incidents in 2017-2018. Males were the perpetrators in 94.6 per cent of these incidents, with most being a current or former intimate partner of the victim.
Although strangulation is most common as a form of family violence, it does not only occur in this context. Strangulation is also a common form of violence in sexual assaults, including sexually motivated murder and other assault categories. The new offence will therefore also apply to acts outside of the family violence context.