August 13, 2007

No answers

The realms of domestic crime is always and forever a minefield, not least of which being the politically charged “domestic” tag, or the more contemporarily coined, “family violence”, both labels suggesting that the actions in question are of a strictly private, rather than societal nature, which of course they are not, and have never been.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and disability for women aged under 45.

New laws to be introduced in Victoria sometime this year will allow authorities to remove offenders from the family home (such laws already exist in other states, and countries) and offenders will not be allowed to personally cross examine their victims; they will require legal representation for that task.

Such laws in other jurisdictions generally place the removal decision firmly in the hands of the police, and whatever decision they make, based on the circumstances they encounter, cannot and will not be withdrawn.

The obvious difficulty with this approach is the overt paternalism of removing all decision-making and all responsibility from the (usually) female victim.

The approach also pushes the envelope in terms of assuming guilt, with the first decision - removal - carrying with it the twin assumptions that, in the heat of some event, the victim is being factual and truthful, and the accused is guilty (and instantly homeless), with both assumptions tending to unrelentingly flow through the entirety of the legal process.

Far more controversially, the new legislation will expand the definition of family violence to include psychological and economic abuse, and rules of evidence will be relaxed to permit hearsay.

With around 30,000 cases dealt with each year, and an estimated 120,000 unreported cases, the government aims to encourage women to speak out.*

Additional training for magistrates, prosecutors and police will be funded, along with more legal aid for offenders. There is no suggestion of an expanded police force or judiciary will be provided to deal with the potential deluge during the next decade.

The existing laws are, from time to time, exploited by women out of spite, or revenge, perhaps little realizing the seriousness of what they are doing when they unleash the laws on innocent men. This is likely a very small percentage of cases, but I have no idea, and no data.

The flip side is that, all too often, women at most risk are not safe no matter the law, and no matter the thorough and professional job done by police. The judicial system frequently plays a part in failing to protect women in worst case situations.

There is no information yet on who will establish that accusations of psychological and economic abuse have a foundation in truth; nor the nature of the spectrum upon which such abuse will be measured; nor how such abuse will be punished as a criminal offense.

I don’t question for one moment that psychological and economic abuse are real and possibly even wide spread in the community, but I cannot begin to fathom how anyone, no matter their professional role, will provide proofs and determinations of the degree and true nature of such subjective and, literally hidden, behaviors, thoughts and responses.

It will be quite some time before we start seeing investigation articles about the consequences of this ill-defined slippery slope aspect of the legislation.

There are some things that cannot be legislated by governments - many things, in fact; there are some behaviors that cannot be measured in a robust manner, and, therefore, should be tackled via other social mechanisms or forums, rather than one that will, quite obviously, be open to its own form of abuse from day one.

This legislation might not be wrong, but nor does it appear to be right.

*Sorry, lost where I saw those figures; from memory only, treat with caution.


  1. Anonymous10:21 PM

    Why, Caz, would these laws be different to any other raft of laws passed in this country in recent years? Look at the complete and utter shemozzle that passes for our “security” laws and how deftly they were applied recently.

    Not to make light of the issues these laws are meant to address but the points of caution you raise should…should give pause. They won’t though because paternalistic government always knows best.

    Vindictive women do indeed, from time to time, abuse these laws. I know of one personally who has utilised the law in this area to slap restraining orders on her husband. All to aid in the divorce proceedings against a “violet and angry” husband. Her son despises her and well he might. She sows, she reaps.

    You can’t help the feeling that the seed from which this germinated was one of good intent – to address issues that weren’t necessarily being properly tackled – and has become a legal beanstalk. Just what comes down the beanstalk – and can’t readily be forced to climb back up it – as a result of its introduction is the concern.

    Still, in a land that has just passed laws whereby the Keystone Cops and Phil Ruddock – on suspicion you may palm your prepaid sim to an acquaintance rather than recharge it or some such – can search your house, copy your computer hard drive, sequester your financial records, et al and not have to inform until some six to eighteen months later (if Phil decides you need to know), why are we surprised?

    It appears our pollies believe we adore being thoroughly legislated to within an inch of our freedom. Bit like a big, fluffy warm doona on a winter’s night.

    Problem is, summer will come around again one day and we’ll be sweating, swaddled in our legal doona.

  2. There seems to be an overabundance of nonsensical lawmaking going on on both sides of the pond.

    We have our share of loony laws here as well.

  3. Cube – yes, it’s not unique to our shores, and in fact in many areas the US has far more *interesting* laws than ours.

    Father – perhaps they’re not “expanding the definition” in order to criminalize such behaviors, but why else would they feel compelled to expand the definition?

    I might be reading it incorrectly, but until the legislation is on the table, I can’t begin to fathom how they intend this to play out.

    The area of restraining orders has always been vexed, and it continues to grow entirely in that direction, with many people abusing the option to buggery, not just “domestic” scenarios either; friends, neighbors, total strangers, it’s an area that is totally out of hand (and think of the cost!), and possibly with little evidence to demonstrate the merits of the existing legal structure that allows people to take advantage of the system.

    “Psychological and economic abuse” – how the hell can you criminalize these concepts Father?

    Gives me the willies just thinking about it in theory.

    Take family “A” – low income, partner gives the women $50 a week to buy food for the household and look after the needs of a couple of kids. Objectively, sure, that could be deemed “economic abuse”.

    How would that be punished?

    How would it be rectified?

    What if the man has a chronic gambling problem, so the “abuse” is not actually “economic abuse” of his partner, it’s just that 50 bucks is all he has left each week after he loses the rest? He gives every left over dollar to his partner?

    Is that then still “economic abuse” of a woman, or is he a man with a serious gambling problem, not different than any other of thousands of families in the same circumstance, but who aren’t criminalized for a private (though destructive) behavior?

    Take family “B” – wife gets $500 a week to buy groceries for the household and to clothe the kids and herself. Wife can afford enough food for the family: yes. Wife can afford clothes and shoes for kids and herself: not always, and can only afford to buy during sales, goes without to make sure kids are looked after.

    The women from our family “A” would be in heaven to have $500 a week all for food and clothing.

    But the husband in family “B” is wealthy, he makes a motzah, and they live in a large, expensive home; he spends lavishly on himself.

    Do we now say that he is an economic abuser? In relative terms he is, but how do you measure the abuse, the damage, if you're going to call it that, when family "B" live in luxury, and are well fed and reasonably clothed and shod?

    Couple “C” – on their very first date, something silly happened, ending up with the guy making a joke at the woman; a cow noise, “moo, moo”, quickly becomes his little “endearment” whenever she does something silly.

    Five years and a couple of kids later, the cow noises are offered as one of many “exhibits” to prove that the man has been psychologically abusing his partner for years.

    Something that was once nothing more than part of the corny and incomprehensible intimate dynamic between a couple, part of the peculiar glue and history that actually held them together, is now, when dragged out for public and “objective” viewing, tawdry and deliberate “psychological abuse”.

    My examples are trite and simple. How much worse when it comes to highly complex, long term, real life scenarios.

  4. Anonymous9:54 PM

    Oh indeed Caz.

    As I wrote, I quite understand the concerns here and where they may well lead. In any legislative "construct" - there will be a better concept, just can't think of it - there are those who not only "go to school" on it but, also, go to uni. They will have it all "sorted" as to how to use it.

    Who decides indeed? As I wrote of the Aboriginal intervention - and the legislation is passed virtually unseen; certainly not understood – aspects will be rolled out to all on any government money. Someone, god knows who, in Centrelink will decide just how well I parent and whether or not my $3.22 per day (I think) after school-care rebate should be partially withheld. Yes trite, I know, but pertinent. You see, I’ve been asked to “register” with Centrelink (thought I already was) so as to possibly receive other benefits under the Childcare Assistance Package. This will begin to be paid after September one – no dates and, more importantly, no end dates just “sometime” – so long as I “register”.

    I’m a reasonably cynical bastard and I smell several rats. There is no date for the supply of this “possible” cash, just a date after which it might arrive….elections not intervening, of course. Centrelink already has the book, and I mean book, that we filled out all those years ago to register for childcare benefits. Now we do it again. Hmmm.

    Wonder what Mal Brough might think of the kids missing fourteen days of the first term?

    And guess what? There’s a track record of them missing days of school when we holiday.

    Oh dear. Knocks on the Rectory door.

  5. Can't say I've ever supported the idea of with holding, or converting payments to coupons.

    Apart from the necessarily subjective and / or ludicrously "by the rule book" application of such things, there is also, when dealing with a troubled and negligent parent, that their anger over not having "cash in hand" and freedom over how they spend it, will, almost invariably be taken out on their children.

    I really quite loath the idea of baiting such situations, under the guise of government intervention to protect children.

    It worries me.

    I'm also worried that you are supposed to register, again, with Centrelink, my view of that is just as cynical as yours.

    BTW - my daughter was never required to go to school on her birthday, or any other time that we could think up something better to do, which wasn't often - as a single mum I had to be at work for the most part, so wagging wasn't undertaken nearly as much as I would have preferred.

  6. Anonymous12:00 AM

    I must find the letter. It definitely offers the promise that I may be "liable" for a rebate - after lodging my tax return - for our childcare costs.

    I already get that pittance.

    We most definitely need to "apply" for it though.

    Not something - having been done once - I need to do again.

    The real question is why?

    It would seem the industry cannot get answers from the minister with respect to this either. This money was aparrently promised in the 2006 budget. The only date for its payment is "after September first".

    Which could mean never given the current polls.

  7. Anonymous12:09 AM wagging wasn't undertaken nearly as much as I would have preferred.


    I used to travel to school by train (back when they operated) to Lewisham. One of our best wags was to go see Rollerball. Simple: you didn't get off the train and went on to the city.

    Managed one of the Planet of the Apes films and a rock and roll film showcasing Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry and sundry others that way too.

    Can't for the life of me remember the name of R&R film now. Oh dear.