According to the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (VLRC) report on the review of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987, violence against women, including violence in the family, has been recognised at the international level as a fundamental violation of human rights. An effective legal and social response to family violence must be based on an accurate understanding of its nature and dynamics.
The VLRC recommends that the explanatory memorandum which accompanies the new Family Violence Act should refer to the values that underpin the recommendations in its report: non-violence, respect, empowerment, responsibility and accountability. These values should be discussed in educational programs for police, registrars and magistrates. The values VLRC recommend reflects three main themes.
First, because family violence involves the exercise of power and control by the perpetrator over the victim, the substantive law and the way it is applied must not replicate this inequality of power. The legal approach to family violence must hold perpetrators accountable for their actions as well as protecting victims from harm.
Secondly, because family violence involves the systematic disempowerment of people who experience it, legal processes must have the opposite effect. This requires police and courts to ensure that the perspectives of people who have survived family violence are taken seriously and are not repressed or ignored. The legal system must also ensure that victims are not blamed for the harm done to them, that their decisions are respected and that police and court processes do not victimise them further.
Thirdly, the report recognises that law alone cannot prevent family violence or provide support to those who have experienced it. It follows that the legal response to family violence must be supported by changes in community attitudes and integrated with a range of programs and processes which have been established to reduce violence and support those affected by it. The legal system response to family violence should take account of these other programs and processes and interact with them as effectively as possible.