Family violence, systems abuse and Victoria’s intervention order system

Ellen Reeves1
1Monash University, Clayton, VIC

In 2016, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence recognised the misidentification of women as primary aggressors in family violence incidents as a growing issue. The report highlighted that police sometimes apply for a family violence intervention order (FVIO) against a party who is actually the primary victim in the relationship. This victim, who now enters the system as a perpetrator, may face a series of negative consequences, which include homelessness; disadvantage in ongoing family law battles (i.e. custody and property battles); and a denial of access to appropriate victim services. It also becomes a missed opportunity to hold the genuine perpetrator accountable for their actions.

This presentation, based on the findings of interviews completed with eight Melbourne-based family violence lawyers, examines this issue and highlights the links between (mis)uses of the intervention order system and an emerging type of family violence – systems abuse. Systems abuse refers to the manipulation of the legal system by perpetrators of family violence, committed in order to harass, threaten and exert control over a partner (current or former). This presentation will contend that due to both systematic barriers and inconsistent awareness of family violence dynamics within the justice system, some female victims are not being granted the protection from abusers that the intervention order system promises them.


Ellen Reeves is a postgraduate student at Monash University, currently undergoing a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Criminology. Ellen’s area of focus is family violence in Australia. In her Honours year, she completed research on Victoria’s family violence intervention order system and the issue of systems abuse. For her postgraduate study, she is exploring the same themes within a multijurisdictional context.


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