A/Prof Tracey Booth1
1University Of Technology Sydney, ,
A well-documented finding of research and numerous public enquiries related to family violence and family law in recent years, is that many victims of family violence find family law processes intimidating, traumatising and unsafe. However, despite years of advocacy, the development of materials such as the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book, and training for judges, significant concerns continue to be expressed about Family Courts’ understanding of and response to victims of family violence in legal proceedings. Problems indentified include: recognition of ‘victimhood’; marginalisation or rejection of evidence of family violence; resolution of matters by ‘consent’ where consent obtained from victims of family violence might be compromised by duress or coercion; and failure to ensure safety for victims of family violence at all stages of the legal process. Not only does such ‘secondary victimisation’ have a negative impact on victim wellbeing, it can lead to problematic outcomes such as unsafe parenting orders and/or disadvantageous property settlements.
Evidence of victims’ experiences in family law proceedings however remains largely anecdotal, the subject of submissions to public enquiries. This paper presents a preliminary analysis of the experiences of victims of family violence in Australian family law proceedings. It does so from a critical victimological perspective and draws on data gathered from a general interview sample of victims of family violence and an intensive case sample of a mix of family court registries that involves observation of court proceedings and examination of court files.
Tracey Booth is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney and a feminist socio-legal scholar. Her work investigates the operation of legal insitutions, legal proceedings and legal actors through the lens of victims of crime – their role in and experiences of legal proceedings, and the law’s response to victims’ interests and concerns. She is the author of Accommodating Justice: Victim Impact Statements in the Sentencing Process (Federation Press, 2016) and currently a chief investigator on the project – Exploring the impact and effect of self-representation by one or both parties in family law proceedings involving family violence (funded by ANROWS, UTS Eth18-2698).