‘Incredible women’: Women’s accounts of being misidentified as predominant aggressors in Victoria’s family violence intervention order system

Miss Ellen Reeves1

1Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Over the last decade, attention has been paid to the growing number of women listed as respondents on civil protection orders in Australia. The limited body of research that has considered this trend has largely attributed its occurrence to women victim-survivors of family violence being misidentified as predominant aggressors. Whereas as misidentification has been thoroughly examined in the United States, which saw a dramatic increase in the arrest of women for family violence from the 1980s – a consequence of pro and mandatory arrest policies, it is only now emerging as a key theme in family violence research in Australia. This attention is in part due to current debates in Australia regarding the possible criminalisation of coercive control, with some researchers and advocates expressing concerns that further criminalisation may exacerbate the already significant issue of misidentification. Largely absent from academic research are the voices and lived experiences of women. Misidentification is a complex issue, reflecting an intersection between ‘systems abuse’, incident-driven policing responses, and the gendered operation of the law. At the heart of the issue, as posited by this paper, is the incredibility of women in the eyes of the law, an incredibility that is most significantly felt by women from disadvantaged and/or marginalised backgrounds. Given these experiences, it is important that research listens to and believes women’s accounts of misidentification, offering them a platform that has been denied to them in their interactions with the police and the courts, a platform that can ultimately serve to inform legal responses to family violence. This paper presents the experiences of 11 women who had been listed as respondents to family violence intervention orders in Victoria, Australia. It sheds light on their interactions with the court system and the impacts that misidentification has had on their ability to live safe and violence-free lives.


Ellen Reeves is a postdoctoral research fellow at Monash University, working within the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre. Her research is focused on the unintended consequences of family violence law reform and women victim-survivors’ experiences with the legal system. This paper draws on Ellen’s PhD research, which examined the misidentification of women victim-survivors as ‘predominant aggressors’ in Victoria’s family violence intervention order system.


Dec 08 2021