Short abstracts of the presentations were submitted by many of the speakers in advance of the conference. The titles of those that were submitted are underlined; to view those abstracts, click on the title.

Title: Did He Ever Hit You? Exploring The Attitudes Of Lawyers In The Assessment Of The Seriousness Of Threats And Violent Histories In Domestic Violence Cases.

Lead Presenter: Colin James



Session Abstract: Domestic violence is a phenomenon that occurs wherever patriarchy lingers in personal, social and legal systems. Despite specific laws against intimate partner violence in most countries, women are about ten times more likely than men to suffer from abuse, violence or be murdered during or following personal relationships. If women survive often they do not disclose it to anyone including their lawyers. Consequently family lawyers need to be sensitive to signs of abusive or controlling relationships during client interviews and respond carefully to clients who report controlling behaviour by their former partner or otherwise indicate there is or has been threats or actual violence in the past. This paper presents initial results of research involving 120 experienced family and criminal lawyers in all Australian states and territories who shared their practical knowledge and opinions on how best to identify risk and maximize the safety of clients in situations of serious domestic violence. Findings include that domestic violence cases are complex: actual cases of DV homicide often did not trigger ‘alarm bells’ in experienced lawyers so that the killing could be prevented; some victims of serious violence do not seek help because they refuse to believe their partner is actually dangerous or that their situation is one of domestic violence, or because they believe reporting the violence could lead to their death; warning signs include men choking their partners, threatening suicide, and abusing pets; delays before court and forcing parties together in courts or waiting rooms allows further intimidation which prevents the whole truth coming out in evidence; and while legislative changes are often good, attitudinal, systems and organisational delays often enable continuation of intimidation, abuse and the risk of violence. A minority of lawyers are skeptical and believe some women fabricate or exaggerate the risk of serious DV, causing judges and lawyers to mistrust the claims of sincere clients which leaves them more vulnerable. Still other lawyers allege that lawyers and police who disbelieve women’s claims of violence put those women at greater risk of serious violence or death. Other findings include a significant minority of lawyers at times have concern for their own safety in domestic violence cases suggesting law firms and organisations may need to ensure systems are reviewed regularly to ensure worker safety.

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