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Safe at Home is a whole of government strategy to reduce the incidence of family violence in Tasmania. Numerous branches of government, including the Justice Department and the Tasmania Police participate in this strategy.

Safe at Home legislation was considered by the Tasmanian government as early as 2003 as part of a broader, national strategy to reduce violence against women. The aim of the strategy has been to reduce the incidence of family violence, and to change the behaviour of offenders. A broader focus has been to alter attitudes toward family violence, and to send the message that violence against family is criminal behaviour, and not acceptable, just as violence is criminal and unacceptable in other circumstances.

The Safe at Home Strategy has three key goals:

  • Achieve a reduction in the level of family violence in the medium to long term
  • Improve safety for adult and child victims of family violence
  • Change the offending behaviour of those responsible for the violence

Some aspects of the Safe At Home Strategy that go to achieving these goals have been controversial, such as the pro-arrest focus for police on family violence callouts, as well as the orders that can be made by a court to exclude an offender from the  family home.

Pro-arrest policies

Pro-arrest policies create a twofold issue: the first is that arrest is always a matter of last resort in criminal justice, and so this policy is contrary to broader criminal justice policy. The second is that police are now empowered to arrest where this may be against the wishes of the spouse. A call out to a family dispute may not have been made by a party to the dispute, but by a neighbour. The law, until recently, has been that it is only with the consent of the other party to the family relationships that the abusive person can be arrested. However, this second issue is in keeping with the Safe At Home goals to make clear that family violence is just as criminal as violence in other contexts.

Orders to Vacate

With orders to vacate, one view is that this has created victims out of abusers by forcing them out of the family home. Some argue that this has not contributed to the resolution of troubled relationships, or improved the chances of a woman leaving a violent or abusive relationship, rather making her a target for continued violence.

On the other hand, the option is often for women and children to leave the home to live in shelters, while the perpetrator stays in the  family home, causing huge upset and trauma for children and women who are forced into such uncertain and unhappy circumstances. The use of orders to vacate is a matter of course in the ACT, and has proved effective where there is an adequately responsive police support system to prevent the return of abusive partners. The criticism of orders to vacate in Tasmania can be countered by the evidence of the entrenched practices of the ACT criminal justice system where orders to vacate have helped to maintain stability for the victims of family violence, as opposed to creating further victimisation by forcing them out of their home to run from violence.

In Tasmania, the issues with orders to vacate come down to whether the abusive partner is victimised through orders that go beyond what is necessary or reasonable in reducing family violence, or resolving the conflict within that relationship.

The Tasmania Police state that their involvement in the Safe at Home strategy is to:

  • Manage the risk that the offender might repeat or escalate their violence, and
  • Implement strategies to enhance the safety of victims of family violence

This is in line with the needs of victims who are staying in the family home, and indicates the responsiveness of Tasmania Police to family violence issues. The only circumstances where injustice can be most definitely perceived is where an alleged victim has fabricated claims of family violence. However, these circumstances are exceedingly rare. To call for an end to orders to vacate on the basis that a female domestic partner would fabricate claims of family violence in order to exclude and victimise a male partner contributes to gender attitudes that have helped to conceal family violence in Australian society.

The offender

The offender also has to be considered in these situations. Family violence is often difficult to discuss because it involves some of the deepest emotions and relationships that we have. Offenders are often not simply violent people, or bad people. Because of the ties between family and violence, the violence is often an expression of an inability to communicate rationally and verbally. We all lack coping mechanisms for something, we all lose our tempers, and we all do things we regret. The problem with family violence and abuse is that it is often ongoing and causes huge amounts of harm between generations. This is why the Safe At Home Initiative includes Offender Programs – society recognises that offenders needn’t be offenders, and often they don’t want to be.

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