Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Could greater knowledge about the types of services accessed by victims and perpetrators of family violence be the key to reducing intimate partner homicide?

Intimate partner homicide (IPH) is the most severe form of family violence. It can be defined as any death caused by injuries inflicted by another person with intent to injure or kill, where that person was currently or had previously been in a marital, de facto or dating relationship with the victim, irrespective of gender.

IPH accounts for approximately a quarter of all homicides in Victoria [i]
and the statistics nation-wide paint no better picture. 

The public dialogue is getting louder and governments are being called to action. The Victorian State Government has established a Royal Commission into Family Violence that will take place later in 2015, joining researchers, healthcare workers, the justice system and other various stakeholders in fighting this scourge of our society.

SPHPM PhD student, Briony Murphy has recently had her honours research paper on service contacts among IPHs published in Journal of Family Violence. Ms Murphy is currently undertaking her PhD within the School’s Department of Forensic Medicine.

Ms Murphy’s research reviewed the Coroner’s findings and sentencing remarks for 120 intimate partner homicides that occurred in Victoria between 2000 and 2008. Consistent with previous research, this study found that approximately 75 per cent of IPH victims were female and 58 per cent of IPHs occurred in a relationship with an identifiable history of family violence.

Three quarters of the reviewed cases indicated that one or both parties had contact with a service in the 12 months before the homicide, with the most common point of contact being the justice system (41 per cent); followed by the healthcare system (38 per cent); and other service types such as community and religious services (21 per cent). Ms Murphy said that it was clearly evident from the research that opportunities for improved detection, intervention and prevention of IPH exist across the service sector for both victims and perpetrators of family violence, but are yet to be fully realised.
Surprisingly, the research found that perpetrators were 15 per cent more likely than victims to have contact with a service in the 12 months prior to the homicide, and that these contacts were most commonly in relation to mental health issues.

The research also found that female victims of family violence frequently had contact with the justice system, most commonly for court appearances as applicants for family violence intervention orders.
The majority of all service contacts occurred within one month of IPH cases for the examined period. These contacts may have been family violence related, such as a court appearance for an intervention order; or seemingly non-family violence related contacts such as a general health check-up with a GP where family violence issues could still have been detected or disclosed.

“The research shows the need for a greater importance on the role of services outside the justice system, including hospital, healthcare and social services people seek when experiencing family violence,” Ms Murphy said.

“This research highlights the need for a multi-faceted approach for the prevention of IPH including an increased focus on interventions for perpetrators of family violence,” Ms Murphy said.

Dr. Lyndal Bugeja, co-author and manager of the Coroners Court of Victoria’s Coroners Prevention Unit supported the research. 

“This work advanced our understanding of the service system's intersection with persons exposed to family violence, which is the primary focus of the Coroners Court of Victoria's Victorian System Review of Family Violence Deaths," Dr. Bugeja said. 

Click here for more information about this program of work.

[i] During the 9-year study period, 562 homicides occurred in Victoria, averaging an annual rate of 1.2 per 100,000 population.

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