Sonia Hickey

About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of “Woman with Words”. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers content team.

Domestic violence initiative fails to identify those at risk

According to BOSCAR statistics, the measure used to identify repeat instances of domestic violence is little better than random luck.



A report has concluded that a key initiative designed to combat domestic violence is failing complainants.

The report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) suggests that the Domestic Violence Safety Assessment Tool (DVSAT) is a “very poor instrument measuring the risk of repeat domestic violence victimisation, often performing little better than chance.”

BOSCAR has found that the state-government funded assessment tool, which has been in place since 2015, fails to ask many of the most basic questions.

Under the Safer Pathway program, police are required to assess all domestic violence complainants using the DVSAT screening tool. Those assessed as being at “serious risk” are then referred to a Safety Action Meeting (SAM), where a team of experts develop a plan to safeguard that person.

The DVSAT questionnaire asks complainants 25 questions. A police officer then performs a further assessment, which considers a number of factors including whether there are children at risk of harm.

Complainants are considered at “serious risk” if they respond “yes” to at least 12 questions and the officer’s assessment concludes there is a legitimate threat.


Those at risk are not being identified

However, BOCSAR’s report found that 90% of those who experienced repeat victimisation had responded “yes” to fewer than 12 items.

As a result, those at serious risk are not being identified and given the support of a safety action meeting.

BOSCAR and the State Government concur that despite those findings, the report offers an insight into making the assessment more reliable. A new questionnaire is already being developed to include questions about whether the suspect attempts to control the victim’s finances or movements, whether there is financial stress and whether the complainant intends to continue living with the suspect.


Reducing re-offending

In December 2018, the NSW State Government set the goal of reducing domestic violence re-offending by 25% by 2021, after almost 30,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported across the state in 2016.

It earmarked $300 million for intervention and support services over the next four years.


Domestic violence disclosure scheme

Another initiative the government has introduced is the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which enables people to find out whether their partner has a history of violence.

Of the people to access the scheme since it was launched in April 2016, 105 have received information that their partner had a violent past. Hundreds have also accessed crisis support services attached to the scheme.

And while opponents of the scheme say it breaches privacy and makes it harder for those who have “served their time” to get on with their lives, the government is extending the trial for another two years.





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