Page 3658 - Week 12 - Tuesday, 27 October 2015

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one in six women in Australia had experienced violence by a partner within a married or de facto relationship. One in four women were required to take time off work as a result of this violence; 1.7 million women had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15; and 67.3 per cent of women who experienced sexual violence also experienced physical violence.

Of women who were sexually assaulted by a man, one in three reported they were physically injured, and 31,600 women experienced factures or broken bones and teeth as a result of the assault. Seven out of 10 women left property or assets behind when they moved away after their final separation from their most recently violent former partner. There were 87,800 women sexually assaulted in Australia in the year prior to the survey. Over half a million women said their children had seen or heard partner violence. Women with a disability were more likely to experience multiple incidents of violence by a man.

These are disturbing statistics, and there are many others in this report. What I have just cited are statistics; yet behind them is an enormous number of terrible personal stories. They are disturbing statistics, but they put today’s legislation in a very important context. The response to domestic and family violence needs to be comprehensive and to cover a range of areas. There need to be education, cultural and attitudinal change and support services. In today’s context, there need to be a legislative response and appropriate sanctions. The bill we are debating is one small part of the response addressing specific issues in the criminal law and the judicial system, but it is an important contribution nonetheless.

The bill makes three main changes. The first is to refine the offence of strangulation in the Crimes Act. Currently victims must rely on the offence of endangering life, which requires that the strangulation was so severe that the victim lost consciousness or was rendered insensible. This has a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The alternative to this is a common assault charge, which has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment. The amendment will create a strangulation offence under the broader offence of endangering health, a lower threshold than endangering life. It will allow a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

As the Attorney-General has explained, this reflects the evidence that strangulation is often used in family violence to threaten, intimidate and control a victim. It is one of the most important predictive risk factors for intimate partner homicide. Strangulation leads to serious health issues, but it is often unable to be detected by visible marks. I support the change as a way to assist victims of violence and ensure that the criminal law properly recognises the reality and severity of strangulation as a form of domestic violence.

The second change will allow police records of interview to be admitted as evidence-in-chief for family violence and all sexual offences. This recognises the trauma that can be associated with the criminal process for victims of family, domestic and sexual violence. It aims to reduce this trauma by giving victims the option of not testifying in court and of instead using their police statement. It also looks to improve the accuracy of evidence as the statements will have been taken soon after the incident occurred.

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