People In NSW Could Soon Find Out If Their Partner Has An Abusive Past

The NSW government announced plans to allow people in a relationship to access the domestic violence offending history of their partner under a new scheme.

According to reports, one woman is killed nearly every week in Australia due to family violence, and are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence by a current or former partner. For women and children, family violence is the leading cause of homelessness and an issue that continues to demand an urgent response from Australian governments as they look to combat domestic violence and lend support to its victims. 

It’s these statistics that have largely led the NSW government to announce plans for a new scheme that would allow residents to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence by checking with police. Called the ‘Right to Ask’ scheme, the program is modelled on a law in the United Kingdom that allows a person who is concerned about their safety to access police records regarding their partner’s past. In the UK, Clare’s Law as it is known is named after Clare Wood, a woman murdered by a former partner who police knew to be dangerous. 

Through the Right to Ask scheme, NSW police would be able to disclose information to a person over the phone or via an online portal, relating to their partner’s previous abusive or violent offending. Such information released to the applicant could include domestic violence convictions, as well as convictions for other violent offences, such as murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, property damage, stalking and intimidation. 

Should the Coalition win the March state election, the scheme will come into effect. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters, “This is all about ensuring that women across NSW are safe. With changing technology it’s incredibly important that women are safe and secure and have access to information to ensure that the relationship that they are in is safe.”

He added, “We need new ways of thinking and making sure that the policies of today keep up with changes in technology.” According to the Premier, privacy concerns will also be taken into account as the online portal and phone service are put together. 

But while the government has been quick to champion such an announcement, experts are warning it could lull victims into a fall sense of security. As Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, director of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, explained to The Guardian, there has been no evidence to suggest such a scheme would make women safer. “We have no new evidence that a domestic violence disclosure scheme enhances victim-survivor safety. We don’t have any further information to suggest that the resources that go into this scheme, which is extremely resource intensive, wouldn’t be better spent elsewhere” 

Previously, a similar scheme was trailed in Oxley, Shoalhaven, Sutherland and St George where these residents were allowed to access a partner’s domestic violence history. However in this instance, the information was only available if they attended a police station. Still, the scheme was considered highly successful, and after being rolled out in 2016 it was soon extended in 2018 after helping more than 50 potential victims. 

The Premier explained, “There was a very low take up at that time [in 2016]. It’s very clear as technologies change, as society has changed over this period of time, that we need to make sure that we’re looking at new ways of doing things.”

Paul Toole, deputy premier and police minister, said that modern dating now presents further risks and challenges. “The dating landscape has shifted considerably, with more and more people accessing dating apps and dating outside known friendship circles,” said Toole. 

“This is an opportunity to help people go into relationships with their eyes wide open. It will allow them to make informed decisions about continuing a relationship, moving in with someone or making them a part of their family, particularly where children are involved.” 

In terms of combatting domestic violence, most are calling for greater funding for frontline domestic violence services and more education around the issue of domestic and family violence to increase awareness and see a greater shift in societal attitudes. 

If you or someone you know needs help, the national family violence counselling service is available on 1800 737 732. 

Source @womenshealth.com.au: Read more at : womenalive.org

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