Impact for Women calls for a serial domestic violence offender register

Intimate partner violence is the major cause of illness, disability and death for women aged 15-44. Image: Pexels - Rodnae Productions

KIRRA-LEA McLoughlin “most likely died from a brain injury caused by her partner Paul McDonald,” said Queensland Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley in June 2021.

Mother of four, Ms McLoughlin, died in July 2014.

Mr McDonald, a repeat dangerous domestic violence offender with over 70 recorded convictions, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence for a separate domestic violence case in 2019 and has yet not been charged over Ms McLoughlin’s death.

After watching ABC’s Australian Story program about the coroner’s finding, Impact for Women founder and president Kathy Kaplan OAM said, “this [number of recorded convictions] is not unusual.”

This domestic violence death was just one more reason for issuing Impact for Women’s Statement of Support calling for further exploration into a Register for Serial Domestic & Family Violence Offenders.

Impact is a volunteer-run charity making a difference to women and children fleeing extreme violence at home.

“We suggest using a Sex Offenders Register model for domestic and family violence perpetrators,” Ms Kaplan said.

“If you are convicted of a sex offence, you don’t get a choice whether you are on the register; it is automatic once you are convicted.

“[Our proposed register] would capture people who have been convicted of a DFV offence and usually on multiple occasions.”

Legal firm Leanne Warren & Associates describes Victoria’s current Sex Offender Register as a central information register for data storage on convicted, cautioned and released from prison for registrable sex offences individuals.

The register is not publicly accessible, and only those who have police authorisation can access the information.

However, Police have the discretion to provide the information of an individual to someone else or another government department or public authority, but only under necessary circumstances.

In 2012 The Family Violence Act introduced to the Family Law Act 1975 formed part of the Australian Governments agenda to improve the family law system’s response to family violence and abuse.

Ms Goldrick said they looked at the two-year trial of the NSW Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

“It looked similar to what we a calling for, but we didn’t like the need for the woman to drive the enquiry,” she said.

“The woman seeking a disclosure had to fill in the application form.

“That puts the responsibility on the woman to know that there is danger coming, understanding that the violence is outstanding and see a violation coming.

“The onus is on the woman.

“We are proposing something different we put the onus back on the police and the perpetrator to make it known.”

In its Statement of Support, the charity encourages serious consideration to develop a model similar to Victoria’s current Sex Offender Registration Scheme, a protective, scalable and enforceable legal approach to prioritise and protect the lives of those at risk.

Following the lines of the SOR, a convicted DFV offender’s name passes to a sex offenders’ unit in a major police precinct located close to the preparator’s place of residence.

The criminal is assigned a police case manager and given a list of mandatory requirements.

They must notify their case manager if circumstances change, for instance, moving house or cohabitating with a woman with or without children.

Convicted criminal’s non-compliance with mandatory requirements can receive between two to five years imprisonment and or a fine of up to $36,400 depending on the circumstances of the breach.

Ms Goldrick said a DFV Register is both an accessible, achievable, tried and tested method of monitoring people with high recidivist rates within the community.

“On the front line, crisis responders and telephone responders can only do so much,” she said.

“We see the position as being warranted, but it is the people who make the laws that have the final decision.”

Ms Kaplan added that a systemic response instituted by legislators is the only thing that will make a difference.

“In the public stance, it is just one suite of issues that needs to be addressed in a well thought out system review by our policymakers here in Victoria,” she said.

Impact for Women has appointed four ambassadors from the major political parties, Liberal, Labor, Greens and Respect, who, together with the charity, will work to advance legislation into parliament.

“No one seems to have a problem with the Sex Offenders Register, so this is a duplication and extension of that legislation,” Ms Kaplan said.

“We see this as an urgent action as women’s lives are at risk.”

Ms Goldrick acknowledges the proposed legislation will impinge on the public’s right to move freely and have certain privacies.

“A woman and her children’s right to protection prefaces a serial domestic violence offender’s right to privacy,” she said.

Support is available from 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Lifeline 13 11 14

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Carol Saffer

Carol Saffer is an award-winning journalist enthusiastic about creating copy that engages audiences. She is curious by nature, possesses a growth mindset and thrives on new and unusual challenges. Carol has experience as a reporter for various regional Victorian newspapers and writing for Business Day in The Age. Her previous career was in the fashion industry, and she holds post-graduate degrees in business and journalism.

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