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UNSW pioneers new domestic violence framework

The government has assigned UNSW a project to create a new framework that will unify how organisations understand domestic and family violence.

user iconGrace Robbie 14 March 2024 Big Law
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In a pioneering step towards addressing the prevalence of domestic and family violence in NSW, academics from the UNSW have recently been asked by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice to “develop a new risk assessment framework”.

It comes off the back of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Personal Safety Survey in 2021–22, which revealed that “an estimated 8 million Australians (41 per cent) have experienced violence (physical and/or sexual) since the age of 15”.

The ABS also found “31 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men have experienced physical violence” and “22 per cent of women and 6.1 per cent of men have experienced sexual violence”.


This framework will be led by Dr Emma Buxton-Namisnyk from UNSW Law & Justice, alongside Dr Althea Gibson, lecturer for UNSW Law & Justice, and Peta MacGillivray, senior research fellow.

Buxton-Namisnyk’s aim is to “lead the project to reposition the NSW government and non-government services as more effective first responders to domestic violence”.

Stephanie Doyle, principal of Doyle’s Family Law & Mediation, stated the formation of the Common Risk Assessment Framework “is a robust assessment framework intended to help identify and pinpoint potential threats and safeguard vulnerable parties within family law matters”.

She added that “this initiative underscores the critical significance of analytically evaluating potential risks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all individuals and families engaged in family law disputes”.

Buxton-Namisnyk commented: “Right now, many services have their own protocols for identifying and managing the risk of violence when people disclose a dangerous situation”.

She believes this is the case because “there is currently no comprehensive and overarching framework to ensure that victim-survivors receive a consistent, appropriate and safe response wherever they present”.

Emma Maxwell, director and principal family lawyer at Anchored Family Law, commented on the importance of these services following a framework.

“In my experience, family lawyers are not often the first professional that a victim will consult in the family violence space. And they often come to us after reporting their concerns through ‘the proper channels’ and feeling unsupported by the system,” Maxwell said.

She also stated: “A framework that provides more effective first responders would go a long way to helping clients enter the system feeling supported and heard – and resourced.”

The development of this forward-thinking framework will support the long-term research Buxton-Namisnyk has completed around domestic violence-related homicides.

“In my career, I have analysed over 3,000 homicide cases spanning over a decade in NSW and across Australia, coming to understand how victims of domestic and family violence may experience and navigate different systems and services in fatal cases,” Buxton-Namisnyk stated.

The research revealed to Buxton-Namisnyk how pivotal it is for all organisations, ranging from “schools through to healthcare providers, specialist services and police”, to be effective first responders towards domestic violence.

Buxton-Namisnyk also believes the Common Risk Assessment Framework is an “investment in our community”.

“All domestic and family violence behaviours are embedded in the risk of harm. This new framework is one way that people working in our state can more effectively recognise, respond to, and manage that risk.

“It is a vitally important policy infrastructure for our state and a really important way we can build competencies across the services system to promote victim-survivor safety,” she said.

The establishment of this framework will have a significant impact on the family law space, with Maxwell commenting: “I think as family lawyers we have all had that feeling that a particular client – or their children – isn’t safe but because what they’re describing doesn’t reach the threshold of making a significant difference in the legal proceedings, there isn’t much we can do.

“A uniform framework to respond to this risk in a protective way, rather than a legal way, is so important.”

In order for the Common Risk Assessment Framework to make an impact in dealing with the prevalence of domestic and family violence occurring in NSW, it is vital lawyers are aware of this framework and how best to involve it in their practice.

Maxwell commented: “Family lawyers need to be aware of how the NSW framework will intersect with our work, how to refer clients into the system, and be thinking ahead of how the framework and the law might be in conflict and how to best manage this conflict.”

Doyle added that “family lawyers in NSW will be encouraged to integrate the specifics of the risk assessment framework into their case preparations and strategies”.