A Domestic Violence Forensic Unit in WA gains support from Liberals

A Domestic Violence Forensic Unit in WA gains support from Liberals

Establishing a Domestic Violence Forensic Unit in WA has gained support form the Liberal Party which have made a $3 million election promise to trial a specialised team of experts to help victims of family and domestic violence.

Similar units are in place in other states of Australia comprising of specially trained medical professionals who gather evidence from a victim's injuries and act as a witness in court to help prosecute perpetrators.

Centre for Women's Safety and Wellbeing chair Margaret McDonald said they had been lobbying the state government to establish a Domestic Violence Forensic Unit in WA for some time.

Ms McDonald said currently, when a woman was severely bashed the police would be called and the woman would be taken to hospital. They deal with the injuries and the police accumulate the evidence as they see it.

She said the Centre for Women's Safety and Wellbeing were proposing something different.

"What we want is when that type of incident occurs the evidence would be collated by a domestic violence forensic doctor who could determine how those injuries likely took place," she said.

"I have known a woman who was bashed in the head with a hammer a few times and landed in hospital," she said.

"In that instance there may have been other injuries, was the woman grabbed on the shoulders and did she have bruises?

"A forensic doctor would collate all of that so it would not just be about a woman being hit in the head by a hammer three times.

"There would be far more evidence accumulated because they would be experts in the field of looking at injuries and determining how they were made."

Ms McDonald said there was a case where a woman had been brutally attacked in her home, she ended up in hospital for a long time then died.

"She could not bear witness at the trial," she said.

"In that instance, had we an expert domestic violence forensic unit they would have taken the evidence, they would have talked to her and videographed her.

"All of that stuff would have been accumulated by experts in family and domestic violence - that makes a huge difference - a huge difference."

On October 1, 2020, WA introduced legislation against non-lethal strangulation and suffocation which carries a maximum of seven years imprisonment.

Ms McDonald said it was very difficult to determine if someone had been strangled non-fatally.

"Sometimes you need to look for certain features, a domestic violence medical person would be able to do that," she said.

"Sometimes it is really clear, there is bruising and the person has lost consciousness and so on, but that is not necessarily always the case.

"That difference a domestic violence forensic unit would make is present the evidence when a woman could not give the evidence.

"They would be the expert witness that would say, in order for that injury to have taken place in that way this must have happened.

"We end up with a much fuller case being presented to the court instead of the woman was knocked on the head from behind three times."

While the proposed trial would take place in Perth, Ms McDonald hopes a forensic unit would also be rolled out across regional WA.

Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has committed $3 million to trial a domestic violence forensic unit in WA if elected.

Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has committed $3 million to trial a domestic violence forensic unit in WA if elected.

Liberal leader Zak Kirkup said the proposal would see a pilot program established with input from relevant Government Departments to assist victims of family and domestic violence.

"This $3 million commitment will allow the trial of a 24-hour free and confidential support service to provide an integrated crisis counselling, medical, and forensic response service to individuals impacted by family and domestic violence," he said.

Liberal deputy leader Libby Mettam said that while Western Australia has a Sexual Assault Resource Centre which provides invaluable support to victims of sexual assault, victims of family and domestic violence didn't have access to specialised forensic services.

"This trial will be linked to domestic violence specialist services, women's health services, and government agencies including the Health, Police, Communities and Justice Departments," she said.

"It would see forensic doctors on call 24/7, preparing legal reports and appearing in court as experts, supported by counsellors and case managers to provide ongoing support to victims."

Shadow Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Nick Goiran said the service would provide timely, competent and compassionate medical care by drawing on evidence-based best practice.

"Providing forensic services alongside the medical response and by the same clinician has been shown to help minimise the potential for re-traumatisation while collecting forensic evidence to support an investigation or prosecution," Mr Goiran said.

A Department of Communities spokesperson said family and domestic violence frequently manifested in forms other than physical or sexual violence and could include emotional abuse, coercion and control and financial abuse.

"Specialist family and domestic violence services already support women to access the range of responses they need in relation to the abuse they have experienced," the spokesperson said.

"Additionally, SARC doctors are on call 24 hours a day, state-wide, providing specific specialist advice to health professionals who are seeing patients following recent sexual assault, including as a follow up in circumstances where police have requested forensic specimen collection."

In 2017, the McGowan Government appointed WA's first dedicated Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence and invested $73 million to establish more services, new programs and improve justice processes.

The spokesperson said the government also initiated the state-wide 16 Days in WA to Stop Violence Against Women campaign to raise awareness and action on gender based violence including family and domestic violence.

In the lead up to the election the McGowan government have committed $2.5 million for a women's refuge in Peel and a domestic violence hub in Kalgoorlie and Mirrabooka which would provide specialised services in one location.

Where to get help

If someone you know needs help with a violent partner or family member, speak out. And if you are experiencing family or domestic violence, the following services can assist:

  • Waratah: waratah@waratah.asn.au
  • 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
  • Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008
  • Women's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
  • Men's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 000 599
  • Mates Men's Support Group: 9752 3217