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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.


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Accurately identifying the “person most in need of protection” in domestic and family violence law

This research identifies areas of improvement in police and court practice for identifying the person most in need of protection in cases where there are cross-applications or cross-orders.

The research team conducted a national analysis of statistical data (domestic violence order applications, police-issued orders and related criminal charges) for the years 2015–2018. The team also conducted a national desktop review of existing legislative and police requirements and guidance on identifying the domestic and family violence (DFV) victim or perpetrator.

The project involved an in-depth case study of Queensland as a state that has incorporated the concept of the person most in need of protection into legislation. This case study involved court observation, and semi-structured interviews and focus groups with Queensland Police Service personnel, support service workers, magistrates and women with lived experience of being named as both an aggrieved and a respondent on domestic and family violence protection orders.

The research revealed that police culture impacts on the accurate identification of the aggrieved/respondent, for example, through pervasive, stereotypical assumptions about victim behaviour. Police practice is also guided by a focus on single incidents of visible or physical violence. This focus does not always support the appropriate application of DFV legislation, where violence would be considered in context in order to assess the need for protection from future harm. The research also found a lack of clarity in relation to accountability for making an assessment on the appropriateness of an order, both for police and the courts. This is particularly important given the finding that perpetrators use a range of tactics of systems abuse that can result in inaccurate identification of the person most in need of protection, or can entrench harm once a woman has been identified as a perpetrator.

Following from these key findings, the report stresses the importance of guidance for police on identifying patterns of coercive control, and guidance for magistrates on how and when they can dismiss inappropriate applications and/or orders. The report also recommends exploring improved processes of decision-making and accountability between police and courts. This would help to ensure that where inappropriate applications for protection orders are made, the processes and roles for prosecutors and magistrates in remedying this are clear. At the time of publication, Queensland Police Service have, as a result of engagement with this research, developed plans to address negative police culture, and engagement around training will continue.



Publication details

This work is part of the ANROWS Research reports series. ANROWS Research reports are in-depth reports on empirical research produced under ANROWS’s research program.



CEO, ANROWS & Adjunct Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

Senior Research Officer, ANROWS

Senior Research Officer, ANROWS

Senior Research Officer, ANROWS



ISBN: 978-1-925925-61-6 (print) | 978-1-925925-62-3 (online)

127 pp.


Suggested citation

Nancarrow, H., Thomas, K., Ringland, V., & Modini, T. (2020). Accurately identifying the “person most in need of protection” in domestic and family violence law (Research report, 23/2020). Sydney: ANROWS.

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