commitment to strengthen family violence victim protections
February 24, 2022
Tania Maxwell welcomes commitment to strengthen family violence victim protections
Tania Maxwell MP has welcomed this week’s commitment by Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes to strengthen protections for victims in violent relationships by legislating non-fatal strangulation as a criminal offence in Victoria.
The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria said the children of the late Joy Rowley – three years after the government promised to make the change – would be relieved.
State Coroner Sara Hinchey in 2018 found Ms Rowley was strangled and then suffocated by James Mulhall in her Rye home in October 2011.
Mulhall, who had earlier been violent towards her and had breached an intervention order, pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
“Non-fatal strangulation is often carried out in family violence incidents,” Ms Maxwell said.
“A University of Melbourne Law School study published last year reported that it’s now recognised as extremely dangerous.
“As a form of physical abuse, the study found that it’s ‘overwhelmingly perpetrated’ by men against women, the injuries inflicted are often invisible, and the risk of future harm and death is high where family violence occurs.
“But a charge of assault – which the study reported as most common where an offence of non-fatal strangulation is not on the statute books – does not reflect the seriousness of this level of violence.”
Ms Maxwell told Parliament on Tuesday that Ms Rowley’s children had to fight for an inquest into their mother’s death.
“Judge Hinchey said in her findings that a stand-alone offence for strangulation, suffocation or choking in Victoria may significantly help to recognise the serious risk for victims and remove the need to prove particular intent or harm,” she said.
“The offence is in place in other states.
“I recently met with Ms Rowley’s children, who still suffer enormously from the loss of their mother.
“They have been disappointed and frustrated that despite a promise from the government to legislate this offence they are still waiting.”
Former police minister Lisa Neville made the undertaking in July 2019.
“In his evidence at Ms Rowley’s inquest, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter told the coroner about one-third of family violence homicides involved previously known family violence,” Ms Maxwell said outside Parliament.
“Judge Ian Gray, the state coroner at the time the court was notified of Ms Rowley’s death, asked the Coroner’s Prevention Unit to examine the circumstances of her death as part of the Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths.
“Judge Hinchey noted failure by frontline Victoria Police officers to implement family violence-related policies at the time of incidents involving Ms Rowley, and at the time of her death.
“But she also commended Victoria Police Family Violence Command's efforts to identify a gap in the law where attempted strangulation is hard to prove and is often treated as assault.
“She said a change in the law would better protect victims of violence.”
Ms Symes said the government planned to enact the change this year.
“We do know that non-fatal strangulation is a serious and insidious crime,” she told Parliament.
“It is often difficult to detect, but what we do know is that it is very often, particularly in family violence situations, a precursor to murder, which is why we have committed to act.
“But you need to get the laws right – you need to make sure that police can with confidence bring a charge for such an offence.
“…It is something I am committed to. It will be a stand-alone non-fatal strangulation offence. Consultations are closing into the final stages, and I suspect I will have an update for this chamber in the not-too-distant future.”
Ms Symes also committed to provide updated information to the Rowley family.