In what ways are governments legally responsible for family violence?

  • Intimate partner violence is the top risk factor for death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15 – 44.
  • One women is killed by her intimate partner almost every week.
  • Aboriginal women are five times more likely to be killed than non-Aboriginal women.
  • Women with disabilities experience higher levels and more diverse kinds of violence than women without disabilities.


International human rights law is clear that governments have obligations to exercise due diligence in preventing and responding to violence against women. In domestic law, state can be held liable for failures in negligence; for example, through law suits against police for failing to protect women from family violence; and explored in mechanisms such as coronial inquiries.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities provides that it is unlawful for public authorities, including Victoria Police, to act incompatibly with human rights (s.38). Family violence potentially breaches many Charter rights, including the right to life, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, liberty and freedom of movement, privacy, and protection of families and children.

Public authorities not only have an obligation to act compatibly with Charter rights, but also to give proper consideration to such rights when making decisions, including responding to family violence.

In a collaborative project between Young Liberty for Law Reform and Done by Law of 3CR, we produced a series of four radio shows. In these, we explored the issues of state responsibility and family violence, looking at responsibility in Australian law; international law; and then experiences of family violence particular to women with disabilities and women with experience in the sex industry.


Episode 1: The Australian Context, with Charandev Singh, human rights advocate, and Nina Vallins, YLLR member

Episode 2: International Human Rights Law, with Rachel Ball, Human Rights Law Centre

Episode 3: Violence against Women with Disabilities, with Tricia Malowney, Systemic Advocate and proud Australian with a disability

Episode 4: Violence against Women in the Sex Industry, with Shirley Woods, Strategic Advisor at Project Respect


Further resources

Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths by the Coroners Court

Episode of the Law Report on civil actions against police by family violence victims, including links to relevant court cases

Human Rights Law Centre’s resources on women’s rights

Voices Against Violence research project, by Women with Disabilities Victoria

Submission by Project Respect to the Royal Commission on Family Violence

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