Australia Victoria reviews approach to domestic violence as family of Alicia Little calls for action

18:29  24 july  2021
18:29  24 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a close up of a girl: Alicia Little is remembered by her family as fearless and talented. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC NEWS Alicia Little is remembered by her family as fearless and talented. (Supplied)

The mother of domestic violence victim Alicia Little wants Victoria to allow criminal records to be handed over to anyone fearing they could be exposing themselves to an abuser.

A Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) operates in South Australia, the UK and Canada.

Lee Little said Victoria needed to approach domestic violence with a more contemporary lens after the death of her daughter, rather than relying upon the current system.

"It needs to be revamped — it's just so old," she said.

Parliament's Legal and Social Issues Committee is now undertaking its biggest ever review of the system, and preventing domestic violence is high on the agenda.

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"I think it's completely outdated and in some ways, COVID showed us that we can do things differently," committee chair and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said.

"If we can prevent people from brushing against our justice system, that is how we will reduce crime."

Mrs Little hopes she can help improve the system after a traumatic experience.

Mother says there were red flags

In December 2017, Mrs Little says her "fearless" daughter Alicia decided to leave a four-year abusive relationship.

But following a heated argument, her partner Charles McKenzie Ross Evans hit her with his car before fleeing his Macedon Ranges property.

The mother-of-four suffered multiple injuries including severe blunt trauma and was pronounced dead at the scene.

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A plea bargain meant his murder charge was dropped. Instead, he was convicted of dangerous driving causing death.

Evans is now a free man after serving two years and eight months of his four-year sentence.

Mrs Little said her daughter — a talented trapeze artist and animal lover — struggled to leave Evans because she thought she could "fix him".

Mrs Little said she thought there were red flags in the relationship between Evans and her daughter.

"I think it's sad that women, children and men out there are getting murdered because you don't know their past," she said.

"Records are kept on paedophiles, forever and a day, records are kept on arsonists, forever and a day – why can't that be done for domestic violence?"

Mrs Little does not want Evans to be able to hide his history.

She has asked Parliament to introduce a DVDS in Victoria but wants every Australian state and territory to get on board, so perpetrators have nowhere to hide.

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The state opposition has been calling for a DVDS for years, and Victoria Police supported it during the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

But the scheme was not included in the 227 recommendations put forward by the commission.

Domestic violence scheme successful in SA

Roberta, who has asked to be identified by her first name only, is a domestic violence specialist within South Australia's DVDS.

She says the feedback from applicants has been "powerful".

"I've had clients say things like, 'This has really opened my eyes. This has changed everything,'" Roberta said.

"The way they've started to view that future trajectory of their relationship starts to shift."

The South Australian scheme – a partnership between police and the Women's Safety Service SA — has been in place since October 2018 and has been funded until at least 2024.

So far, 774 applications have been received and 538 disclosures made.

Most involve a person with children.

"It's not just convictions and charges. It's reports, it's intervention orders — whether current, expired or revoked," Roberta said.

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"It's anything that is held on those systems that could impact that person's safety."

SA looking to expand scheme

South Australia is now investigating expanding the scheme, giving police the power to proactively disclose a criminal history to anyone deemed at risk of domestic violence.

In New South Wales, the scheme was trialled for three years but discontinued after "mixed findings" from an independent review in 2018.

"While there were some positive results for applicants in empowering them to make informed decisions about their relationship, there were also barriers for people to access the scheme and limited information available for disclosure," the NSW Justice Department said.

Roberta said the NSW scheme was only available in a "catchment" within the state, and people had to go to a police station to apply.

"Police stations can be incredibly intimidating for a lot of people. By having it online, it's opening things up more and making it more accessible," she said.

"Sometimes people apply at 2:00am, and something has just happened, and that's when they've got the courage to think, 'This doesn't feel right for me'."

Roberta said the DVDS was designed to pick up any "red flags" in a relationship and were open to family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who might have an "inkling or feeling" that someone could be in trouble.

"These people looking in and seeing what's going on in the lives of people they care about can be spot-on," she said.

Roberta said domestic violence was no longer only occurring behind closed doors and had become a more public issue, so the DVDS was a proactive and preventative tool to help stamp it out.

"I think if there was an opportunity for this program to be national, that could increase the safety of people in other states," she said.

Mrs Little agrees, saying she worries about "all the women out there" and does not want Evans to pretend her daughter's death never happened.

"He's taken Alicia's life – that means something to us. She was our only daughter," she said.

"She was bubbly, she was bright and could put her hand to anything. But that's all we've got now, the memories."

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