Forced Marriage as a Form of Family Violence in Victoria
Since 2013, forced marriage has been understood and responded to in Australia as a form of human trafficking and a slavery-like practice. This framing occurred as the result of it being introduced as a criminal offence under Section 270.7A and 270.7B of the Criminal Code Act (1995) (Cth). During the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV), submissions from family violence practitioners, front-line service providers and forced marriage specialist services recommended the inclusion of forced marriage as a statutory example of family violence under the Family Violence Protection Act (2018) (Vic). This was one of the 227 recommendations made in the RCFV final report (specifically recommendation 156). In late 2018, the Victorian Parliament passed the Justice Legislation Amendment (Family Violence Protection and Other Matters) Act (Vic), which formally recognised forced marriage as a form of family violence. Victoria is the only state in Australia to have recognised forced marriage as a form of family violence in law, although it has been identified as one issue for consideration as part of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and their Children (2022-2032). Despite these commitments and developments, little is known about the impact of this new legal recognition of forced marriage in Victoria, in particular the implications for family violence and other service responses by practitioners and frontline service providers, and the interaction between the state-based criminal justice and service response, and the federal criminal justice and service response. There is also little published data of how well Victorian services meet the needs of persons coming forward to seek assistance and intervention for potential, threatened or formalised forced marriage/s. In exploring both the shift that has followed the inclusion of forced marriage as a statutory example of family violence and the opportunities it presents, this project seeks to contribute to: (1) ongoing national commitments to ending violence against women, and (2) the ongoing commitment to building a robust evidence base on modern slavery and human trafficking practices, under the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery (2020-2025). This report is based on research that has sought to lay a foundation that illuminates the current state of service response to forced marriage in Victoria, and to identify next steps in relation to how this may be improved.
This report details the consistent support for the inclusion of forced marriage as family violence and the recognition that this is a welcome opportunity to expand service supports for persons affected by forced marriage. However, our findings also call to attention the urgent need to review: (1) the suitability of current family violence support services in meeting the varied needs of the different groups of persons affected by forced marriage and, (2) the strong association of forced marriage with CALD communities reflected in current risk assessment processes. The findings in this report detail the importance of undertaking careful and considered research and review to ensure that the intention of recognising forced marriage as a statutory example of family violence is fully realised. In particular, that it results in women (and men) impacted by forced marriage accessing appropriate, tailored services that can support their safety.
We write this report with great respect and admiration for practitioners and service providers who are navigating a challenging situation as they address forced marriage with a dedicated commitment to helping potential victims, while also having to adhere to government discourse and long-standing models. We hope that our analysis, discussion and recommendations offer a starting point for rethinking some of the assumptions built into forced marriage interventions and responses.