Patterns of violence in intimate relationships: a critical examination of legal responses
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In this thesis, red flags for dangerousness/lethality established from domestic violence and homicide research provided the social framework for an examination of legal responses to violence in intimate heterosexual relationships. The research investigated these gendered, structural patterns of violence and the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions in keeping victims safe. Agency interactions with offenders and victims prior to women's deaths were reviewed in selected cases. Criminal law constructions of violence in intimate relationships were evaluated for their recognition and understanding of primary risk factors for dangerousness/lethality. The research found major red flags remain invisible in criminal law stereotypes of violence between intimates. The significance of these risk factors for dangerousness/lethality is therefore overlooked, misunderstood and even misrepresented in defence of violent offenders. Although the aim of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 is to ensure effective protection for victims, the study found a significant number of women (and sometimes other family members and children) experience further sub-lethal and lethal violence following legal interventions with perpetrators. Lacking a principled policy foundation, central focus on victim safety and clear framework for interventions, legal responses are internally incoherent and inconsistent with New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy. The New Zealand government has committed to principled domestic violence intervention and consistency in law and policy. This will require: a) legislative reform; b) public and professional education on the dynamics of violent relationships, including the interrelationship between sublethal and lethal assaults; and c) monitoring of criminal justice interventions to improve accountability. Until this is accomplished, stories of abused women and their children, including informal attempts to seek help and contact with state and community agencies will continue to be dishonoured by a legal system which silences their voices and fails to learn lessons from their injuries and deaths.