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Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence has occurred throughout Tasmania since 1803 in all strata of society. However, the historical record, mostly of court cases and applicants to organisations like the Benevolent Society, makes it appear to be a problem of the poor. Although the Offences Against the Person Act (1863) made it illegal to commit aggravated assault on women, there was not much protection from the law because domestic violence was thought to be a private matter. Unless it could be construed as 'cruelty' it was not even grounds for a woman to divorce her husband until 1919. Rape was considered more serious, resulting in the death penalty until 1885, but there were no provisions for charging a man who raped his wife.

The management of domestic violence was greatly improved after the murder of Maureen Thompson by her husband in September 1983. She had suffered from repeated beatings and while she eventually found a sympathetic lawyer who arranged a restraining order, the police refused to accept it. Her death led to the release of the Report into Domestic Violence in Tasmania, prepared by Robyn Hopcroft, which recommended that the police be enabled to apply for restraining orders, intervene if violence was threatened, revoke firearm licences, and take guns from premises. Hopcroft found that domestic violence services needed better co-ordination and mobility. She recommended that rape in marriage be made an offence.

At first the Liberal government did nothing but after some spirited protests by women, the Justices Act (1985) was passed, giving police the power to act in cases of domestic violence. However, the onus of applying for a restraining order remained with the woman. In 1985 this was remedied by an amendment. The same month, the Crisis Intervention Unit was established. It sees about 1080 new clients a year, mostly women aged between twenty and forty with dependent children. A Domestic Violence Bill with more stringent provisions is before parliament in 2004.

Further reading: L Scripps, Women's sites and lives in Hobart, Hobart, 2000;

Caroline Evans