Yet the threat of fire and burning isn’t routinely considered by police and family violence safety services in their risk assessments and safety planning for women who have experienced family violence.
The use of fire and burning has long been identified as a form of family violence in South Asian countries.
Australia has been slow to recognise and address the link between family violence and burning or threats to burn. This is, in part, due to limited data collection.
One small Australian study is the exception. This study conducted at the Royal Darwin Hospital, found women were more likely to be burnt, or were threatened with burning, during interpersonal violence, compared to men. Over 80% of the victims who suffered burns in this context required surgery, with many requiring skin grafts.
Notably, in risk assessments undertaken by police before Doreen Langham’s death, fire threat was not identified. However, her ex-partner, Gary Hely, had previously been investigated for setting fire to another ex-partner’s home just five years earlier.
Australian fire services could play an enhanced role in preventing, recognising and responding to fire related family violence. We could model the approach of England, where fire services have been part of the family safety response for more than ten years.
Australian fire services do not collect data that allows identification of connections between fire and family violence. Collection of this type of data would be useful in improving understanding, recognition and prevention of family violence related fire incidents.