For months domestic violence workers in Tasmania have been warning of a simmering misidentification crisis: of mounting cases where police have mistaken the victim for the perpetrator and taken out a protection order against them or charged them with criminal offences — with devastating consequences.
Unlike police forces in other jurisdictions, Tasmania Police have unique authority to issue final 12-month family violence orders which can only be revoked by the Magistrates Court — a central feature of 2004 reforms designed to strengthen the state’s response to family violence. But in too many cases, experts say, the system is backfiring on the people it’s supposed to protect, with misidentified victims finding it almost impossible to have orders overturned.
And the costs are incalculable: Tasmanians who have been wrongly named on PFVOs have lost their jobs, their children, their homes, their faith in police and, for some migrant and refugee women, their visa — their ticket to remain in Australia.
Data obtained by ABC News earlier this year showed police issue PFVOs against female respondents at more than triple the rate of courts, raising questions about whether officers are always picking the right perpetrator. Now, new figures reveal the number of applications to revoke PFVOs increased 102 per cent in the six years to June 2023, with applications by female respondents jumping 154 per cent.
“What I find interesting is the revocation of orders and the [apparent] misidentification is a lot higher for women,” said Yvette Cehtel, chief executive at Women’s Legal Service Tasmania. “That doesn’t surprise me because … I think women are much more likely than men to own up to their behaviour” — for instance, if they retaliated or fought back against an abusive partner.
Female victims of domestic violence in Australia are also misidentified because they’ve presented as “hysterical” or angry, or because police haven’t seen through an abuser’s calculated attempts to manipulate the system. Though there has been hardly any research on misidentification in Tasmania, studies in other states show First Nations women and those from culturally diverse communities are particularly at risk.
[Ed: And this problem extends beyond Tasmania.]