What 70 per cent of men who kill their partners have in common

More than 70 per cent of men who killed their current or past female partners had at least two interactions with police,the legal system or child protection before the killings,an analysis of a decade’s worth of sentencing comments has revealed.

Data collected from 10 years of judges’ comments in sentencing 235 men around Australia for the violent deaths of their intimate female partners showed nearly one in five was on bail or parole when they committed the murder or manslaughter.

Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon’s team analysed judges’ sentencing remarks in the deaths of 235 Australian women.

Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon’s team analysed judges’ sentencing remarks in the deaths of 235 Australian women.Chris Hopkins

About the same number (18 per cent) were on protection orders at the time of the crime,and another 19 per cent had previously been on orders. Killers of 37 of the women had recorded prior breaches of safety orders.

The four-year analysis of the narratives delivered by judges during sentencing was conducted by a team from Melbourne’s Monash University and from Liverpool University in the UK,which found the high number of instances of the killers being seen by police or the courts in the lead-up to the violence meant the deaths could potentially have been prevented.

More than three out of five of the killers (68 per cent) had a prior engagement with police,65 per cent had “prior engagement in a legal setting” and 65 per cent had prior convictions for a criminal offence. Thirty-four per cent had prior convictions for family violence.

The lead author,family violence academic Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon,said “the number of different points of intervention that perpetrators of these killings have with the system shows us these killings are inherently preventable.

“We can see these are not men for whom violence comes out of the blue. These are often men with significant histories,” Fitz-Gibbon said. Those histories,she said,included being exposed to violence as young people themselves.

Some perpetrators (15 per cent) had past family violence convictions against the victim of intimate partner homicide and more than one in 10 (27 of the men) had prior family violence convictions involving “a former partner,not the femicide victim”.

More than one-third (37 per cent) had convictions for crimes other than family violence.

The authors noted the fact that one in four of the killers wereon bail was “a particularly significant finding”.

On May 14,NSW Premier Chris Minns announcedlaw reforms making it much harder for those accused of serious domestic violence offences to get bail,and ensuring that if they do,they are subject to electronicmonitoring.

“The findings show us that the perpetration of serious harm including death by offenders who are on bail is not a problem unique to NSW,” Fitz-Gibbon said. “There is a need to consider whether bail laws are adequate in each of the state jurisdictions.”

Family violence researcher Hayley Boxall,formerly of the Australian Institute of Criminology and now at the Australian National University,agreed,and said the report highlighted that “the vast majority of victims and perpetrators have[had] contact with the system”.

“This really demonstrates that we’re either not asking the right questions or not responding in the appropriate way. The question is,why isn’t risk being picked up at this point,or is it being detected but we don’t have appropriate responses?” Boxall said.

One of the key gaps in Australia’s family violence response was detecting and addressing escalated risk of criminal behaviour,she said.

The Monash report,Securing Women’s Lives,to be released on Tuesday,highlighted the need for family violence risk assessment to be introduced routinely to include the risk posed by men already seen by the system to their partners or ex-partners. Risk assessment is typically centred on that faced by victim-survivors.

“The study supports recent calls for a greater focus on the perpetrators of this violence:there is a need for all Australian states and territories to embed effective perpetrator risk assessment and management practices,” Fitz-Gibbon said.

“Most states and territories have introduced victim-focused risk assessment and identification frameworks,and while this is important,critically,we have to ensure perpetrators are also in view and their risk managed.”

The report comes after national protest marches in April demanding action to reduce the toll of violence against women,which had claimed35 women’s lives this year by June 2.

It coincides with fierce debate among family violence experts about whether a change in national strategy is needed to prevent violence against women.

Since the rate of women’s deaths at the hands of men appeared to increase in 2024 – at one point equating to one death every 4½ days – experts have questioned the predominance of whole-of-population gender equality education,versus more focus on men living with trauma,alcohol and drug abuse,and mental health issues,and tackling the nation’s problems with pornography and gambling.

TheSecuring Women’s Lives authors said it was significant that many of the convicted offenders had experienced family violence themselves.

“One-third (29 per cent) have experienced intergenerational violence,and that is an incredibly important piece that has been relatively under-explored in research on men’s use of fatal violence,” the report says.

Just over half of offenders had a history of alcohol misuse,41 per cent had a history of drug abuse and 46 per cent had histories of mental illness.

Boxall,who has also analysed judges’ sentencing comments,said the fact the report showed 14 per cent of those sentenced for killing women had no encounter with the justice system before the killing meant that greater training and awareness of red flags relating to coercive control was needed for people in professions such as healthcare.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack.

Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack.Wayne Taylor

VictorianVictims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack said that so many perpetrators had been seen by the system was further evidence victims of violence should be consulted as the justice system made decisions about the perpetrators.

“The women in these 235 cases were reaching out for help,they were seeking it. So many are seeking protection and they were failed,” McCormack said.

“Parole and bail emerged as a key point of risk for the occurrence of intimate partner femicide,but there’s no obligation … to consult the victim. This report makes it very clear,and research recognises that intimate partner violence is the most preventable type of homicide.”

If you or anyone you know needs support,you can contact the National Sexual Assault,Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on1800RESPECT (1800 737 732),Lifeline 131 114,orBeyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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Wendy Tuohy is a senior writer focusing on social issues and those impacting women and girls.

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