Victims as (alleged) perpetrators

Adult victims of domestic and family violence (primary victims) may be accused of perpetrating domestic and family violence or (other) criminal or unlawful acts, and misidentified by the criminal justice system as the primary aggressor. Primary victims of domestic and family violence may:

(This is not an exhaustive list)
  • offend because their abusive partner has demanded that they do so;
  • offend in response to a dangerous situation (for example sudden and unexpected homelessness) that has arisen as a result of violence perpetrated against them;
  • use physical violence to resist violence and/or defend themselves and/or their children;
  • use retaliatory aggression after experiencing a build-up of abusive behaviours;
  • assist or encourage their violent partner or family member to offend because it may be unsafe for them to do otherwise;
  • claim Work and Income support that they are not entitled to because they are coerced to do so, or in order to pay for rent and food when their abusive partner refuses to financially support them and their children and/or undermines their own capacity to provide that support;
  • commit neonaticide, kill or harm their children whilst in a state of extreme trauma or dissociation as a result of their experience as a victim of domestic and family violence;
  • know that their partner is also abusing their children but be unable to stop them from doing so;
  • be impeded in their ability to parent because they are suffering from trauma or other mental health issues as a result of their partner’s violence;
  • offend in order to spend time in prison as a break from the violence;
  • be named as the respondent or cross-applicant in protection order proceedings;
  • behave in a manner perceived as obstructive by family courts and/or breach family court orders in an attempt to keep their children safe from a violent former partner;
  • appear agitated or uncooperative with first responders based on prior negative experiences, whereas perpetrators may present as calmer, more cooperative and more convincing, often in a deliberate attempt to persuade others that they are not abusive.
  • breach sentence conditions for offending (for example, shoplifting) because of their circumstances and experience as a victim of domestic and family violence, sometimes with the consequence that these are escalated to higher-tariff sentences;
  • be spuriously reported for child abuse or domestic abuse because of systems abuse.

In understanding a primary victim’s presentation, behaviour and constraints, it may be appropriate for the decision-maker to consider:

This combination of factors is sometimes referred to as ‘social entrapment’.

The impact of trauma on victims of abuse may also influence presentation and behaviour of a primary victim.

In some cases it may be useful and appropriate to hear expert evidence about these factors.

Some primary victims may not be able to safety separate from an abusive partner given the level of risk and/or resources available to them.

Some concepts like "Battered Woman Syndrome" do not take into account the safety options available to the primary victim or the structural inequalities faced.

Decision-makers may perceive primary perpetrators of domestic and family violence as victims when only the immediate circumstances of alleged domestic and family violence or (other) offending are considered.