We Need To Be Cautious When Assuming CCTV Will Prevent Family Violence

June 22, 2017

This year’s Victorian state budget included a A$1.9 billion package to tackle family violence. Part of this was a statewide Personal Safety Initiative, which expands a trial of installing technology – such as CCTV, personal alarms and security doors – in the homes of at-risk women.

The Victorian government is to be commended for recognising that support for victims should be increased. However, a reliance on security infrastructure to resolve embedded social problems may be misguided.

In May, Sydney man Max Spencer was arrested and charged with breaching an apprehended violence order following the death of his girlfriend, Hayley Mcclenahan-Ernst. The circumstances of her death are still being treated as suspicious.

Spencer pleaded not guilty to breaching the order. CCTV footage later emerged, and has been widely circulated, of the couple kissing and holding hands in the hours before her death.

Such footage will likely become significant if Spencer maintains his not-guilty plea to any charges. Without speculating further on this case, key issues regarding the use of CCTV in responses to family violence must be reconsidered.

How CCTV and other cameras may be used

A recent report estimated more than 160,000 people experienced family violence in Victoria in 2015-16. This cost the state A$5.3 billion in 2015-16. $2.6 billion of this stemmed from individuals’ pain, suffering, physical and psychological health impacts, and loss of income.

In this context, the $17 million announced for the installation of technology like CCTV seems relatively minor.

Following a “successful” pilot program, CCTV installed in victims’ homes was commended for reducing intervention order breaches, and for working as evidence in court to demonstrate when breaches did occur.

Participants in the trial also said they felt safer in their home with CCTV. This is significant, particularly as family violence is a key driver of homelessness. The UK has implemented similar measures.

Visual evidence has a lot of currency in criminal and civil proceedings. Victoria Police is trialling body-worn cameras when attending family violence incidents for this reason. CCTV may also be useful in courtroom settings to reduce the need for a victim to encounter their offender.

While technology may be used well in these instances, the expansion of such programs necessitates a closer consideration of risks.

This article was originally published by The Conversation.

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