Legal responses to adolescents using family violence – doing more harm than good?

Ms Elena Campbell1

1Centre For Innovative Justice, Melbourne, Australia

The community rightly calls for a strong justice response to all forms of family violence. Yet this response – originally designed to address adult intimate partner violence – can have disastrous consequences for children using violence, as well as for their families who are experiencing it.

Through analysis of 385 legal case files and qualitative research with over 150 practitioners across three states, the Centre for Innovative Justice’s PIPA Project unpacks what currently occurs when families living with adolescent family violence seek or receive justice system intervention. In doing so it highlights how system activity can propel children into contact with the law who may be victims of family violence themselves, or who may be living with significant disability.  Alarmingly, it also identifies how system responses can sometimes be used to perpetuate abuse against children – resulting in a system inadvertently colluding in family violence, rather than addressing it.

The PIPA Project explores how attempts to hold perpetrators accountable should not fail to identify where risk really lies and should ensure that these attempts are not simply about managing risks to the system. Equally, it signals that blunt or punitive legal responses can render victims less willing to disclose or seek assistance, and children more vulnerable to criminalisation. Acknowledging and responding to the complexity, diversity, and vulnerability of perpetrators of adolescent family violence is therefore essential in any adequate and effective legal or service system response.

(This presentation will form a part of the juvenile DFV concurrent session).


Former lawyer, political staffer, speechwriter and consultant speechwriter, Elena Campbell has worked in legal and social policy for nearly twenty years. In that time she has developed considerable expertise in equal opportunity, human rights and responses to gendered violence, particularly within the legal system. Now Associate Director at the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University, Elena is leading a program of research focussing on perpetration of family violence, as well as on improving legal responses to family violence which move away from system activity as their primary objective. Elena’s research program also focusses on the pathways from family violence victimisation which lead to women and children’s criminalisation.