Using Law and Leaving
Domestic violence: Women's Voices

One in three Australian women experience domestic violence. This research has increased our understanding of the role of law in assisting women of diverse backgrounds to live a life free of violence.

Domestic violence severely damages communities across the globe and law is recognised as a key mechanism for prevention and redress. This project involved a longitudinal study examining how women of diverse backgrounds have used the law to help them live a life free of violence. The project investigated what influences women's decisions to choose particular legal interventions but not others, and identified unintended consequences flowing from legal engagement. The project highlights what contributes to women’s satisfaction and sense of safety resulting from legal interventions over time, and has made an important contribution to community education, policy implementation and law reform, both within Australia and internationally.

This research was funded by the Australian Research Council's Future Fellowship scheme (project number FT140100796). The project leader was Professor Heather Douglas.


Download the interim report (2016) (PDF, 715KB)
Download the final report (2018) (PDF, 1.2MB)
Research findings and impact story (2019)

Legal responses, including civil protection  orders, criminal law, family law, child protection and immigration law, are a significant part of the response to  domestic violence; however the way in which different legal systems overlap, conflict and work together has been an issue of major concern for law and policy makers and for women who use law.

Understanding the way in which women from diverse backgrounds engage with law has important implications for policy development and law reform. Regardless of whether the victim and the perpetrator begin to live separately or continue to reside together, there are often complex and continuing emotional, financial and legal ties between them and enduring and complex power dynamics. Financial and care responsibilities and visiting rights to children often remain post-separation.

This research listened to women’s experience of the range of legal interventions available in cases of domestic violence, in order to understand how women engage with and experience legal interventions over time. Understanding how women use and experience legal interventions is critical to ensuring that education, policies and laws are developed which work for the women they are designed to protect.

As part of this research a series of interviews with women recruited from domestic and family violence services was conducted. Women were interviewed three times over a three year period.

In The Conversation

Refereed Journal Articles

Chapters in edited collections

  • Heather Douglas,Co-option of children in relation to intimate partner violence and the use of technology’ in Bridget Harris and Delanie Woodlock eds. Technology and Domestic Violence: Experiences, Perpetration and Responses forthcoming Routledge 2020
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Alternative constructions of a family violence offence’ in Marilyn McMahon and Paul McGorrery eds. Criminalising Non-Physical Family Violence: Coercive Control and Autonomy Crimes, Routledge. Forthcoming 2019
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases:  Listening to Victims’ in Victoria Colvin and Philip Stenning eds. The Evolving Role of the Prosecutor: Challenges and Innovations (Routledge, 2018), 154-168
  • Heather Douglas ‘Domestic violence protection orders and their role in ensuring personal security.’ In Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Sandra Walklate, Jude McCulloch, JaneMaree Maher eds. Intimate Partner Violence, Risk and Security: Securing Women’s Lives in a Global World, Routledge, 2018, pp216-232

Video resources


Workshop communique

Short articles

Expert evidence

Selected media

View case studies based on interviews undertaken with women who have agreed to be interviewed for this research.

Case studies

  • Heather Douglas, ‘Judicial understandings of domestic and family violence: Women's experiences’ European Conference on Domestic Violence 1-4 September 2019, Oslo
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Legal Systems Abuse in the Context of Domestic Violence’. Keynote: Womens’ Legal Services Australia Network Meeting, 26 August 2019
  • Heather Douglas (2019) speaker, Domestic Violence: Social Security and the Couple Rule, Webinar hosted by ANROWS and Griffith University 26 July
  • Heather Douglas, Emerging areas of research: adolescent family violence & the co-option of children in technology facilitated abuse’ Child Representation Conference, Legal Aid NSW and Legal Aid ACT, Canberra, 15 March 2019
  • Heather Douglas and Rachel Neil, ‘Litigant experiences from DV Courts’ Queensland Magistrates’ Conference 2019: Specialist Domestic Violence- Walk in their Shoes, 26 February 2019
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Lawyers and domestic violence: Women’s Experiences’ Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, 12-15 December, Wollongong, 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Policy issues for Domestic Violence’ Panel Discussion, Law and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference, 12-15 December, Wollongong, 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Policing Intimate Partner Violence’  Critical Criminology & Social Justice Conference, 26th- 28th September, Sydney, 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Using Law and Leaving Violence: Women’s Voices’ SCU staff, 19 October 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Women’s experiences of domestic violence protection orders.’ UTS staff seminar, Sydney, 26 September, 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Qualitative methodologies and longitudinal studies.’ UTS early career staff  seminar, Sydney, 26 September, 2018
  • Heather Douglas, Panel member ‘Domestic Violence and the Law’ Feminist Writer’s Festival, Sydney, 2 November 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Domestic and family violence, mental health and well-being and legal engagement’. Magistrates Continuing Professional Development Seminars 18 September 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Legal Responses to Domestic violence- where to next?’ Annual Social Justice Lecture, James Cook University (Townsville and Cairns) 11 and 12 September 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Domestic Violence and Reproductive Coercion’ Expert panel, Parliamentary Annexe, Parliament House, Brisbane, 5 September 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Domestic Violence and the Law: Achievements and Future Directions’ 2018, Sir Harry Gibbs Law Dinner Lecture, 30 August 2018 Brisbane
  • Heather Douglas, ‘The Co-option of Children in relation to Intimate partner Violence and the use of Technology’ presented at Technology and Domestic Violence: Experience, Perpetration and Responses (Workshop) QUT, Brisbane, 3 August 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Gender and Justice’ presented at the Brisbane Feminist Festival, Brisbane, 4 August 2018.
  • Heather Douglas and Robin Fitzgerald, ‘Breaches of domestic violence orders and their contribution to prison numbers’ presented at  Futures of Sentencing and Incarceration (Workshop) UQ, Brisbane, 30 July 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘The National Domestic and family Violence bench Book: Future Directions’ presented at What matters most to families in the 21st century? (Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference), Melbourne Exhibition Centre, 27 July 2018
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Alternative constructions of a family violence offence.’ Roundtable- Criminalising Psychological Abuse in the Context of Family Violence, Deakin University, 24 November 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Legal responses to domestic violence in the context of Human Services’ Department of Human Services (Cth) In-service, Brisbane, 11 October 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Domestic violence protection orders and their role in ensuring personal security’ Monash Prato Roundtable: Intimate partner violence, risk and security: Securing women’s lives in a global world, Prato, Italy, 19 September 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Strangulation in the context of domestic and family Violence’  Presentation to the Queensland Domestic Violence Death Review Board, 25 August 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Domestic violence and mental illness: Implications for legal engagement’ Conference presentation, XXXVth International Congress on Law and Mental health, Charles University, Prague, 12 July 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘ Criminal Justice issues and the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book’ Seminar, Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors, Brisbane, 5 July 2017
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Legal Systems (Abuse) and Domestic Violence’ , RMIT Law School Staff Seminar, 22 September 2016, Melbourne
  • Heather Douglas, ‘Coordinating responses: plugging the gaps in the system’ Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Australian Chapter 3rd Annual Conference, 18 August 2016, Brisbane
  • Douglas, Heather Anne (2016). Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases: Is a New Offence the Answer?. In: IAS Fellows Seminar, Durham University, UK, 25 January
  • Douglas, Heather Anne (2016). Using Law in Response to Domestic Abuse: Women's Experiences. In: Domestic Abuse and the Search for Justice: Principles, Practices, Policies, Durham, 16 March 2016
  • Douglas, Heather Anne (2016). Legal Systems Abuse and Coercive Control. In: Two Steps Forward and Two Steps Back? Contemporary Issues in Access to Justice for Victims of Family and Domestic Violence, Legal Intersections Research Centre, School of Law, University of Wollongong, (). 15 April 2016