CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses domestic violence.

People in NSW may soon be allowed to check if their partner has a history of violent assaults as part of The Right To Know scheme, but the move is more complicated than it seems.

If the scheme is rolled out, people who are potentially at risk of domestic violence will be allowed to access their partner’s record to see if they have a history of violent or abusive offending.

The program was first trialled in 2016 for two years in four locations across NSW, but the Coalition has promised to extend it statewide if it wins the state election.

Initially people were only able to access their partner’s domestic violence record by actually going into a police station, but the new-and-improved version of the tool would allow people to access that info online or over the phone.

However, people who make “malicious” applications for these records will face criminal penalties. The NSW government said they would put privacy controls in place to avoid this happening.

While the tool can be used by all genders, Deputy Premier and Police Minister Paul Toole said the The Right To Know scheme would help women who online date to stay safe.

“The dating landscape has shifted considerably since then with more and more people accessing dating apps and dating outside known friendship circles,” he said, per the ABC.

NSW Women’s Safety Minister Natalie Ward has also welcomed the roll out of the scheme.

“Our priority is to protect a woman’s right to be safe in a relationship,” Ms Ward said.

Considering the growing public outrage around the silence from both state and federal governments regarding the increasing number of women who are murdered by current or former partners, the timing of this move is certainly interesting. Suddenly women’s safety is a topic of interest now that an election is coming up, amirite?

Regardless, there’s certainly a lot to unpack.

For starters, how will police determine if someone is “potentially at risk of domestic violence” enough to be able to access their partner’s history? What kind of metric is going to be used to measure that? Are there certain circumstances (meeting online, for example) that make someone eligible to check their date’s records?

Or is this a gendered thing? Because women who date men are pretty much always potentially at risk of domestic violence, given the stats. Will simply being a woman who is dating a man unknown to her be enough to access this information, as opposed to a man dating a woman?

And then there’s the whole “criminal penalties for malicious applications” thing. What is considered a malicious application? How can you prove that someone is checking their partner’s history for reasons other than their own safety?

We should probably consider the possibility that this will be weaponised against women who want to check the history of men who are considered “good blokes”. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future women are gaslit and called “conniving” or “spiteful” for trying to out the men in their lives as abusers.

Speaking of men, I wonder if this move will also affect DV convictions. I can already hear the “well we don’t want to ruin his life by giving him a record that his future girlfriends can access” argument.

And there’s the glaring fact that our justice system often fails to convict abusers anyway, so there’s no guarantee a tool like this can protect you. I mean, someone can be a violent abuser and not have a systemised history of assault.

On top of all this, The Right To Know Scheme still places the onus onto the potential-victim to make sure they don’t date someone with a history of violent offending, rather than interrogating the culture which creates abusers in the first place.

The Law Society of NSW was sceptical of the scheme back in October 2018 and told the government to ditch the trial because it thought it would be better to spend that money on support services and outreach programs.

“Domestic violence is a complex issue that is not amenable to simple solutions,” former Law Society President Doug Humphreys wrote at the time. 

Look, domestic violence is a serious issue that has seen dozens of women killed every year in Australia by a current or former partner. But when are we going to start introducing schemes that target the behaviour of those who attack others?

For now, we are yet again honing in on how women can avoid being abused, rather than teaching men not to abuse women.

Help is available.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about domestic violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

Image: iStock