Last updated 20 January 2022

In Australia, on average, one woman per week is murdered by her current or former partner as a result of domestic and family violence (DV Connect Domestic Violence Statistics). Domestic and family violence is a broad concept and encompasses physically, emotionally, psychologically or economically threatening and abusive behaviours designed to control a family member or intimate partner.

The Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Unit (DFVDRU) is able to provide specialist assistance to coroners during their investigations by:

  • asking the Queensland Police Service Coronial Support Unit to provide preliminary details regarding the death and any history of domestic and family violence between the victim and the perpetrator
  • obtaining records from other relevant agencies.

Police may also assist with the investigations by obtaining:

  • witness statements
  • a history of domestic or family violence (including stalking or obsessive behaviour) involving the victim or the perpetrator
  • the status of their relationship at the time of the death
  • a history of suicide threats or attempts, or other threats to kill (including against children or other family members)
  • a history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • any known mental health issues
  • details of any factors related to the incident (e.g. separation, new partner, financial problems, custody issues or an upcoming court appearance).

The DFVDRU will provide interim and final reports to the coroner to assist with identification of the key issues, and will inform the coroner’s decision as to whether an inquest is necessary to make their findings.

The DFVDRU and the Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research also play an important role in identifying and monitoring any patterns or trends in relation to domestic and family-violence-related deaths to assist policy responses from the government.

Case Study: Tracy Beale

Late on 20 January 2013, during a fight with her husband about their financial situation, Tracy Beale (45 years old) was put in a chokehold until she became limp. Despite Tracy being unresponsive, her husband did not provide CPR. By the time paramedics arrived, she was declared dead. A police investigation raised questions about whether Tracy’s death was caused by the neck compression or the sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure associated with a sympathetic vasovagal episode.

Given the involvement of domestic violence in Tracy’s death, the Women’s Legal Service was represented at the inquest. Drawing on Professor Heather Douglas’ evidence, the coroner concluded that the offence in s 315A of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) relating to choking, suffocation and strangulation in a domestic setting overlooks circumstances where the neck compression actually triggers a reflex cardiac arrest or vasovagal reflex. To further protect women from domestic violence, the coroner adopted Professor Douglas’s recommendation that a wider community education program on the dangers of neck compression should be implemented (see Inquest into the death of Tracy Ann Beale (2018) 2013/246).