The Lucy's Project Veterinary Workshop brought together vets and figures from the Victorian Police, Victorian government, non-government agencies working in the field of family violence (FV) , and figures in the veterinary industry including RSPCA and the Australian Veterinary Association.
The main points discussed were as follows:
1. Veterinarians’ Role in Reporting Animal Abuse.
A brief overview of the most common indicators of animal abuse was given, along with statistics on levels of FV and the links between FV and non-accidental injury (NAI) of animals.
Veterinarians are not required to report NAI in Australia and the AVA does not recommend mandatory reporting as they feel this will discourage people from bringing their animals to a vet for treatment. However the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria encourages reporting of NAI as part of its Veterinarian Code of Conduct.
This was discussed quite rigorously amongst the group. Concerns raised included a lack of protection against litigation for veterinarians reporting animal abuse (eg for breaking client confidentiality). The Victorian Police representative responded that this kind of litigation has never occurred before and that vets are protected (in Victoria) by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, which gives people the right to live free from violence – this trumps a person’s right to privacy. So in theory, the police will respond to reports of animal abuse because there is a recognised link between FV and NAI of animals, so animal abuse occurring in a home indicates risk for the woman & children that live there. In reality it seems (anecdotally) the police are not interested in attending a NAI case unless there is imminent risk of violence to people in the clinic, or if it is readily apparent (or confessed) that violence is definitely occurring in the home.
2. Training for Front Line Workers
Training is being rolled out by the government to governmental workers (eg nurses, teachers etc) on risk assessment and policy development for their individual organizational needs.
Private organisations have also been providing training (eg EDVS).
Program is currently being developed by EDVS for vets and the Victorian government is looking to roll out online training for vets from June 2019.
3. Support Available Now
Every Victoria Police region has a specialized FV unit with an officer of a rank of at least sergeant – every area of the state has access to police with the same level of training. You can ring them if you are concerned about the welfare/safety of anyone.
The RSPCA can be contacted anytime, with an inspector always on duty to speak to of which there are 34 inspectors across the state. The RSPCA cannot come into a clinic and take an animal that is under veterinary treatment but if the owner refuses treatment, takes animal away or fails to return for check ups etc, you can refer the case to the RSPCA and they can seize the animal and collect evidence as well as treat.
The bottom line is that vets are not expected to deal with cases of animal abuse and/or suspected FV on their own. Ring the Police or RSPCA to discuss the case and obtain advice. Ideally, develop a protocol for your practice based on government guidelines, including risk assessment, and know the local support services to refer to.