Beyond Women’s Voices: Towards a Victim-Survivor-Centred Theory of Listening in Law Reform on Violence Against Women

Publication Name

Feminist Legal Studies


Australia is witnessing a political, social and cultural renaissance of public debate regarding violence against women, particularly in relation to domestic and family violence (DFV), sexual assault and sexual harassment. Women's voices calling for law reform are central to that renaissance, as they have been to feminist law reform dating back to nineteenth-century campaigns for property and suffrage rights. Although feminist research has explored women’s voices, speaking out and storytelling to highlight the exclusions and limitations of the legal and criminal justice systems in responding to women’s experience, less attention has been paid to how women's voices are elicited, received and listened to, and the forms of response they have received. We argue that three recent public inquiries in Australia reveal an urgent need for a victim-survivor-centred theory of listening to women’s voices in law reform seeking to address violence against women. We offer a nascent theory of a victim-survivor-centred approach grounded in openness, receptivity, attentiveness and responsiveness, and argue that in each of our case studies, law reform actors failed to adequately listen to women by silencing and refusing to listen to them; by hearing them but failing to be open, receptive and attentive; and by selectively hearing and resisting transformation. We argue that these inquiries signal an acute need for attention to the dynamics of listening in law reform processes, and conclude that a victim-survivor-centred theory of listening is a critical foundation for meaningful change to address violence against women.

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