Ending domestic violence? The Dallas Solution

Reporter: Mel Doyle | Producers: Nick Farrow, Sarah Kemter

A new way to combat domestic violence – which claims the life of one woman every week – could be brought to Australia.

It was developed in Dallas, Texas, where family homicides have fallen from 31 to three since 2012.

The unique zero-tolerance initiative combines specialised police units, trained counsellors and a dedicated domestic violence court headed by a trailblazing young judge.

Similar courts are about to be trialed in Australia, starting with Queensland and Victoria.

Sunday Night cameras were the first allowed into Dallas County Criminal Court 10 where Judge Roberto Canas handles 250 cases a week.

In six years no offender has committed another serious offence.

Visit White Ribbon Australia for information on how to end violence against women

"Domestic violence in the US probably looks a lot like domestic violence in Australia and we certainly have gone through a lot of testing and molding and changing," Judge Canas says.

"Victims are now feeling more empowered to come out and what used to be in the shadows, what used to be behind closed doors, women now feel 'I can trust the system'."

Reporter Melissa Doyle met one of the success stories - Kevin Osborn who has rebuilt his life and family after being given a lifeline by Judge Canas.

"It was still tough in the beginning I struggled with my anger and didn’t want to do the program, I didn’t want to do it at all, I didn’t think anyone could complete it with how rigorous it is," He said.

"They’re managing to deal effectively with a problem that’s simply out of control back home in Australia. What happens in this court is extraordinary," Mel Doyle says about the program.

In return for a guilty plea, Judge Canas offers offenders a suspended sentence dependent them successfully completing a six-month Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention Program.

The men avoid long sentences but if they fail to complete the intense counseling and anger management sessions they go to prison.

Kevin grew up watching his father be violent towards his mother and when he married Shanae in February 2013 he didn't fully understand the effect it had had on him.

Then one day after a family trip he lost control.

"I went through a lot of time thinking "Will I be like him?".

"I was started shouting at the boys in the back seat and I was getting way too aggressive with them and she defended them and as i was getting out she had my phone and, yeah, I hit her ... with my fist," Kevin told Mel Doyle in the interview.

Shanae had a cut on her eye and hid in the bathroom of their home.

"Blood started just pouring down my face and onto my clothes," she said.

The neighbors called the police and it was the beginning of the healing process for their family.

A warrant was issued for his arrest and Kevin entered a six-month rehabilitation program that forced him to confront his anger.

"It has been the best thing that's happened to me. Compared to sitting in jail not learning anything at all. What this has brought to my attention is not brought to attention enough to other males."

Director of the program, David Almager, says it is a process that requires offenders to take ownership of and understand their behaviour.

"The numbers that we show here is that 94 percent of the individuals who complete the program did not reoffend," Almager says.

"It’s something we are very proud of but more importantly we are proud of the safety we are providing a community”.


In addition to Judge Canas’ court, tough new protocols for the Dallas police mean domestic violence cases are treated as a top priority handled by seasoned detectives.

"Once the population learns that there’s a no-nonsense approach, zero tolerance approach, to family violence the word gets around ‘hey don’t mess up in this capacity'," Patrolman Al Kalota tells Mel.

"I want to set a good example for my son because you know in 10-20 years you know when he decides to start dating you know a young lady, I want him to be able to understand what it means to be a man that doesn’t use violence,"Judge Canas said.

Facts about domestic violence in Australia:
* Over 12 Months, one average, one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence.
* A women is most likely to be killed by her male partner in her home
* Domestic and family violence is the principle cause of homeless for women and their children
* In Australia one in four children are exposed to domestic violence
* One in three women have experienced physical and / or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them
* Violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy $15.6 billion a year
Source: White Ribbon Australia

National resources for women and families in need of help:

Remember, if your life or someone else's life is in immediate danger, first notify Police or Ambulance on 000.


National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line

Phone advice and counseling for all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour support.

Supporting children and families devastated by abuse, family violence and neglect.

A free, 24 hour counselling service for young people aged 5-25 years. Counselling is offered by phone, email and over the web.

Relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.

LGBTIQ Domestic Violence Information