In a nation grappling to eradicate domestic and family violence, recent statistics deliver a chilling revelation: the situation continues to deteriorate, despite government efforts aimed at reducing the violence. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Consulting Family Law Special Counsel, Michael Twohill joined Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to shed light on the dire situation and assess the effectiveness of various strategies in protecting those in need, including domestic violence orders.
According to recent reports, Queensland records almost 500 domestic violence incidents a day.
There has also been a significant increase in domestic violence strangulation and tens of thousands of breaches of domestic violence protection orders in the past financial year.
However, it’s not just Queensland seeing a spike in the statistics – this is being experienced nationwide.
Despite the government’s efforts in delivering a National Plan to end violence against women and children, more and more stories continue to come to light about horrific violence impacting families around the country.
In fact, in Australia, intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 1 in 4 women experience violence by an intimate partner or family member, and 1 in 8 men experience the same.
In September we heard news break about a woman being charged with murder over alleged domestic violence in Perth.
In August we saw police charge a man with murder (domestic violence offence) after a 30-year-old woman and an 11-week-old baby were located deceased inside a residence in Rockhampton, QLD.
In July, a shocking murder-suicide of a women in South Guildford, WA, was reported, allegedly killed by her former partner.
In June, news reported on the death of a 3-year-old boy, a teenager, and two women as yet another horror week of domestic violence went by. Two women were murdered in separate acts of domestic violence in Melbourne and Sydney. A three-year-old boy was also killed in Sydney, and a 15-year-old boy shot by his father in a suspected murder-suicide in Yamba, NSW.
Domestic and family violence is an extremely complex issue, which will continue to need extensive investment, research, and tactics to improve the dire situation.
The immediate steps to take if you are impacted by domestic and family violence
If you are a victim of domestic and family violence, the initial steps you can take to stop the violence include:
- Contact the police and call 000 if you are an immediate danger.
- Contact a domestic violence support service (such as 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or the Domestic Violence Prevention Centre on 07 5591 4222) who can provide information, support, and advice. These services can help with a range of issues including putting together a safety plan, finding accommodation, and accessing legal assistance.
- Go to court. If you are not in immediate danger, you can apply for a domestic violence order to protect yourself from further abuse.
As critical as it is to get immediate help for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, it is also important to ensure resources are readily available to perpetrators.
If perpetrators can acknowledge their behaviour and are willing to take action to change it, this can be a vital step.
There are domestic violence perpetrator programs and behaviour change programs available to help people understand the impact of their behaviour and develop the skills to stop the abuse.
Counselling is another alternative for perpetrators of domestic and family violence. A counsellor can help a perpetrator understand and address the root causes of their behaviour and help people develop strategies to address it.
There are also support groups available. These groups can provide people with support and accountability necessary as they work to change their behaviour.
The sad reality is in many cases of historic domestic violence, both the victim and the perpetrator may not recognise the behaviour as such. Early intervention could help prevent further escalation of violent behaviour before it gets out of control.
Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVOs)
DVOs can be an effective way to protect people from domestic violence. However, no legal order can guarantee safety.
Breaches of DVOs do happen, and they can have serious consequences. In some cases, the respondent may not fully understand the conditions of the DVO which results in a breach. In other cases, the respondent may deliberately breach the order.
The courts have a broad set of actions they consider a breach of a DVO, including
- attempting to contact the aggrieved person (if the DVO prevents contact)
- hiding the aggrieved person’s phone
- grabbing something from the aggrieved person’s hand
- pushing the aggrieved person
- verbally abusing the aggrieved person
- hiding the aggrieved person’s car keys or purse
When an accusation is made of someone breaching a DVO, the police will investigate the complaint and obtain a statement from both the aggrieved and respondent.
The police may bring charges depending on the severity of the breach and they may give a notice to the perpetrator to appear in their local Magistrates Court.
The Magistrates Court deal with most DVO breach charges, however, in more serious cases the matter may be heard by the District Court.
Penalties for breaching a Domestic Violence Order
The maximum penalty is 3 years imprisonment.
If the person has been convicted of breaching a DVO in the past 5 years, then the penalty can increase to 5 years.
On first breaches of a DVO in Queensland, a perpetrator may also be liable for a fine of up to $14,136, or for subsequent breaches a fine up to $28,272.
The court will consider all the facts of the matter when deciding a penalty including how serious it was, if the defendant has a criminal history, if there was violence used in the breach, and the impact of the breach on the aggrieved person, just to name a few.
Changes made to deter people from breaching DVOs
In August 2023, the Queensland government introduced new legislation to make it easier to charge and convict people who breach DVOs. The new laws also make it easier for courts to impose harsher penalties for DVO breaches.
The new laws include changes such as:
- In some cases, the onus of proof will be on the defendant to prove that they did not breach the DVO, rather than the prosecution having to prove that they did.
- New offences have been created for breaching certain conditions of a DVO, such as contacting the aggrieved person or approaching their home or workplace. This will give police more powers to charge people who breach DVOs.
- The penalties for breaching a DVO have also been increased.
The Queensland government has also increased funding for electronic monitoring programs and has allocated $10 million over four years to expand the Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP) for people who breach DVOs.
The increased funding for electronic monitoring programs will allow the government to expand the program and reach more offenders.
The Queensland government believes that electronic monitoring is an effective way to reduce the risk of re-offending by people who have breached a DVO. It can also help to protect victims of domestic violence by providing them with peace of mind knowing that the offender is being monitored.
Applying for a Domestic Violence Order in Queensland
If you are in danger, call 000 and the police will immediately attend to you. They may issue paperwork on the spot to protect you from the perpetrator and if necessary, they have the power to arrest the perpetrator or remove them from the premises. The police will issue immediate Temporary Protection Orders and the matter will go to court within days.
Alternatively, you can file an application yourself for Domestic Violence Orders by either:
- completing an online application form on the Queensland Courts website. This is the most common method of lodgement.
- downloading and printing a PDF of the application and complete it by hand and submit it online, by mail, or in person; or
- picking up an application form from your nearest Magistrates Court and complete it there.
When making an application, you need to provide evidence of the domestic violence, which might include:
- Photographs of injuries
- Medical records
- Police reports
- Witness statements.
How long does it take to apply for a DVO and what is the process?
Obtaining a DVO in Queensland can take several weeks to finalise, depending on certain factors, including the complexity of the case and the workload of the court.
In most cases, if the circumstances are serious enough, the application will go to a magistrate who will consider whether the matter should be heard urgently and without the perpetrator being present in court or aware of the application at the time. If the matter is considered serious enough, a Temporary Order may be made on the day of the filing of the application.
If you applied for the DVO, you must attend the court appearance.
If the police applied for a protection order on your behalf, then a police prosecutor will prosecute the application in court.
If you have sought advice from a lawyer, they will be able to represent you in court.
If you do not feel safe being in the same courtroom as the respondent, there are options available to protect you while in court. The court can organise for you to speak from another room via video link, or a screen can be positioned to block the respondent from your view in the courtroom, and extra security can also be made available.
At the first courtroom appearance, the magistrate may ask several questions about the application, and both the aggrieved and the respondent can present their case.
If both parties agree to the order, the court may make a protection order then and there.
If both parties disagree on the order, the court may set a date for a second court appearance.
If the respondent doesn’t appear at the mention and has received a copy of the application, the court can make a final order without them.
There is no cost to apply for a DVO.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping families through the toughest times
Our family lawyers are experienced in handling all types of family law matters and do so with care and compassion. As members of the legal profession, we are duty bound to play our part in addressing the abhorrent issue of domestic and family violence.
If you are experiencing domestic and family violence in your relationship, our experienced family lawyers are available to discuss your circumstances and provide you with guidance quickly and confidentially.
It is our goal to help you in a way that does not cause any more conflict than you are already facing, to ensure your safety is paramount, and to assist you with the overarching legal issues people often face when exiting a violent relationship.
Please contact our team by reaching out to our Family Law Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email firstname.lastname@example.org or free call 1800 621 071.
In addition to getting trusted legal advice, there are several hard-working support services available to help anyone affected by family and domestic violence:
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) – confidential information, counselling, and support services
- DV Connect (1800 811 811) – 24-hour state-wide domestic violence hotline that offers free, professional assistance such as counselling, intervention, transport, and emergency accommodation for people in danger from a violent partner or family member.