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Incidence and regulation of domestic violence in NSW

Incidence and regulation of domestic violence in NSW

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 04/2000 by Rachel Simpson

‘Domestic violence’ refers to one of a range of offences committed against a person who is in a particular relationship to the perpetrator (married, de facto or other intimate personal relationship, a relationship involving dependency or a relative of the perpetrator). While the most obvious manifestation of domestic violence is physical assault, verbal, emotional or psychological abuse, financial and economic abuse and social abuse also constitute domestic violence. The importance of defining domestic violence is discussed in pages 2-5.

The level of non-reporting of incidents of domestic violence to police makes it difficult to accurately quantify the incidence of domestic violence in the community. One study has shown that only 15% of women who had experienced sexual violence and 19% of women who had experienced physical violence reported the incident to police in the previous 12 months. The main reasons for non-reporting were that the woman dealt with the incident herself, that they did not consider the incident a serious offence, or were embarrassed or ashamed. A statistical picture of the incidence of domestic violence, compiled from a number of sources is painted in pages 6 to 9. Characteristics of those who apply for apprehended violence orders, and the nature and timing of their breach are illustrated on pages 10 to 13.

Apprehended violence orders (AVOs) are the primary legal means by which victims of domestic violence are offered protection in NSW. AVOs were first inserted into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in 1982 and since that time their use has increased dramatically. For example 1,462 AVOs were issued in 1987, compared with 25,556 in 1998. Since its commencement the law relating to AVOs has been amended numerous times, most often to expand its scope and application. Most recently, a major overhaul of the AVO system was implemented by the Crimes Amendment (Apprehended Violence) Act 1999 in which, among other things, domestic and personal AVOs were distinguished and, for the first time, an objects statement in relation to domestic AVOs was inserted into the Crimes Act. A history of AVO legislation can be found in pages 15 to 19. The operation of the AVO scheme in NSW is examined in pages 19 to 21. Other forms of regulation discussed in the paper include injunctions under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 (NSW) (pages 25 to 27) and the Bail Act 1978 (NSW) (pages 27 to 29).

Claims that AVOs are being abused are widespread. These claims usually fall into two categories – that domestic AVOs are being used by women in family court proceedings to gain some tactical advantage against an ex-partner in an attempt to prevent him from having contact with their children, and that trivial or ‘waste of time’ personal AVOs are being sought in disputes between neighbours. These issues are discussed in pages 23 to 25.

While domestic violence is a concern for the whole community, it is the police who in the majority of cases intervene at an early stage. Therefore the response of the police to an initial call for assistance in a domestic violence matter is crucial for the immediate protection of the victim and the overall outcome of the matter. Police powers in relation to domestic violence and the level of satisfaction with police response to the issues of domestic violence are canvassed in pages 30 to 33.