Capricious police responses to family violence orders (FVO), the exclusion of specific types of abuse and problems with after-hours orders have all been identified as risk factors resulting in domestic violence victims falling through the cracks in the ACT.
A review of the Family Violence Act 2016, released this week after being delayed by almost a year, found that most of the people interviewed recommended amending the definition of family violence in the act to cover technological abuse, coercive control and cultural abuse.
Women’s sector representatives said that there was a decrease in the enforcement of FVOs and that some breaches had begun to be treated lightly again.
“The level of confidence of women in FVOs as a protection mechanism had improved, but is returning to previous levels of very low confidence,” one advocate noted.
A legal professional told Region Media that there is inconsistency in how police manage FVOs, with selective enforcement between some “amazing officers [and] others who do not reflect the policy”.
They said it was not uncommon for women to contact them with clear breaches of FVOs – even though it might not be an egregious breach – that were then not policed.
While a text message might not appear to be a serious breach of an FVO, for example, it pushes the boundaries of the order and exacerbates the risk, they said.
A need for greater information sharing between agencies has also been flagged.
One person said that “most other jurisdictions have developed something where they have some kind of co-located function that at a minimum brings together … police, child protection, [and a] domestic violence crisis agency to effectively assess and triage cases as they are identified”.
While privacy was noted as a concern, it added that “privacy rules are there to stop people losing control of things and things being breached – they were never intended to be inserted as a way to stop two agencies from working collaboratively to achieve something positive”.
The after-hours FVO scheme, which grants the orders outside court sitting hours, was labelled as inflexible due to the increased onus placed on the person seeking the order after the threshold of proof was increased when the Act was amended.
The application process is time-consuming and may result in a respondent being detained for longer than may be necessary, the review said.
The final report made 18 recommendations to the ACT Government.
Support is available through the DVCS 24/7 Crisis Line on 6280 0900 or through 1800 RESPECT.
For more information about domestic violence and coercive control, visit the Domestic Violence Crisis Service.