Women Defendants to AVOs

What is their experience of the justice system?

Since 2008, Women’s Legal Service NSW has seen an increase in the number of apprehended violence orders (AVOs) against women where they are in fact the victim. In an attempt to identify why this is happening and build the evidence for the need for reforms we have published a report:

Download report:
Women Defendants to AVOs: What is their experience of the justice system?
Julia Mansour, Women’s Legal Service NSW, 18 March 2014

Executive summary

Women’s Legal Service NSW (‘WLS’) undertook an exploratory study of its 2010 experience of representing women who were defendants to Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (‘AVO’) proceedings in order to better understand what appeared to WLS, and a growing body of anecdotal reports from other agencies, to be a growing phenomenon.

The research was limited by a number of factors and is not a random sample of all NSW cases. However the results illustrate some of the systemic issues experienced by women AVO defendants. Given the number of cases examined and the particular expertise of WLS this report should be of use for the broader legal community.

The study findings include that over two-thirds of our women clients defending AVOs reported that they were the victims of violence in their relationships. Fewer than 40% of these clients had a final AVO made against them when the case came before the court.

Many of the women defending AVOs reported that when police had been called after a violent incident, they felt that their version of events had not been viewed as credible compared with the other party, due to the circumstances of their heightened stress and anxiety.

Other women reported that they believed the other party had deliberately initiated AVO proceedings as a further mechanism of controlling their behaviour, by giving them the ability to threaten them with reports to police in the future.

In the majority of cases where women were defending AVOs, the other party’s complaint related to a single incident only. In several of these cases injuries to the other party could be indicative of self-defence, such as scratching or biting on the arm or hand.

Although further research is needed to determine the frequency with which inappropriate AVOs are pursued against women defendants, it is clear from the study that in a number of cases, the applications initiated against women defendants appeared unnecessary for the protection of the other party.

This report identifies the following recommendations:

  1. Improved data be collected and made available by key agencies in the domestic violence sector in order to build a further evidence base on the experience of women defendants to AVOs.
  2. The Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research undertake a discrete project into the experience of women defendants to AVOs in the justice system.
  3. The NSW Police continue to strengthen their policies and procedures around identification of the ‘primary victim’ in domestic violence incidents, and provide continuous training about the nature and dynamics of domestic violence.
  4. The NSW government take into account in its Domestic and Family Violence reforms that women defendants to AVOs may, in fact, be victims, rather than perpetrators of violence.

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