Deniliquin Pastoral Times
Reforms welcome, but more to do
Domestic violence law reform has improved outcomes for victim-survivors, but questions remain about reducing reoffending.
A variety of changes to the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 have increased the conviction rate of offenders by about 25 per cent in the Murray River Police District, Senior Constable Paul Ebsworth said.
As domestic violence liaison officer, Sen Const Ebsworth oversees all domestic violence reports in the Deniliquin police district.
The variety of reforms from 2015 onward give domestic violence victims the ability to pre-record their court statements to reduce further harm from ‘‘re-living’’ the event and to prevent intimidation of the victim prior to the court date.
Sen Const Ebsworth said rather than face embarrassment by the evidence, offenders are ‘‘more likely to confess’’ before video testimonies are shown in court.
While many domestic violence reporting organisations have noted an upswing in domestic violence cases due to the COVID19 pandemic and related lockdowns, Sen Const Ebsworth said the MRPD did not have a significant spike.
However, Deniliquin experiences higher rates of assault and domestic violence on the whole, with Deniliquin district police managing about 25 apprehended violence orders per week, or 100 per month. An AVO is not a criminal conviction, but a form of protection from “domestic violence, intimidation, stalking and harassment” which is “speedy, inexpensive, safe and simple” for courts to implement.
They place restrictions on alleged abusers regarding contact with victims, including partners, ex-partners, children and other close family or friends.
Historically AVO details have only been available to authorities in the state in which they were issued, but to combat cross border issues the reforms mean all orders can be viewed Australia-wide and in New Zealand.
The reforms also allow the extension of an AVO beyond 12 months, to two to five years.
Sen Const Ebsworth said these changes will allow police in border communities to be more effective when searching for offenders. He said the change stemmed from an issue with policing on borders.
‘‘Now it doesn’t matter where you live — you’ll be in the system,’’ Sen Const Ebsworth said.
‘‘That was another big leap for us and we can thank Rosie Batty (DV victim turned campaigner) for that movement.’’
Her advocacy for change around domestic violence policing resulted in the laws Sen Const Ebsworth credits with making his job more effective today, after she brought the issue to national attention in 2014.
In an independent report presented to Edward River Council in April this year — relating to the application for a new liquor outlet in Deniliquin — it was reported that ‘‘in the year to December 2020, the rate of alcohol-related domestic assault in Deniliquin was 136.4 (per 100,000 people) — a dramatic increase since December 2019 (86.8)”.
The 2020 figure is lower compared to Inner Regional Australia (169.8), but higher compared to all of New South Wales (112.7).
‘‘In the year to December 2020, the rate of alcohol-related non-domestic assault in Deniliquin was 210.8, also a dramatic increase since December 2019 (136.4) and higher as well compared to December 2018. The 2020 figure is also higher compared to Inner Regional Australia (142.2), and higher compared to all New South Wales (91.3).’’
It did not find a specific link within Deniliquin to alcohol-related violence and outlet density.
It also noted a study from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research that data between 2007-20 shows ‘‘highly mobile’’ domestic violence hotspots across the town, unrelated to any particular residence or hotspots.
A 2017 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found that in 2016, an estimated 17 per cent of Australian women aged 18 years and over — about 1.6 million women — had experienced violence by a partner since the age of 15.
Sen Const Ebsworth said the causes of domestic violence were complex and varied, but could include drug and alcohol consumption or a history of domestic violence in the home as a child.
‘‘If children see someone being assaulted, they think it’s normal,’’ he said.
‘‘Many of those with AVOs in town were children at risk when they were kids.’’
While there are a variety of local services and a mandatory support agency to check in on victim-survivors, there are fewer services for offenders. Offenders are monitored via police compliance checks when they are in the community, or sent to prison when prosecuted. Maximum imprisonment sentences vary between 12 months and five years in NSW.
Sen Const Ebsworth said the closest offender programs are in Wagga Wagga and attendance, when it is possible, is not always mandatory.
‘‘A lot of the funding goes to prisons to rehabilitate those in jail, but you have to travel a bit to find one in the community. There are some (services for offenders) but it is very limited.’’
The latest focus on domestic violence law reforms is on mental abuse and coercive force.
To keep victims safe, improvements have also been made to ‘‘information sharing’’ between police, emergency, mental health outreach, and drug and alcohol outreach services, which requires ‘‘all allied organisations’’ involved in a family’s care to meet and discuss the risks at a safety action meeting.
The information is shared but it’s all confidential, to mitigate danger to victims should they inform an outreach service of concerns to their safety rather than police.
Sen Const Ebsworth said on average, a victim will not report domestic violence for the first 27 times it occurs.
He said their reluctance is due to a lack of trust, but the increase in reports in this district show that trust is increasing.
Sen Const Ebsworth said officers have 25 specific questions and signs to watch out for when scrutinising domestic violence reports and carrying out ongoing safety checks on affected families. If more than 12 are answered affirmatively, it denotes the offender may repeat their behaviour.
But the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found the questionnaire to be ineffective and is ‘‘working on developing an improved screening tool to overcome this problem’’.
■ Anyone requiring crisis support can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), Accessline on 1800 800 944 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.