New criminal charge may reduce Gympie domestic violence
GYMPIE family abuse perpetrators will be charged with a standalone criminal offence of "commit domestic violence" if the state's cops get their way.
The Queensland Police Union has spent the past five years lobbying the Queensland Government to amend the criminal code so they can issue on-the-spot notices (like traffic infringements) to appear in criminal court instead of spending hours applying for domestic violence orders.
The QPU hopes the looming state election will see the Labor government back the plan that has the support of the Opposition.
Currently offenders can be charged with assault, but the QPU says the proposed offence would mean perpetrators were held responsible for such things as emotional and financial abuse.
QPU president Ian Leavers said it also meant our cops would spend less time applying for domestic violence orders through the civil jurisdiction of the magistrates court.
Mr Leavers said it took two officers an average of four hours to apply for one DVO.
Police lodged 7144 DVO applications with Gympie and Sunshine Coast courts between 2012-13 and 2016-17, meaning they spent about 28,000 hours on DVO paperwork.
"In some parts of Queensland, domestic violence figures have more than doubled," Mr Leavers said.
"This domestic violence epidemic is creating a massive increase in workload for police and in turn is affecting police ability to effectively undertake their job."
LNP Domestic and Family Violence spokeswoman Ros Bates said she would "seriously consider" adding "commit domestic violence" to the criminal code if her party won government.
"There is clearly a problem with our laws when there is no actual offence of domestic violence," Ms Bates said.
"For years now we have seen campaigns calling out domestic violence as a crime, but in Queensland that is technically not the case."
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said there was no need to amend the criminal code because a "circumstance of aggravation of domestic and family violence" could be applied to all criminal offences committed in a "domestic violence setting".
"This goes further than a standalone "domestic violence offence" would and is far more flexible in ensuring perpetrators are held to account for their actions," Ms D'Ath said.
Queensland Law Society's Christine Smyth said her organisation opposed the move.
"More criminal offences will not reduce the incidence of domestic violence," the QLS president said.
HOW IT WORKS
- Committing domestic violence is not a specifically a criminal offence in Queensland.
- Police can charge perpetrators with assault or other crimes if they occur. There are tougher sentencing options if crimes occur in a domestic context.
- If assaults do not occur, but the perpetrator intimidates, harasses or verbally or financially abuses their family member, police can apply for a domestic violence order.
- If it is then approved by a magistrate through the court's civil jurisdiction, the recipient of the DVO must not commit behaviours listed in the document.
- If the perpetrator does commit those acts, they can then be charged with a breach and that is dealt with through criminal courts.
- Having a "commit domestic violence" criminal offence would mean police could issue a notice to appear in court - like traffic infringements - and the perpetrator would then face a magistrate to plead guilty or fight the charge.
- If they were found guilty, the abuser would be punished and a black mark could go on their criminal record.
Back to school for family abusers
COURTS should force Gympie domestic violence abusers to attend behaviour change classes.
That's the call from family abuse experts, who say many perpetrators are manipulating the DVO system because they don't fear the legal consequences of not complying with orders.
NewsRegional research shows our police are under the pump applying for thousands more domestic violence orders compared to five years ago, while facing a massive increase in breaches as abusers flout the law.
In the Gympie-Sunshine Coast police district, DVO applications jumped 31.2% between 2012-2013 and 2016-17.
Over the same period there was a 116.3% increase in breaches of DVOs.
Over the five years, local cops applied for 7144 domestic violence orders and recorded 4200 breaches.
Suncoast Community Legal Centre, the Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research and Suncoast Cooloola Outreach Prevention and Education representatives all said they would like to see a greater spotlight on changing perpetrator attitudes.
Queensland courts can order offenders to complete behaviour change programs but it is not mandatory and it rarely happened, the experts said.
SCOPE co-ordinator Angela Short said many of her organisation's clients faced abusers who continually breached domestic violence orders.
"We do get a lot of clients who feel like their concerns about breaches are being dismissed because the police cannot act without evidence," Ms Short said.
"For some men, an order will work because they don't want charges brought against them but the ones at the other end of the spectrum don't care about facing charges and the courts.
"Somebody's behaviour will not always change because an order is in place and criminal charges and jail time won't stop attempts to have power and control over the victim."
Suncoast Community Legal Centre family law specialist Alexandra Brunswick said breaches "should be considered far more serious" than they are now.
"The perpetrator (may) have no respect for the other party, the law and/or the fact that there is an order in place," Ms Brunswick said.
"They get away with it repeatedly, making them feel they can do these things and that the problem really lies with the victim.
"Often, perpetrators are getting just a slap on the wrist, having to pay a small fine, even after multiple breaches."
QCDFVR director Associate Professor Annabel Taylor said some repeat offenders were "very familiar with court systems and how to work them".
"If you have such little respect that you're bashing up your partner, you're not going to respect the legal system," Dr Taylor said.
"These offenders do not consider the penalties as particularly onerous.
"We really have to up our game - we need to see how the perpetrator can be dealt with much more efficiently."
The Queensland Government will spend $7.67 million on perpetrator programs this financial year.
"The courts are best placed to decide whether perpetrators should be referred to these programs," Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said. - NewsRegional
AT A GLANCE
- Tips for dealing with domestic violence order breaches:
- Document everything, take notes and photos and videos if safe.
- Keep copies of texts, emails and social media posts.
- Keep your email, phone and social media protected by strong passwords so evidence cannot be tampered with.
- Ensure any contacts, such as child handovers, are done in a public place where there are witnesses and/or CCTV footage.
- When reporting a breach, be clear with the police about what happened and how it was a breach of the domestic violence order. Explain how it made you feel and let them know of similar behaviour that made you feel that way.
- Before reporting a breach, make sure you have a safety plan because the violence can escalate even further if the abuser is charged with a criminal offence.
Source: Women's Legal Service Queensland
*For 24-hour support in Queensland phone DVConnect on 1800 811 811, MensLine on 1800 600 636 or the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.