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What you need to know about AVOs and whether they actually work.

This post deals with domestic violence and might be triggering for some readers.

So far in 2024, 30 Australian women have been killed in acts of violence. 

That's 30 women who won't see their loved ones again. 30 women who have had their lives ripped away from them.

Among their stories, there are familiar traits. In many cases, the alleged perpetrator was someone they knew, even someone who once professed to love or care for them. In many cases, their murder was the lethal culmination of a long campaign of abuse, one already recorded by police.

Intimate partner homicide is the most common form of homicide perpetrated in this country. And as documented by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network, it rarely happens out of the blue. Perpetrators have typically subjected the victim to a pattern of coercive control (including emotional, financial and social abuse) and physical violence prior to taking their victim's life.

The recent string of such cases has reinvigorated the longstanding debate about the justice system's ability to protect domestic violence victims. In particular, the effectiveness of its central tool: apprehended violence orders, or AVOs.

Watch: Violence against women, the hidden numbers. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia.

The same debate happened following the 2020 murder of Queensland woman Hannah Clarke and her children at the hands of her estranged husband. 

After the killings of hundreds of women since — Lynda Greenwood, Molly Ticehurst, Allira Green and Kelly Wilkinson are just a few of their names — the devastation and frustration remains pertinent.  

So how do AVOs work? And do they actually prevent harassment and violence, or are they — as so many critics claim — just a 'useless piece of paper'?

Let's take a look.

What exactly is an AVO?

An AVO is a court order designed to protect a person and their dependants from harassment or violence by a specific individual.

They are known by different names in different states, including intervention orders, restraining orders and protection orders.

AVOs typically take two forms: personal AVOs, which apply to non-domestic relationships like neighbours and colleagues; and domestic AVOs, which apply to current- or ex-partners, carers, relatives and so on.

The latter are enforceable Australia-wide, regardless of the state or territory in which they were obtained. But there's a catch: that only applies to orders issued since November 2017, when the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme was introduced. Otherwise, AVO holders who cross a border must apply to that state's court to have their order recognised.

How do AVOs work?

AVOs put restrictions on the person who is subject to the order. This person is known as the defendant.

AVOs typically state that the defendant cannot assault, harass, threaten, intimidate, stalk or damage any property belonging to the person who obtained the order.


But additional conditions may apply depending on the circumstances of the complaint. For example, the defendant may be prevented from having any contact with the AVO holder or from coming within a certain distance of them.

This can affect family court proceedings in child custody disputes, working with children clearance checks, and tenancy agreements.

While being subjected to an AVO does not constitute a criminal offence, breaching one does. Penalities can involve fines and jail time. 

And that's essentially how AVOs operate: on the threat of those consequences. In the process, they also offer some reassurance to the person in need of protection.

Who can get an AVO, and what's the process?

Anyone who feels under threat of harassment or violence can apply for an AVO. 

That person can report to police, who may then make an application on their behalf (this is often what happens in circumstances involving domestic violence).

Otherwise, the person can file a private application through the courts in their state by filling out the required forms.

The application will then be ruled upon by a judge. In order to be successful, the applicant needs to show: that they fear the defendant; and that there are reasonable grounds to fear the defendant.

Are AVOs effective?

That's a longstanding debate, particularly when it comes to domestic violence.

Many critics point to the number of domestic AVOs that are contravened.

The most recent estimates we have are from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in 2016, where they found that roughly 19.7 per cent of all final domestic AVOs in NSW were breached. 


In 2023, BOCSAR then found that the duration of an AVO at 24 months rather than 12 months significantly enhances victim safety. Since 2018, the NSW Police Force specifically has directed officers to request a standard 24-month duration for all final AVOs. 

BOCSAR's Director of Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, stressed that the high breach rate doesn't make domestic AVOs a failure. In fact, studies by the Bureau have found that the vast majority of women reported a sizeable and sustained drop in incidents of stalking, intimidation, violence after obtaining an order.

"ADVOs were not a miracle cure," he said, "but in four out of five cases they put a stop to the violence, intimidation and harassment".

In other words, they are a safety net. A net that will snare many, but inevitably see others rip right through the holes.

This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated with new information. 

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a national organisation that helps women, children and families move on after the devastation of domestic and family violence. Their mission is to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most. If you would like to support their mission you can donate here

Feature Image: Getty.