explainer

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.

Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, police and ambulance paramedics swarmed on an address in Como, a leafy suburb in Sydney's south. 

Residents had reported a woman's body laying on the driveway of an apartment complex. She had suffered extensive wounds, and though several neighbours tried to revive her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Watch: Violence against women, the hidden numbers.


Video via Mamamia.

That woman was Lynda Greenwood (pictured above), a 39-year-old who's been described as "kind, friendly and generous", by those who knew her. 

Her life was allegedly taken by an ex partner, a 39-year-old man who has since been charged with her murder. 

Police confirmed domestic violence incidents involving the pair had been recorded in 2019, and that Lynda had an active Apprehended Violence Order against him at the time of her death.

That detail has revived discussion about the effectiveness of AVOs.

The same debate happened in February, following the murder of Queensland woman Hannah Clarke and her children at the hands of her estranged husband. And after the killing of Kamaljeet Sidhu, and Sarah Brown, and Luke Batty, and in several other high-profile cases in which people were killed while under the supposed protection of the courts.

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.

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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.

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 the violence 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.

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. Estimates by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in 2016, for example, found that roughly 19.7 per cent of all final domestic AVOs in NSW were breached. 

But BOCSAR's Director of Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, stressed that the figure 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 which will hold back many, but by definition, a net that is full of holes. Sadly, some vicious predators are prepared to tear their way through. 

Feature image: Facebook.

If you or someone you care about is living with family violence please call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

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