Tumut has more than double the rate of reported Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) breaches than in comparable regions, the latest statistics from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown.
65 per cent of AVOs in the Tumut shire are reported to be breached, as opposed to 30 per cent in Cootamundra, 28 per cent in Gundagai, and 28 per cent in Leeton.
It has the sixth highest per capita rate of AVO breaches in NSW, with the first five being located in the central north of the state near the border with Queensland.
AVOs are issued by the courts in cases of harassment and abuse. They order the recipient of the AVO to follow a number of conditions, such as not contacting the victim, and not contacting the victim’s children and family members. They are most commonly associated with cases of domestic violence, although personal AVOs can be issued in any circumstance of harassment.
Sergeant Bryan Hammond with the Tumut Police Force said that in charges involving domestic violence, higher rates per capita reflect higher levels of reporting rather than higher levels of actual occurrences.
“It’s the only thing we report on that we want more. In our crime stats we actually want it to be higher,” he said.
“More people are willing to report domestic violence now. In the early seventies and eighties it was a taboo subject and no one wanted to be involved. In any case of domestic violence, reporting it is the hard step. People make excuses for it, or think it’s an embarrassment.
“In this area we have a fantastic support network, so I think people are more comfortable in reporting it because we have the support that other towns don’t have.”
Jessica Fayle, Domestic Violence Response Case Manager within the Specialist Homelessness Service at Tumut Regional Family Services, said that some AVO breaches can come about through those involved misunderstanding the terms of the order.
“I think [AVOs] are effective if they’re used correctly. If they’re used effectively, the victims tend to have a sense of empowerment from having those orders in place. People need to be mindful of what the actual orders are on their AVOs,” she said.
“With the procedures that are in place at the moment we encourage people to report any breaches, as police can’t do anything if they aren’t aware of it.
“For my service, which is the specialist homelessness service, domestic violence is responsible for a huge proportion of homeless people that we have come through. Over 200 people came through our service last year, and a majority of that would be resulting from, or having some element of, domestic violence.
“Making sure that any breaches are reported and being consistent with that can give a clearer picture of how big the issue is, and what other steps can be taken from there.”
Sergeant Shane Brasen with the Tumut Police Force said the local police are proactive in following up AVOs.
“Obviously we employ a range of strategies to address domestic violence in this area. That includes AVO compliance checks, where we randomly drop in at an address and we’ll sometimes find breaches doing that,” he said.
“[AVOs] should be effective but they’re not always – at the end of the day they’re only a piece of paper. If someone wants to breach an AVO generally they’ll do it.”
Breaching an AVO in NSW is punishable with a maximum of two years in prison or a maximum fine of $5500, with additional sentencing for assault charges or other relevant charges. However, the most common penalty for breaching an AVO at last evaluation (2010) was an unsupervised good behaviour bond.
In a new program being trialled in several regions around NSW, police are also allowed to disclose a person’s history of AVO breaches to their current partner or concerned third parties upon request.
Sergeant Brasen said it’s up to the courts to decide on the most appropriate punishment.
“It depends on what the breach is,” he said. “Some breaches may just involve a phone call, now obviously that’s going to be treated differently in court to someone who assaults someone while an AVO is in place. It comes down to the magistrate, the person’s history, and everything else. Some people are sent to jail, some people are given a bond.”
Unlike an AVO itself, breaching an AVO is a criminal charge.
Standing out from most other crime categories in NSW, which have seen a decrease over the past ten years, domestic violence levels have stayed stationary. Breaching an AVO has actually risen by nearly 10 per cent in the past two years.
In the Riverina for example, rates of taking out an AVO have almost doubled since 2001. However, this is more likely due to changing attitudes towards perceiving domestic violence as a crime – leading more victims involving the police – rather than an increase in the crime itself.
Nearly 1 in 5 women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.