Our plea finally heard

We started a campaign to abolish private intervention order fees for domestic violence cases. Victims were being forced to pay for protection. Finally, we see action: the state government has pledged to scrap the fee in the New Year.

BARRIER: Australian Community Media's newspapers around South Australia featured a front-page plea for action to remove the financial barrier to private intervention orders for victims of domestic violence.

BARRIER: Australian Community Media's newspapers around South Australia featured a front-page plea for action to remove the financial barrier to private intervention orders for victims of domestic violence.

Earlier this year, Australian Community Media, owner of this newspaper, published a plea for the State Government to scrap the then-$291 fee payable by DV victims to file private intervention orders with the court.

The fee has since risen to $297. It is payable to the Courts Administration Authority to process the intervention order and again should the victim choose to vary or revoke the intervention order. This is a real barrier to victims seeking - and gaining - help.

It means not only must victims contend with partners abusing them or controlling their finances and movements, but they also have to find almost $300 to be gain protection.

According to former Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O'Connell - a former police officer who served as the state's inaugural Commissioner for Victims' Rights between 2006 and 2018 - many women who took private action were those subjected to "coercive control" by their partners.

"We should not put an obstacle in the way of those people who need help," he said in January.

Last month, SA Labor moved a Bill to scrap the $297 fee for intervention orders, as well as the fee to vary or revoke the orders, and the party has called on the government to support it. Labor vowed to abolish the fee on all counts if they win the state election in March, 2022.

Katrine Hildyard, the Opposition's spokeswoman on women and the prevention of domestic and family violence, said it was "utterly crucial" to ensure those in need or at risk were able to "quickly and easily access these orders without any undue barriers".

She referenced the newspapers' report in her speech while introducing the Bill to the House of Assembly on November 17.

She said police figures showed family and domestic abuse-related offences had increased 9 per cent during the 2020-21 financial year.

As our team was preparing this campaign story, the government on Friday pledged to revoke the intervention order fee, and stipulated this would be for applications made in domestic and family violence matters only. They made this distinction because private intervention orders can also be sought in neighbour disputes, and perpetrators - including those of DV - may also apply to vary or revoke an intervention order, with the same fee applying.

Attorney-General Josh Teague told this newspaper: "It is important we remove this barrier for victims, but that we do so without unintended consequences."

He said Labor's Bill would have removed the fee for perpetrators trying to vary or revoke intervention orders, as well as for "trivial civil applications".

"This is a risk we couldn't take, and, following feedback from stakeholders, would lead to an undesirable outcome," he said.

"The fee will be removed for domestic and family violence victims via Gazettal in the new year."

Ms Hildyard congratulated the publisher, ACM, for embarking on its campaign for change.

"I really commend you on your work in this arena. It is so incredibly important we keep this discussion going and media plays an important part in that," she said.

Serious impact

Centacare Catholic Family Services executive manager Megan Welsh said the fee had a serious impact on women escaping abusive relationships.

"Many at-risk women don't have any money behind them because they have been financially abused, often for several years," she said.

"This makes them even more vulnerable and affects their help-seeking decisions. Any measures to address barriers to safety for women and their children is a positive move."

You can contact Port Augusta Regional Domestic Violence and Aboriginal Family Violence Service for local support. The provider, Uniting Country SA can be reached on 7628 3101 or via email to unitingcountry@ucsa.org.au. The service provides an immediate safety response, accomodation, material assistance and advice and information.

Expert opinion

By Michael O'Connell AM APM, Consulting Victimologist; Secretary-General, World Society of Victimology

For many women, the covid-pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence and abuse. T

hough many of these women experienced physical or sexual violence, a greater percentage of women experienced coercive control and an even greater percentage experienced emotionally abusive, harassing, or controlling behaviour.

Too many of these women were unable to escape the violence or to seek help; and front-line workers struggled to help those who escaped or asked for help.

As a result of determined advocacy and political awareness, the law on violence against women has been brought nearer to the modern standards of equality and equity, and to knowledge on the ways such violence manifests and affects victims.

Yet, when victims turn to the law for protection, they can find themselves in a labyrinth of legal dogma and disparities.

Victims of physical or sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate or former intimate partners, for example, can far more readily obtain an intervention order than can victims of other forms of violence perpetrated by an intimate or former intimate partner.

The capacity of the police to fully appreciate the magnitude and pervasiveness of coercive control is one of the reasons for this disparity.

Another reason is the imposition of court fees on victims who apply direct to the Magistrates Court for intervention orders, which not only impedes victims access to justice but also reveals a stark limitation of the law intended to protect.

Both major political parties have promised to abolish the court fees currently payable by victims applying privately for intervention orders, which is a welcome announcement.

This is an important step but not the wherewithal necessary to protect all victims. We really need to do better if we are to afford all victims access to justice. If we do not, on average, another woman will die and many hundreds will be injured, each week in Australia.

This ever-present pandemic must be tackled with the same sense of urgency, commitment and rigour as we have approached the disease pandemic.