by Jan Logie
Protection Orders are in the media again, after another woman was killed by her ex-partner in breach of a protection order.
Protection orders were created by the Domestic Violence Act and are one of the key tools in responding to Domestic Violence. They are issued by the Family Court.
The police have also recently been given the power to issue Public Safety Orders, which are loosely 5 day protection orders. These should not be issued if there is evidence of physical violence. Unfortunately a police review of Public Safety Orders showed evidence that they are more than occasionally being used when there is evidence of physical violence.
More than 10,000 people were charged with 21,049 incidents of breaching protection orders between 2006 and 2010.
Of the offenders, 6361 were convicted and 1725 given a custodial sentence. The rest, 4469, were found not guilty or had the charges withdrawn.
In the words of the police “Police do not routinely produce statistics on persons involved in police safety orders, details of the breaches, penalties imposed, number of repeat offenders, the number of complaints from protected people, the nature of the complaints and how they were dealt with … the information is not held by police,”
People in the sector have told me they are concerned about the high number of women reporting breaches only to find they are not considered a breach. For example a text may be made if the content of the text is not considered to be threatening. The nature of psychological abuse in cases of reported breaches does not seem to be understood or seen as an indicator of escalating level of risk to the victim.
They have also told me of protection orders being issued to protect women who have also effectively been given, by the same court, responsibility for ensuring their ex-partner’s access to their children. In this situation it is very hard for a woman to report a breach and very difficult to keep the lines
There are several areas of policy concern here; police use of and enforcement of protection orders and Public Safety Orders, the lack of monitoring and analysis of their use and effectiveness, the apparent lack of a victim’s perspective in the policy feedback process.
If we are serious about ending or even responding appropriately to Domestic Violence we need to ensure our systems are appropriate and working for the victims.