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Powerful Interventions: Reforming South Australia's approach to domestic and family violence

On 10 May 2022 Uniting Communities and UniSA released it's detailed research report entitled Powerful Interventions: Improving the use and enforcement of Intervention Orders as a tool to address family and domestic violence in South Australia. The Powerful Interventions Report was been prepared following collaborative research between Uniting Communities and UniSA, funded by the Law Foundation of South Australia’s Brian Withers Grant.

An Intervention Order is a justice response mechanism used to protect the safety of adults and children who are at risk of family and domestic violence. These Orders are designed to physically separate perpetrators and potential perpetrators from victims and potential victims, and to provide legal mechanisms to enable victims and protected persons to enforce these protective orders through criminal sanctions. However, given the prevalence of non-compliance and breaches of Intervention Orders by family and domestic violence perpetrators, and the barriers faced by victims and survivors seeking to enforce these orders, the Intervention Order regime has been described as a weak form of protection, with the potential to undermine other elements of family and domestic violence policy.

The aim of this research is to improve the quality of South Australia’s response to family and domestic violence by identifying practical reform options to increase access to and enforcement of Intervention Orders in South Australia. This aim aligns with the strong demand within the South Australian community to see the Intervention Orders regime improved.

Central to this research is the ability to engage with and learn from those with lived experience accessing, drafting, implementing and enforcing Intervention Orders and responding to the breaches. It is through this lived experience voice that the specific problems and challenges facing the current system can be identified and sustainable options for future improvement become clear.

As part of this Research, 63 anonymous survey responses were received, 48 from service providers and 15 from people with lived experience. Twenty individual interviews were conducted (ten with persons with lived experience and ten with service providers) along with four focus groups. When taken together, the data analysed in this Report reveals a system under acute pressure, that is failing to meet the needs of those it is designed to protect.

Researchers found that there are many hard-working police officers, public servants, court officials and specialist lawyers, social workers and other support services dedicated to ensuring the Intervention Order system provides meaningful protection for those experiencing, or at risk of, family and domestic violence.

However, researchers also heard loud and clear that these positive initiatives and genuine individual efforts are not enough to address the structural problems and cultural deficits evident within both the legal framework governing Intervention Orders and the practical implementation of these legal tools.

Publicly available Courts Administration Authority data reveals that the number of Intervention Orders issued is increasing over time, and so are the number of breaches of these Orders. Those with lived experience accessing or engaging with the Intervention Orders system told the researchers that they want the following changes to be made:

1. Call out gender inequality in every aspect of our society. Respect Women.
2. Put victim survivors at the centre. Protect her. Believe her. Empower her. Invest in her. Give her options.
3. Get the first response right.
4. Respond quickly. Make him leave. Help her stay safe on her terms. Victim-survivor-designed Orders.
5. Give victim survivors control over the variation process.
6. Actively monitor whether the perpetrator is complying with the order and prosecute all breaches quickly.
7. Design penalties that respond to the needs of the victim survivor first.
8. Empower victim survivors to recover and rebuild.

Those with experience providing services within the Intervention Orders system told the researchers that they want to see the following priorities be implemented by government and by leaders within the South Australian community:

1. Improve awareness and understanding of the complex causes and serious impacts of family and domestic violence within the community, and the role Intervention Orders can play in responding to family and domestic violence. Ensure that everyone understands that all forms of family and domestic violence - including coercive control - are unlawful.
2. Improve the quality and consistency of ‘first responses’ to incidents or reports of family and domestic violence and requests for Intervention Orders - including by mandating trauma-informed, family and domestic violence sensitive training for police, lawyers, court officials and other service providers.
3. Clearly identify and streamline the different pathways for obtaining an Intervention Order and empower and support applicants to exercise control over the conditions of the Intervention Order, the process of collating and presenting evidence, and the service and duration of Intervention Orders and the process of variation.
4. Proactively promote compliance with Intervention Orders by: streamlining processes for varying the conditions of Intervention Orders; empowering protected persons to report breaches of Intervention Orders; improving the quality and consistency of police responses to reports of breaches and tailoring penalties to address recidivism and promote behavioural change.

These priorities are unpacked in further detail in the Key Findings and Recommendations contained in this Report, which aim to equip lawmakers and policy makers with the best available information as they seek to give effect to a shared commitment to reduce the prevalence of family and domestic violence in our community to guard against any unintended consequences that can flow from well-intentioned but under-researched reforms.

The researchers would like to thank all individuals who participated in the qualitative interviews and surveys conducted as part of this research. Their generosity, resilience and determination to improve the Intervention Order system for others is truly inspiring.

You can read the full Report here.

To request an individual briefing from the researchers for your colleagues or workplace please contact Dr Sarah Moulds.


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