Effects of Covid-19 on Domestic Violence

With strict social distancing and isolation measures put in place by the government, families experiencing violence within their homes risk becoming collateral damage to this unwanted disease.

Domestic violence cases have increased globally in the midst of social distancing combined with high levels of financial and emotional stress. In circumstances where the perpetrator exerts control and aggression over their families, circumstances of additional pressure are likely to put persons in need of protection (PINOP) at greater risk of harm with little opportunity or resources to escape. These circumstances are exacerbated in situations of lockdown where the PINOPs have no alternative or less resources to seek support or assistance through services.

The current restrictions

From 30 March 2020, the government has imposed further restrictions pursuant to the Public Health (Covid-19) Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020. This order directs that a person must not, without reasonable excuse, leave the person’s place of residence. Examples of reasonable excuse involve:

  • Obtaining food or other goods and services for the personal needs of the household or other household purposes (including pets) and for vulnerable persons, or
  • Traveling for the purposes of work or education if the person cannot do it at home, or
  • Exercising, or
  • Medical or caring reasons, or
  • Traveling to attend childcare, or
  • Moving to a new place of residence or between different places of residence
  • Undertaking legal obligations
  • Accessing public services including domestic violence services and mental health services
  • For children who are split between households to continue access and contact between parents and siblings and
  • emergencies

In addition, a person must not participate in a gathering in a public place of more than 2 persons. Exceptions include

  • Gatherings of members of the same household, and
  • Gatherings essential for work or education.

It is an offence to breaching this order as it is a Ministerial direction, penalties include a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 6 months or a fine up to $11,000 or both, for individuals and include a fine of $5,500 for each day the offence continues.

How do we know rates of domestic violence are increasing?

The Australian government has relied upon google reports which suggest that there has been a 75% increase in individuals searching for help with domestic violence during these trying times.

The Women’s Safety NSW organisation recently released a report titled “Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children Experiencing Domestic and Family Violence and Frontline Domestic and Family Violence Services”. This report contains findings from surveys completed by support services and support workers in domestic and family violence.

Alarmingly, as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19, 44.9% of respondents identified escalating and worsening violence. Studies have previously found that violence within the community is not only occurring more frequently but are also becoming more severe.[1]

This study also reports that at least 36.2% of respondents identified that women were reporting violence and abuse related to the Covid-19 crisis whether this be as a result of the added financial or other pressures. Alarmingly, 15.9% of respondents identified violence occurring for the first time.

The government’s response

The government has announced that as part of their response to combatting the effects of Covid-19, they will be injecting $150,000,000 under the national domestic violence initiative increasing support for victims of domestic, family or sexual violence. This additional support is required to ensure services are accessible and well-equipped to support new and complex cases of domestic and family violence that is predicted.

How does domestic violence affect me?

The cost of domestic violence to the Australian community is insurmountable. Domestic violence not only causes physical and psychological harm to the individuals and families affected, however, it may also cause subsequent issues with mental health, accommodation, employment, and finances.[2]

The economic cost of domestic violence in addition to the harm caused to PINOPs is overwhelming not only to those affected but the community at large. Evidence of this includes the necessity of additional funding which is required for support services as well as victims support levies imposed amongst court fees to fund the Victims Support Scheme. With resources for those suffering domestic or family violence already being underfunded, it is undeniable that the Covid-19 situation will require even more financial support.

What protection can persons in need of protection receive from the law?

The Crimes (Domestic And Personal Violence) Act 2007 (“the Act”) gives the police and the court powers to make an Apprehended Violence Order to protect PINOPs from being subject to future or ongoing domestic violence. AVOs can be applied for by the police or by way of private application. The court may make these orders if it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the PINOP has reasonable grounds to fear, and in fact fears a domestic violence offence.[3]

Domestic violence offence is defined in the Act to mean an offence that is committed by a person against another person when that person has or has had a domestic relationship, being a personal violence offence or similar to this.[4]

Personal violence offence is defined in the Act to include:

(a) an offence under, or mentioned in, section 19A, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 33A, 35, 35A, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 43A, 44, 45, 45A, 46, 47, 48, 49, 58, 59, 61, 61B, 61C, 61D, 61E, 61I, 61J, 61JA, 61K, 61KC, 61KD, 61KE, 61KF, 61L, 61M, 61N, 61O, 65A, 66A, 66B, 66C, 66D, 66DA, 66DB, 66DC, 66DD, 66DE, 66DF, 66EA, 73, 73A, 78A, 80A, 80D, 86, 87, 91P, 91Q, 91R, 93G, 93GA, 110, 195, 196, 198, 199, 200, 562I (as in force before its substitution by the Crimes Amendment (Apprehended Violence) Act 2006 ) or 562ZG of the Crimes Act 1900 , or

(b) an offence under section 13 or 14 of this Act, or

(b1) an offence under section 109, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115 or 308C of the Crimes Act 1900, but only if the serious indictable offence or indictable offence referred to in those sections is an offence referred to in paragraph (a) or (b), or

(c) an offence of attempting to commit an offence referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (b1).

These offences include assault occasioning actual bodily harm, damage or destroy property, common assault and sexual assault amongst several others.

It is not necessary that the PINOP, in fact, fears a domestic violence offence being committed in circumstances where they are children, has lower intellectual functioning, or there have been several offences of personal violence committed.[5]

Apprehended Violence Orders are nationally recognised orders protecting individuals, including children from perpetrators of domestic violence. Orders can include restrictions on behaviours, restrictions on where a person can and cannot go and orders restricting contact.

AVO’s are civil in nature, meaning that there is no criminality involved with an AVO. However, breaching an AVO is considered an offence and is taken seriously as these are breaches of court orders.

AVO’s can protect PINOPs in a domestic relationship, these are known as Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (“ADVO”). PINOPs that fall outside of these categories for example where the violence occurs between neighbours, employees are protected under Apprehended Personal Violence Orders (“APVO”).


Domestic and family violence is on the rise in Australia due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent restrictions imposed to flatten the curve. The government has committed to additional funding for support services to be equipped to assist with the increase of persons seeking assistance given the current climate. The law grants police and the court power to protect persons in need of protection from perpetrators of domestic violence by way of AVOs. Breaches of AVOs are a criminal offence and can have serious consequences including a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and fines up to $5,500. AVOs and breaches of AVOs can have significant impact on your employment, immigration, social and family situation.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or have been served an AVO or have been charged with a domestic violence offence give Pannu Lawyers a call on (02) 9920 1787 to speak to one of our experienced lawyers in domestic and family violence matters. Pannu Lawyers is here to help you during this difficult situation remotely via Skype or telephone conferences.

[1] Durbach, A, Behind closed doors: ‘outing’ the private and public cost of violence against women [2012] 6 University of New South Wales Law Society Court of Conscience 11.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Crimes (Domestic And Personal Violence) Act 2007 section 16 and section 19 for APVO.

[4] Crimes (Domestic And Personal Violence) Act 2007 section 11.

[5] Crimes (Domestic And Personal Violence) Act 2007 section 16 and section 19 for APVO.

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