Plea for fee to be scrapped

SUPPORT: Founder of DVINA Milli, centre, and helpers Judith, left, and Maxine can assist women who are fleeing domestic violence. Photo:DVINA
SUPPORT: Founder of DVINA Milli, centre, and helpers Judith, left, and Maxine can assist women who are fleeing domestic violence. Photo:DVINA

Women grappling with the impact of domestic violence are being forced to face another hurdle - the South Australian government wants almost $300 for each intervention order taken out for protection from abuse.

We should not put an obstacle in the way of those people who need help ... it means the law will be ineffective until that fee is waived

Prominent victims' rights advocate

The fee adds to the crisis confronting hundreds of women around the state - including in country areas - who choose to seek action independently of the police.

Not only must they contend with partners abusing them or controlling their finances and movements, they also have to find $291 for the Courts Administration Authority.

Former Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O'Connell believes the fee is not appropriate.

"We should not put an obstacle in the way of those people who need help," Mr O'Connell said.

In response to questions from the local newspapers of regional publisher ACM, owner of this masthead, the Courts Administration Authority confirmed that the fee was charged for a victim to launch an intervention order privately.

The courts authority said the fee could be waived.

But advocates say women who are often caught up in "coercive control" domestic violence should not have to wade through a bureaucratic process or face financial hardship in order to feel safer.

The Women's Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service, which helps women in the country and city, says 145 cases in 2019-20 had been related to intervention orders through the courts.

In more than half of the cases, the fee was waived while the rest of the clients would have paid it.

Team leader Catherine Coleiro said that in a perfect world those women who launched private intervention orders should be exempt from any fee or it should be levied at a lower rate.

Publisher ACM approached Commissioner for Victims Rights Bronwyn Killmier for comment and was referred to Ms Coleiro by Ms Killmier's office.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said it was inappropriate for her as Minister to comment on the situation.

Mr O'Connell, a former police officer who served as SA's inaugural Commissioner for Victims' Rights between 2006 and 2018, said many of the women who took private action were subject to "coercive control" by their partners.

He said this meant it was difficult for them to initiate legal action, gain access to household finances and apply for the fee to be waived.

In 2019-20, a total of 225 private domestic violence intervention orders were taken out.

Mr O'Connell said police usually handled cases involving violence, but he said "coercive control' by men could be "just as devastating" as the other abuse incidents and it rendered victims "helpless":

"It means the law will be ineffective until that fee is waived," he said.

A courts authority spokeswoman said the $291 "criminal commencement fee" was collected on behalf of the government and transferred to the Treasury and Finance Department.

Domestic violence is an issue for people of all genders in the Murraylands, according to a local support group.

Domestic Violence Is Never Acceptable, more commonly known as DVINA, is an organisation to help adults and children who have suffered domestic violence and family abuse.

Founder Milli survived domestic violence and started the registered charity in 2014 and has since opened two "safe havens" in the Murraylands.

In October last year, a milestone was marked when the DVINA Centre was opened at 2/1 Standen Street, Murray Bridge.

The shopfront has an op-shop with low-cost clothes and household goods, and free items for people with an agency referral, plus a drop-in centre for children, women and men experiencing domestic abuse, with referrals to agencies. And while DVINA, along with other agencies in the Murraylands, provides support and services to those experiencing such hardships, there are still barriers hindering other options to keep them safe.

People seeking intervention orders independently of police have to fork out a $291 Courts Administration Authority fee - something Milli says prevents victims from gaining this important protection.

She said it was a problem she came across often.

"It makes it harder because it deters the victim from coming forward or following through with the intervention order," she said.

DVINA gives support where they can, including providing safe housing, food and items to people escaping violence and referring them to agencies such as, Centacare, headspace, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Murray Bridge Community Centre and police.

She said many people felt the ripple effects of domestic violence, especially children.

"Children come here who you can tell are abused at home with the way they interact compared with other children at happy homes," she said. "It's a huge difference and it's really sad to observe."

DVINA helps people of all genders, but Milli said since opening the centre, the service has supported 17 new clients. Of the new people seeking support, 10 of them are men. "We have a saying here, 'leave your gender at the door'," Milli said.

"Because the family dynamics are changing, there are more women in the workforce and the men are the nurturers," she said.

"That's why a lot of men now are suffering from domestic violence - because the women are coming home tired, annoyed that the housework is not done, food is not on the dinner table... so that is why everything is changing."

For more information about DVINA or to get in touch, follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or visit the centre.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can find help by calling 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

More than two per cent of South Australian women experienced partner-based violence in the past two years, according to police.

This equates to about 8400 offences against a person, reported or known to police in 2019 and more than 9400 in 2020 until November.

The figures reflect the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) January 2020 released data on partner violence, showing South Australia at 2.5 per cent compared with the nation's partner-based violence.rate of 2.7 per cent and sitting fourth in the nation.

The state closely trailed Western Australia which sat about 3 per cent, while Queensland and Northern Territory ranked with the highest percentages.

Graphs from the Courts Administration Authority show that for each quarter between 2014-2018 there was an even rise and fall for domestic violence applications and orders.

But notably, the court's statistics show in the first quarter for 2016-17, intervention orders peaked at about 1400 lodgements with a only a small drop in numbers observed since the last quarter of 2018 to date.

Superintendent Trent Cox, officer-in-charge of the family and domestic violence section, says police view any form of family and domestic abuse as serious.

"Officers will take action to protect victims and children," he said.