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DVOs: the two-edged sword that can create family breakdown

By Colin Lamont - posted Friday, 15 September 2000

Good legislation can be rendered bad law in the wrong hands. Many practitioners believe this has happened with the Domestic Violence Act.

I well recall the frustration, as a Member of Parliament, of having police constantly refusing to help in 'domestics' even where my constituents disclosed extreme circumstances. Police believed they lacked the protection of the law.

This had to change. Weaker spouses, and children, were at risk but feared to act against their abuser. The law failed them.


When the amendments finally came however, no one anticipated the two-edged sword that was forged. Legislation was designed to ensure abused spouses had the full protection of the law. Police were given the power to take out Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs) on their own judgement without implicating the abused party. That sounds good in theory. But while this law has been used for the protection of the innocent, it has also been misused. Today there is a cynicism abroad that the DVO has been devalued. Abuses of legislative intent have emerged to the detriment of both spouses, their children and therefore the community at large.

There are two factors to consider. Firstly many who value their self-respect and dignity cannot live in a domestic situation governed by a court order. I certainly couldn't. Further, many who try, report that the DVO itself becomes a divisive factor constantly causing contention. To ignore the reality of that fact is to court increasing unnecessary family breakdown at an alarming rate.

The second is that after decades of seeing the worst of domestic violence against women in particular, many who have fought for reform are so imbued with the injustice of the past that they don’t recognise when the pendulum has swung too far. But the aim was to get the scales of justice 'even' not to allow women, as a political force, to 'get even'.

It is not justice for the law to discriminate against this generation of men, and the next, to pay for the sins of a past generation.

The risks are manifold. Take the information that police and magistrates receive in in-service training and/or seminars on the subject. Groups seeking to inject a male point of view are absent. Conferences lack balanced debate. Further, there are extremists who will not believe that women abuse men. That is foolish. It is also dangerous to balanced society.

There are extremists who openly believe it is better that one innocent family breaks up than that one guilty male goes unpunished (as one ardent advocate of women's rights told me).


A natural corollary of unbalanced training is that men become the automatic suspect in any incident. Once called in, so my contacts in the force tell me, most police will act whether they perceive a need or not because, once called to a scene, if they do not take action and abuse occurs later, it will be their necks on the block. The best bet, regardless of who made the call, is to apply for a DVO against the male.

This may be the safest approach for the police but it is not necessarily in the best interests of the relationship or that of the children. It may be the worst possible outcome for the family.

There is anecdotal evidence of police, solicitors and even courts advising men not to take it so strongly because a DVO is 'only an order that they behave well'. It is not as if it’s a criminal charge. (sic).

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About the Author

Colin Lamont is a former MLA for South Brisbane and an early campaigner for tighter powers for police in domestic situations. Having spent a lifetime active in diverse areas of agenda setting and public policy he is currently completing his Ph.D. in Politics and Public Policy.

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