Domestic violence offenders to face tougher sentences under state government reforms

For those who spend their days helping domestic violence victims face the trauma of taking their attackers to court, seeing offenders walk away virtually scot-free is something they describe as “criminal”, making a proposed shake up of the justice system especially satisfying.

The changes, announced by the state government last week, include a presumption domestic violence offenders will face prison time or a supervised sentence – with greater consideration to be given to the safety of victims by the court in sentencing.

Currently 75 per cent of domestic violence offenders are given sentences with no supervision and no condition to address their offending behaviour.

In April the Griffith community was enraged after news a man who hit his pregnant partner in the face five times as she fought to protect their son received only a good behaviour bond and $200 fine for his actions in Griffith Local Court.

Many residents took to Facebook to express their disgust, pointing out they had received worse penalties for going through a red light or not displaying p plates, calling for a “shake-up” of the system allowing such a inadequate response. 

It was a thread local caseworker Ann Jones watched with interest, after knowing the very real frustration of helping a client through the harrowing court process only to have their attacker walk away with minimal punishment. 

“In the past we have actually seen people get a section 10 good behaviour bond for domestic violence just because they are of ‘good character’,” she said.

“That is criminal.”

Ms Jones, who works for the Riverina Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service says if the changes, which include measures to encourage earlier guilty pleas, go through it will be a weight off some of her clients shoulders.

“Some of our clients the stuff they have been through over the years is just horrific and then they finally have the courage to come forward only to have to go through the court system,” Ms Jones said.

“That stress on a client going to court and providing evidence is huge – it is traumatic enough to go to the police or to talk to us about it, let alone the court.”

Ms Jones did not agree with the idea offenders who made earlier guilty pleas would receive fixed discounts on their sentence, but said any measure to speed up the process for victims and remove their having to go through a trial was a good thing.

“We try and help victims prepare as much as we can for the court process, but while they wait for a court date they can’t move forward in that time because they know they will have to got and relive what happened,” she explained.

Further adding to victim’s distress Ms Jones said was domestic violence matters not being heard in closed court.

This means victims have the intimate details of their assaults heard before a room filled with strangers, something Ms Jones says prohibits many women from wanting to go through the process.

“Domestic violence is bad enough, usually your neighbours and your close family know what is going on because they have seen the bruises, but to have other people listening there are so many who choose not to go to hearing,” she said.

“We had a client recently who said had she not had our support she probably wouldn’t have done it.”

The government will consult on the changes before introducing legislation in the latter half of the year.