NSW Domestic Violence Laws Reform to Protect Companion Animals

Poppy Morandin.

 

Harming or threatening animals is now a form of intimidation under domestic violence legislation in New South Wales, following recent reform.

Furthermore, the protection of animals will now be a standard Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) condition.

“Perpetrators often use animals to coerce or control victims, threatening to hurt or kill pets to keep them in a relationship or as punishment for leaving.” said Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman.

“This cruelty and manipulation can leave victims terrified of the consequences for their beloved animals and can therefore delay or prevent them from leaving a violent situation. These reforms aim to help guard against this abhorrent form of abuse,” he said.

Delia Donovan, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW echoed Mr Speakman’s statements, noting how pets are an integral part of some people’s lives.

“These reforms are essential to improving the safety of people experiencing domestic violence, and we wholeheartedly support them,” Donovan said.

In addition to the reform, the NSW Government has committed $500,000 to the Pets and Animals Welfare Support Program.

This will be allocated to 19 women’s refuges and animal welfare organisations across NSW, enabling them to better help those escaping domestic violence and their support companion animals.

According to the RSPCA, one in three women delay leaving family violence situations due to concerns about leaving their pets behind.

The Australian study also revealed half of women in violent relationships reported their partner had hurt or killed one of their pets.

The amendments to the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW) will change the definition of intimidation to explicitly include ‘harm to an animal that belongs or belonged to, or is or was in the possession of, the person or another person with whom the person has a domestic relationship.’

Pursuant to section 7 of the Act, intimidation also includes:

Conduct (including cyberbullying) amounting to harassment or molestation of the person,

  • an approach made to the person by any means (including by telephone, text message, e-mail and other technologically assisted means) that causes the person to fear for their safety,
  • any conduct that causes a reasonable apprehension of injury to a person or to a person with whom they have a domestic relationship, or of violence or damage to any person or property.

For the purpose of determining whether a person’s conduct amounts to intimidation, a court may have regard to any pattern of violence in the person’s behaviour.

A person who stalks or intimidates another person with the intention of causing the other person to fear physical or mental harm faces a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine.

Causing a person to fear physical or mental harm includes causing the person to fear physical or mental harm to another person with whom they have a domestic relationship.

A person intends to cause fear of physical or mental harm if they know that the conduct is likely to cause fear in the other person.

However, the prosecution is not required to prove that the person alleged to have been stalked or intimidated actually feared physical or mental harm.

Apprehended violence orders are orders made by a court restricting the action of the person who the order is taken out against, thus aiming to protect the ‘person in need of protection’.

An AVO is a civil court proceeding, not criminal, and does not carry a criminal record unless breached.

A person who knowingly contravenes a prohibition or restriction specified in an apprehended violence order made against the person faces a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine.

Conditions imposed by an AVO are those considered by the court to be necessary to ensure the safety of the protected person.

All AVOs will have mandatory conditions that one does not assault, molest, threaten, stalk, harass, intimidate, or otherwise interfere with, or intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging any property that belongs to, the protected person or a person with whom the protected person has a domestic relationship.

This is now accompanied by the addition that one must not harm any animal that belongs to, or is in the possession of, the protected person or a person with whom the protected person has a domestic relationship.

Other additional orders that may be imposed in AVOs include those that prohibit living with the protected person, contacting the protected person (except through a legal representative), and surrendering firearms, among others.

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