New Report: Imprisonment Rate Triples for Breaches of Family Violence Orders in Victoria

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday 3 May 2022

The Sentencing Advisory Council’s latest report finds changes in the sentencing of breaches of family violence orders in the 10 years from 2011 to 2020.

The report reviews police and court data on family violence safety notices (FVSNs*) issued by police, family violence intervention orders (FVIOs**) issued by courts, breaches of those notices and orders recorded by police, and breaches sentenced by courts. This is the third and final report the Council has produced for the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s reference on stalking.

A key finding of the report is that the imprisonment rate for breaches of family violence orders almost tripled in the 10 years to 2020. In 2011, imprisonment was the fifth most common sentencing outcome for breach offences, with 14.4% receiving a prison sentence. Adjourned undertakings (23%), fines (22%) and community orders (17%) were all more common than imprisonment. By 2020, imprisonment had become the most common sentencing outcome at 40.4%.

This increase in prison sentences is due in part to the introduction of new breach offences in 2013: persistently breaching a FVSN or FVIO, and breaching a FVSN or FVIO while intending to cause another person harm or fear. These offences have maximum penalties of 5 years’ prison, compared to 2 years for non-persistent and non-aggravated breach offences.

By far the biggest driver of the increase in prison sentences for breaches of family violence orders was an increase in short prison sentences (less than 6 months long). As of 2020, 80.4% of people receiving a prison sentence for breaching a family violence order received a total effective sentence of 6 months or less (compared to 55.1% in 2011). This increase in short prison sentences seems to have been equally driven by an increase in time served prison sentences (where the person receives a sentence identical to the amount of time spent on remand and is released almost immediately) and sentences requiring some additional time in custody after the person has been held on remand.

The Council also found that the rate of fines for breaches of family violence orders remained stable at about 20% across the ten-year period. The Council has previously observed that fines are often not appropriate in a family violence context, particularly if the money is drawn from communal funds. Other sentencing orders, such as adjourned undertakings that require the offender to be of good behaviour, can often offer more protective advantages for victims.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • between 2011 and 2020, there were 373,100 applications for FVIOs (90% in the Magistrates’ Court and 10% in the Children’s Court) and 295,000 final FVIOs issued (96% in the Magistrates’ Court)
  • the number of FVSNs issued by police each year increased from about 5,100 to 13,200, which explains the similar increase in applications for FVIOs in the Magistrates’ Court in the same period
  • the number of breaches of FVSNs and FVIOs recorded by police each year increased from 10,600 in 2011 to 53,200 in 2020. Stakeholders suggested this was due to a combination of increased willingness to report family violence, intentional efforts by Victoria Police to increase responsiveness to breach behaviours, and greater community and police awareness about the relationships within which family violence occurs and the behaviours family violence can involve, particularly coercive and controlling behaviours such as psychological and economic abuse
  • the number of breach offences prosecuted and sentenced also increased significantly; whereas in 2011 just 3.6% of cases in the Magistrates’ Court involved a breach offence, that had increased to 9.2% by 2019, such that 1 in 11 sentenced cases now involves a breach of a FVSN or FVIO.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘We have seen significant changes in the nature of prison sentences in Victoria in recent years. There are more people receiving prison sentences each year, but fewer people serving prison sentences at any given time. The findings of this report suggest this is at least partly because courts are imposing more short prison sentences, especially for people who have been held on remand. This is very likely linked to changes to Victoria’s bail laws, meaning many more people are held in custody while awaiting trial. It also invariably causes more churn of people cycling in and out of prisons.’

‘As a whole, the findings of this report also suggest that police in Victoria have become increasingly responsive to family violence. They are attending more family incidents, issuing more safety notices, recording more breach offences, and laying more charges for breach offending. The decade to 2020 was a transformational period for Victoria, including the landmark 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence report. We hope the findings of this report provide some measure of confidence that change is happening, and that family violence in all its forms is being taken seriously by the justice system.’


*An FVSN is issued by police if they believe it is necessary to protect the safety of an affected family member or a child (or their property) from the respondent.

**An FVIO is issued by courts if they believe it is necessary to protect the safety of an affected family member or a child (or their property) from the respondent.

The report, Sentencing Breaches of Family Violence Intervention Orders and Safety Notices: Third Monitoring Report, will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 3 May 2022.