Regional Victoria Overrepresented in Intervention Orders: New Report

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEDT) Tuesday 22 February 2022

A report released today on breaches of personal safety intervention orders* (PSIOs) in Victoria finds that while 24% of Victoria’s population lives in rural and regional areas, 41% of applications for PSIOs are made in the regions.

The report is the first of three by the Sentencing Advisory Council to assist the Victorian Law Reform Commission in its inquiry on improving responses to stalking.

The report finds that in the 10 years from 2011 to 2020 there were:

  • over 100,000 applications for PSIOs, 92% in the Magistrates’ Court and 8% in the Children’s Court
  • over 26,000 breaches of PSIOs recorded by police
  • almost 10,000 breaches of PSIOs sentenced in Victoria, 94% in the Magistrates’ Court and 6% in the Children’s Court. Two-thirds of people sentenced for breaching a PSIO were male.

In the Magistrates’ Court, PSIOs were most often issued between people living in close proximity, such as neighbours, co-tenants and boarders. Very few PSIOs were issued between strangers (3%). Two-thirds of respondents** were male (67%), and just over half of all people protected by PSIOs were female (55%).

The report finds that there was a high rate of family violence associated with breaches of PSIOs: 11% of PSIO breaches recorded by police occurred in a family violence context, and 27% of cases involving PSIO breaches sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court had a family violence flag, meaning at least one of the offences in the case involved family violence.

In the Children’s Court, PSIOs were most often issued in a school-related context, which could have involved friends of the respondent or student–teacher relationships. Just over half of respondents were male (57%), and two-thirds of protected persons were female (67%).

The most common outcomes for PSIO breaches sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court were adjourned undertakings (25%) and fines (24%), followed by community correction orders (20%) and imprisonment (20%).

Sentencing practices changed during the period. The rate of:

  • imprisonment quadrupled from 9% in 2014 to 35% in 2020
  • community correction orders more than halved from 28% in 2015 to 11% in 2020
  • fines almost halved from 29% in 2013 to 17% in 2020.

The report highlights some of the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the courts. It finds that the number of cases involving PSIO breaches dropped significantly in 2020, while the rate of imprisonment in those cases went up, indicating that the courts prioritised serious cases. Also, the number of interim PSIOs increased significantly while the number of final PSIOs decreased at a similar rate, giving applicants some measure of protection while courts finalised matters.

Quotes attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘This is the first time we’ve looked at breaches of non-family violence intervention orders since the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act came into effect in 2011. One thing that stood out was that PSIOs tend to involve neighbours far more than strangers or work colleagues.’

‘The disproportionate number of PSIO matters in regional Victoria is concerning. Time and again we see regional Victoria overrepresented in justice system statistics. And the underlying causes are almost invariably higher rates of socioeconomic disadvantage and lack of services.’

‘The increase in imprisonment rates for breaches of PSIOs is similar to what we are seeing in sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates’ Court generally. In 2008, just 4% of all cases resulted in a term of imprisonment. By 2020, that had more than tripled to 13%.’

‘We hope the findings in this report assist the Victorian Law Reform Commission in preparing their advice to government.’

The report, Sentencing Breaches of Personal Safety Intervention Orders in Victoria, will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Tuesday 22 February 2022.


*A personal safety intervention order (PSIO) is a Victorian court order designed to protect someone from unwanted behaviours by a non-family member.

**A respondent is someone who has had a PSIO, or an application for a PSIO, made against them.