Threat Offences a Warning Sign of Ongoing and Future Offending, New Report Shows

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Monday 28 June 2021

A new report released today finds that threat offending is associated with exceptionally high rates of prior and subsequent offending.

The Sentencing Advisory Council’s report analyses how threat offences (threat to kill, threat to inflict serious injury, threat to destroy or damage property, threat to commit a sexual offence, and threat to assault an emergency worker) were sentenced in Victorian courts in the five years to 31 December 2019.

The report finds that people sentenced for threat offences are more than twice as likely as people sentenced for other offences to be sentenced again within three years (58% compared with the Victorian average of 28%), and that more than half of all sentenced threat cases (58%) are family violence related.

The report’s key findings are:

  • while there has been only a small increase in the number of threat offences sentenced each year, recorded crime data shows an increase in the proportion of those threats that occurred in a family violence context. Threats to kill (62%) and threats to destroy or damage property (66%) were the sentenced offences most strongly linked to family violence
  • the most common threat offence sentenced is threat to kill (54% of the 18,775 threat charges sentenced from 2015 to 2019). Threats to inflict serious injury and threats to destroy or damage property are also common, while threats to commit a sexual offence and threats to assault an emergency worker are relatively rare
  • most threat offenders are male (88%), and their threat offences tend to be more serious than threat offences committed by female offenders: male offenders have more threats to kill, more cases heard in the higher courts, more cases flagged as occurring in a family violence context, and a higher rate of imprisonment
  • a single threat was rarely the only charge sentenced in a case. Over 90% of threat cases involved two or more offences, with an average of almost eight offences in each threat case, often involving a single threat offence and multiple non-threat offences
  • when a violent offence is sentenced in a threat case, that violence has usually occurred on the same day as the threat. However, when a breach of family violence order is sentenced in a threat case, that breach has usually occurred after the threat. This could suggest that threats warn of ongoing or escalating risk in family violence situations
  • the most common sentencing outcome for threat offences is imprisonment (35% of charges in the Magistrates’ Court and 75% of charges in the higher courts). Imprisonment is more common in family violence cases than in non-family violence cases
  • threat cases in the Children’s Court are different from those in adult courts. In the Children’s Court, there are far fewer family violence cases, more female offenders and more offences per case; the most common sentence is probation (28%).

Based on the Sentencing Advisory Council’s findings and consultations, the report concludes that:

  • the rates of prior, co-sentenced and subsequent offending for threat offenders are exceptionally high compared to the rates for other offenders. There appear to be two distinct but overlapping types of threat offenders who display this pattern of offending: family violence offenders, and people whose offending is linked to problems or issues – such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental illness or prior trauma – that contribute to the likelihood that a person will break the law
  • it is important, given these high rates of prior and subsequent offences, that threats are recognised as a distinct and serious risk factor, separate from physical violence. This emphasis could help the criminal justice system better identify and respond to threat offenders’ range of risks and needs, and therefore potentially reduce reoffending.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM

‘Threats of violence can often be just as serious, if not more serious, than actual violence. They can cause immediate fear, they can cause long-term psychological harm, and in family violence contexts especially, they can be used as a form of coercive control.

‘This report shows us that threats are a serious red flag for future, ongoing or even escalating offending. And that’s true in both family violence and non-family violence situations. If we can better understand why that is, and what interventions work best to prevent those people from further offending, we may be able to avoid serious harms further down the line.’

The report, Threat Offences in Victoria: Sentencing Outcomes and Reoffending, and a two-page factsheet will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Monday 28 June 2021.