Feminist activists had to wage a long and hard battle before bringing the issue of domestic violence into the public consciousness. Now it appears that a similarly concerted campaign is necessary to highlight the prevalence of domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships.

The 2007 Fair’s Fair report by ACON and the Same Sex Domestic Violence Interagency Working Group found that domestic violence occurs in gay and lesbian relationships at similar rates to opposite-sex relationships. However, the vast majority of gay men and lesbians don’t seek help if they experience abuse in a relationship.

The dynamics of domestic violence usually revolves around issues of power and control and there is no reason to think these types of dynamics don’t exist amongst gays and lesbians.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that barriers which exist to eradicating domestic violence in heterosexual couples – such as lack of external support structures – may be exacerbated in the context of a gay and lesbian relationship.

A very important legal tool that is available to victims of domestic violence is an apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO). An ADVO is a court order which protects a victim of domestic violence who has a fear of actual or threatened physical assault, harassment or intimidation as well as actual or threatened damage to property.

An ADVO protects the person in need of security by prohibiting the defendant from doing certain things.

An application for an ADVO will be heard before a magistrate in a court. Both parties will have an opportunity to make submissions and the magistrate will grant an AVDO only after considering the contents of the submissions.

Although having an AVDO granted will not result in a criminal record against the defendant, a breach of the conditions of the ADVO is a criminal offence, attracting a possible fine and/or gaol sentence.

Legal aid is available for an ADVO hearing, subject to fulfilling the ordinary criteria for eligibility.

The author would like to thank Carl Harris for the use of some of his material for this column.

Manoj Dias-Abey is a lawyer practising in one of Australia’s largest workplace relations law firms.

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