Can you get an AVO for verbal abuse in New South Wales?

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You can apply for an AVO for verbal abuse if you fear another person will cause you physical or mental harm.
Australia Criminal Law
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An AVO for verbal abuse is a way for victims to protect themselves against further conduct. Verbal abuse is a way for an abuser to gain control over their victims by creating an unbalanced power dynamic between them.

Verbal abuse can have complex effects on the victim's identity and sense of self especially if it is done in a subtle and controlling way.

What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is when an individual uses offensive language to psychologically harm another person. Verbal abuse is the most common form of emotional abuse and often occurs in relationships between spouses or couples, parents and children, family members and colleagues.

Types of verbal abuse include:

  • Gaslighting
  • Threat
  • Using offensive language and name calling
  • Often shouting in a conversation
  • Comments that hurt self-confidence or a person's sense of reality
  • Undermining the other person opinions, feelings or judgement
  • Intentionally embarrassing the other person in public
  • Lying
  • Blaming the victim

Is Verbal Abuse a Crime?

Verbal abuse is a criminal offence if it amounts to 'intimidation' pursuant to the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007.

Offensive language may in some cases amount to verbal abuse. In the past, the courts have interpreted offensive language to include swearing; however, since it has become more common in media and everyday life, the courts have found it difficult to distinguish whether it is in fact verbal abuse.

Can You Get an AVO for Verbal Abuse?

You can apply for an AVO for verbal abuse if you fear another person will cause you physical or mental harm. Under Section 16 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007, you will need to demonstrate that you have fears, that there are reasonable grounds for those fears and that an AVO is warranted in all the circumstances.

Presenting evidence of fear or intimidation caused by the words of the defendant is often crucial in these cases. This may include text messages, phone calls, social media messages or witnesses who have heard the verbal abuse.

You should obtain legal advice before applying for an Apprehended Violence Order as there are often unforeseen repercussions. There will usually be a costs order in favour of the winning party in private AVO proceedings. This means that the applicant or defendant will be forced to pay the legal costs of the other side.

You can read more about how to get a private AVO.

How to Defend an AVO for Verbal Abuse?

You can defend an AVO for verbal abuse by filing evidence in court disputing the allegations. Your AVO lawyer will also need to cross-examine the PINOP and any other witnesses to attack their credibility and reliability.

If the court accepts that the PINOP and their witnesses are unreliable, then the case can be dismissed.

In the case that the court makes an AVO against the defendant, it may be appealed within 28 days of the decision to the District Court.

Alternatively, the defendant can apply to have the AVO dropped before it goes to a hearing by negotiating with the police or inviting them to drop charges.

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