Northern Territory

Civil and Administrative Tribunal

  • Inkamala v An Assessor under s 24 of the Victims of Crime Act [2022] NTCAT 20 (8 December 2022) – Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal
    Battered woman syndrome’ – ‘Coercive control’ – ‘Complex post traumatic stress disorder’ – ‘Consultant psychiatrist evidence’ – ‘Contributory negligence’ – ‘Financial assistance’ – ‘Learned helplessness’ – ‘People with mental illness’ – ‘Physical violence’ – ‘Post traumatic stress disorder’ – ‘Victims of crime

    Matter: Application for review of a decision to award the applicant financial assistance of $13,170.99 under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2006 (NT) arising from injuries sustained by the applicant as a result of violent acts committed by her sometime domestic partner.

    Facts: The applicant is a Western Arrarnta woman who is a “deeply traumatised survivor of sustained, repeated and brutal intimate partner violence” which resulted in two children (now teenagers) and numerous incidents of violence resulting in medical or hospital treatment, numerous protection orders to protect the applicant from the offender and numerous sentences of imprisonment imposed on the offender. Many of the documented offences occurred when either or both of the offender and applicant were intoxicated. In 2010 the applicant was awarded $18,750 for physical injuries (partial loss of vision, fractured forearm, scarring to the right arm) caused by the offender between 2006 and 2009.

    A second application was received on 18 December 2014 in relation to physical injuries from assaults by the offender on about 3 occasions, which was amended on 15 January 2015 to include a claim for psychological or psychiatric injuries. The claim took seven years to process, and the offender continued to assault the applicant causing the claim to continue to increase. A consultant psychiatrist provided reports and it was not in dispute that the applicant has sustained a Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and a Major Depressive Disorder “as a direct result of domestic violence perpetrated buy the offender between 2006 and 2020”, attributing 30 per cent of the CPTSD to the assaults between 2006 and 2009 and 70 per cent to the assaults between 2009 and 2020 [12]. The initial assessment awarded the applicant $13,170.99, with the amount awarded for her physical and psychological injuries reduced by 50 per cent due to the applicant’s contribution to the injuries.


    1. The initial assessment of $35,000 for psychiatric or psychological disorder is inadequate;
    2. the award of $110.99 for financial loss is inadequate; and
    3. the reduction of 50% of the compensation for injuries is excessive.

    Decision and reasoning:

    1. The decision of the respondent to award the applicant $13,170.99 be set aside.
    2. An award of $21,006.99 to the applicant be substituted.

    [63] The Victorian Court of Appeal has recently described battered wife syndrome as “a learned helplessness process in which women who have been abused repeatedly within a relationship they believe they cannot escape from, learn ‘good coping skills as a trade-off for escape.’

    Battered woman syndrome is a subset of PTSD. The label “battered wife syndrome” has not been applied to the applicant in this case. However, in my view the evidence supports a finding that the applicant, who has sustained CPTSD as a result of violence perpetrated against her by a coercively controlling partner over many years, is likely a person whose behaviour in repeatedly returning to live with the offender is in large part due to learned helplessness. Accordingly, this case is to be distinguished on its facts from Lankin v Northern Territory of Australia [(Local Court of the Northern Territory, unreported case number 21337307, 1 September 2015].

    [64] In her written submissions on behalf of the respondent and the intervener, Ms Thompson submits that the applicant “willingly recommenced her relationship with the offender at various times”. I reject that submission. I am satisfied that the applicant recommenced her relationship with the offender reluctantly and unwillingly, and that her decisions to do so were to a significant extent a consequence of the psychological injury the offender had inflicted on her.

    [65] In my opinion, a reduction of 50% of the award to which the applicant is entitled would be unfair and inequitable. The offender and the applicant are not equally culpable or responsible for the injuries she sustained. I consider that the applicant’s behaviour in resuming her relationship with the victim and engaging in the harmful consumption of liquor contributed indirectly to her injuries. In my view, a fair and equitable apportionment of responsibility for the applicant’s injuries is to attribute the offender’s responsibility as being 80%, and the applicant’s as 20%. I find accordingly.”