Domestic abuse, or Family Violence, can rear it’s ugly head in multiple forms and can take place in the context of a marriage, between romantic partners, a parent and their child, between siblings, and many other types of familial relationships.

Family violence is a plague around the world and we here in Australia are not exempt from the damaging and often devastating effects of its impact here in our own back yard.

The Family Law Act 1975 defines Family violence as “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person's family, or causes the family member to be fearful.”

Family violence. Domestic violence. Sexual violence. These are all major societal, welfare, and health problems that can have lifelong effects on both the victims and the perpetrators. Family violence can affect all people regardless of age, culture, background, however it continues to be predominantly woman and children who are still losing their lives to acts of Family Violence at a higher rate than any other demographic. 

In 2016 the Australian Bureau of Statistics undertook a Personal Safety Survey the results of which provided a harrowing insight into Australian’s experience of Family Violence in that:

  • 2.2 million Australians have experience physical and/or sexual violence; and
  • 3.6 million Australians have experienced emotional abuse from a partner.

Let us now explore 10 examples of behaviour that may constitute Family Violence and the signs to look for in identifying whether these relate to you or somebody that you may care about.

1.Assault

This is the act of inflicting unwanted physical contact or harm upon a person. This could even involve an attempt or a threat to inflict harm. 

2. Sexually Abusive Behaviour

This behaviour usually occurs when a person engages, or attempts to engage, in sexually activity that is unwanted or where no consent has been given. It is important to know that people who are not conscious and children are not capable of giving consent in any circumstances.  

3. Stalking

Stalking is a crime and involves wilfully following or harassing another person that causes fear for ones safety. This includes using electronics or software to monitor a persons movements and activities without their consent.

4. Derogatory Taunts

Family violence includes behaviours of emotional or psychological abuse. This can involve any behaviour by a one person towards another that intimidates, torments, is offensive or harassing. Name calling, threats to disclose personal or private information about another person, reproaching, constantly challenging, belittling, demeaning, mocking, or insulting, all constitutes Family Violence.  

5. Intentionally damaging or destroying property

Section 197 of the Victorian Crimes Act 1958 states that it is a crime to  intentionally and without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another or to himself and another.

6. Hurting animals

Hurting animals is sadly a common form of abuse that occurs as a means by which family violence perpetrators use to intimidate, control, or threaten their partners and/or children. This should be reported to animal welfare authorities, your lawyer, or the police where it is safe to do so.

7. Being denied financial autonomy

In recent years we have seen the Family Law Act expanded to include financial abuse in its definition of Family Violence. Financial abuse can directly impact the affected family members ability to leave the relationship if they are worried about how they will afford to take care of themselves, and in some circumstances their children. This can have extremely detrimental effects on a person’s emotional wellbeing and their sense of independence and autonomy. Signs of financial abuse include not having direct access to any funds or source of money, and/or having to account for and explain any transactions that they might make.  

8. Withholding financial support if the person is financially dependent on you

Withholding financial support to meet reasonable living expenses can be used as a means by which to control another person’s behaviour. It can create a fear that financial support will be withheld unless you do, or refrain from doing something. This is an abuse of power if the person is dependent upon you for financial means. This may include such things as refusing to provide a person with money for petrol so that they cannot leave the home. Speak to a family lawyer for assistance regarding accessing the financial resources of the relationship.

9. Being prevented from maintaining relationships with their family or friends

Attempts to socially isolate a person from their support network is a form of Family Violence. This may involve preventing or forbidding a person from having contact with family or friends. It might also include ongoing rudeness to people that are close to their partner in an attempt to drive them away. In extreme cases this might even involve a person requiring that they and their partner move away from their partners support/social network.

10. Being deprived of liberty     

This type of Family Violence usually involves a person being physically prevented from exercising their liberty to come and go freely. This can range from being kidnapped to not being permitted to leave your home, or even being locked in the house or in a room for any period of time against a person’s wishes. This is a serious offence and should be, where possible, reported to the police immediately. 

If you think that you, or someone that you care about, might be in immediate harm call the Police on 000 for immediate assistance.

If you wish to discuss your circumstances or are planning on leaving an abusive relationship and are seeking assistance in formulating a safety plan, we recommend contacting one of the support providers listed on the Department of Justice and Community Safety Website.

Family law solicitors can help you navigate your way through a legal separation, help you put in place safety measures for child-contact arrangements, and provide you with advice regarding the legal options available to you in best protecting yourself and your family where Family Violence has occurred.  

For more information, book an appointment or contact our Family Law team on (03) 9435 9044.