- Domestic and family violence is something that is happening, right now, to someone that you know, and possibly to someone that you love.
- Domestic violence is abuse committed by a current or former partner, spouse, de facto, or someone else in an intimate relationship with the victim.
- Family violence is a broader definition that covers violence committed by parents, children and other relatives, or carers of the victim.
- It is important to remember that a victim of family and domestic violence may need to hear the same message several times, over a period of time, before they are ready to act.
What is domestic and family violence?
Firstly, and most importantly, domestic and family violence is a crime. This might seem obvious, but it is only in recent decades that society has moved past seeing domestic and family violence as a private “family matter”.
Secondly, family and domestic violence is not restricted to physical acts. A wide variety of abusive behaviours are used to ensure that the victim complies with the abuser.
Physical abuse – assaults on the body of the victim, threats of physical violence, reckless driving, destroying property or abusing pets, or sleep deprivation.
Emotional and Verbal abuse – insulting, humiliating, or criticising to such an extent that it damages the victim’s sense of self-worth.
Sexual abuse – sexual activity without consent, or coercion to have sex without protection.
Social abuse – isolation from friends and family (often accompanied by jealousy and possessiveness), denying contact with people outside the home, restricting access to social media and communication devices.
Economic abuse – controlling all money and access to bank accounts, refusing to provide information about family finances, or providing the victim with a limited “allowance”.
Family and domestic violence in family law proceedings
The risk of family and domestic violence increases significantly during a relationship breakdown.
As a result, family law proceedings are often complicated by the existence of family and domestic violence. When we look at family and domestic violence in family law proceedings, we predominantly look at the impact of this violence on children.
It may be necessary for the Court to place restrictions on the time that a child spends with a parent who poses a risk of family or domestic violence. The Court has the authority to order supervised or limited visitation because legally, the right of the child to be safe from harm is more important than the parent’s right to unrestricted access to their child.
Family violence in property settlement matters
During a property settlement, one partner may use a pattern of domestic and family violence to coerce their former partner into accepting an unfair property settlement. The less dominant partner may have very little understanding of family finances, and may have had little opportunity to earn income and acquire assets during the relationship. In addition, when one partner has been the dominant and controlling partner for years, the other partner may not have the confidence to negotiate a fair property settlement with them.
In any situation where there has been family or domestic violence, it is vital that the partner who has been at a disadvantage that they seek legal representation. The patterns of years of abuse are very difficult to recognise and to overcome unless you have an advocate on your side to act in your best interest.
How can you help someone experiencing domestic and family violence?
We should all be prepared to offer support to someone experiencing domestic or family violence.
Listen without Interrupting
Don’t immediately try to “fix” the victim’s situation. The first thing that you can do is just to listen. You can prompt the person to keep talking by saying something like, “I’m glad that you feel able to talk to me”.
Show the victim that you believe them
Abuse can impact on the ability of victims to trust themselves and their own judgement. If someone confides in you that they are experiencing domestic or family violence, it is important to let them know that you believe them, that they are not alone, and that there are people in the community who can help them.
It is also not uncommon for victims of domestic and family violence to defend the abuser, or say that it’s not domestic violence because it’s not physical abuse. It is important that you state clearly that the behaviour that the victim has described is family or domestic violence. You can also say firmly “that is unacceptable”, “that is a crime”, and “you do not deserve to be treated like that”.
Guide the victim towards resources
Victims of domestic and family violence may not know where to turn for help. First, tell them to call 000 at any time if there is immediate danger. You can encourage them to report the violence to the police, and to seek a protection order. If they are leaving a domestic relationship, they should speak to a lawyer about arrangements for property and children.
If they are not yet ready to seek that sort of help, you could encourage them to see a counsellor, or a specialist who can help people who are struggling with difficult situations.
It is important to remember that a victim of family and domestic violence may need to hear the same message several times, over a period of time, before they are ready to act. That does not mean that you should give up. You can continue to offer support, to remind the victim that they are not alone, and encourage them to access support services such as those listed below.
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