What is Family Violence?

Family Violence

What is family violence?

Violent, threatening or other behaviour that coerces or controls a member of a person's family or causes them to be fearful.

Is family violence a problem in your family?

In Australia each state has their own slightly different definition of what is family violence so we use the definition from the Family Law Act 1975. 

In 1975 some of the behaviour that is now regarded as family violence was considered normal and even acceptable in families. It isn’t any more. 

In the past when family members were attacking each other in the home and police were called they sometimes said, “It’s just a domestic.” and went away.  They don’t anymore.

In 2011 the definition of Family Violence in the Family Law Act 1975 expanded to include coercion and control even when it is not accompanied by violence or threats.

At the same time, the definition of child abuse was expanded to include the severe psychological harm that we now know results from a child being subjected to or exposed to Family Violence.

The Family Law definition of Family Violence

Family Violence is described in general terms and is seen as violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces interpretation: makes them do something they don’t want to do or controls interpretation: prevents them from exerting free will a member of the persons family or causes them to be fearful.

Examples of behaviour:

  • an assault or
  • a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour like making them watch pornography or perform sexual acts that they don’t want to do or
  • stalking which means monitoring their movements, following them, getting someone else to follow them or using apps or other means to track them without their permission or
  • repeated derogatory taunts or
  • intentionally damaging or destroying property or
  • intentionally causing death or injury to an animal or
  • unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that they would otherwise have had interpretation: controlling the household finances so that you have freedom to spend what you want but the other family members have to ask you for money or explain ever dollar they spend to you
  • unreasonably withholding the financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of a family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support  interpretation: not providing a dependent spouse or child with enough money to live even though you have the financial capacity to do so. This includes after separation before a financial settlement has been completed
  • preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture or interpretation: this may include preventing them from practicing their religion, behaving in a way that prevents them from maintaining relationships with other people.
  • unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, or his or her liberty interpretation: this might include locking them in, taking away car keys when there is no other transport available etc

Family Violence Orders

In every state and territory there is also legislation that prohibits Family Violence and allows a court to make an order to prohibit someone from using family violence against the family member or members that the order protects.

If the person who has been accused of committing acts of family violence breaches the protection order they face criminal charges that may result in a fine, a conviction for a violence offense or jail. interpretation: a breach means the person does something the order prohibits even if they were not violent or abusive in what they did.  For example if an order prohibits you from contacting the other person if you call them or text you are in breach of the order, even if you were polite in the contact you made.

A protection order sets clear and specific rules about what behaviour you can and cannot do, may prevent you from going to certain places, may need you to hand in guns and other weapons, may limit how you can speak with or communicate with protected persons and generally put a lot of controls on your behaviour.

People who get a family violence order against them are often really upset and angry about the process. If you didn’t use physical violence but instead controlled the protected person through non-physical coercion you may feel that the order is unfair or unjust.

Sometimes people don’t agree that they have committed family violence and say that the order has been requested strategically.  interpretation: a strategic order would be one that has been requested or requested at the suggestion of an advisor in order to gain an advantage in a family law case.

Family Violence Order Applications are often made by the police or the protected person without the other person having a chance to respond. For that reason there is a process that makes sure that the person knows there is a protection order and the opportunity for them to contest the order.

If there is a family violence order application the following steps occur.

  • the application is made and a court date for a response is set. There may be interim conditions imposed or in some cases no restrictions imposed till the first court hearing.
  • at the first hearing the court will want to know if the respondent accepts the order or wants a court hearing in order to contest the order. interpretation: respondent is the person the order is against who will have their behaviour restricted if the order is put in place. Contest means to provide evidence that the order is not appropriate and should not be put in place or sometimes that the conditions of the order should be changed and made less restrictive. 
  • the next stage of the process varies depending on the procedures in the individual court but there will often be one or two additional court dates. Often there is a Mention which is a short time before the magistrate to help them to work out how much time their need to set aside for you to put your case that the order should be put in place or that it should not be (depending on whether you are the applicant or respondent) and then a hearing

Criminal Violence

If there has been a family violence incident that included criminal behaviour the police may lay charges.

If the behaviour has not been criminal or the police don’t believe they have enough evidence there may still be a Family Violence Order put in place. 

While the order is in place, which may be for a number of years, you will have a document telling you the things you can’t do. The things that relate to family violence are things that no one else can do either but there will most likely be some specific restrictions on you that just apply to you or anyone you ask to do them on your behalf.  

You may also be ordered to go to classes to learn how to deal with disagreements without resorting to coercive control over your family. This can be a difficult thing to accept if you don’t believe that you have used family violence or if you believe that you have a right to control your family members against their will.

It is in your best interests to attend the classes, if they have been ordered, if you are in this situation it is more than likely some of your behaviour is coercive and controlling. You may not recognise that at the moment but the classes may provide you with some new interpersonal strategies that will improve your life and the way you relate with other people. 

Exposing a child to family violence

The courts in Australia now officially recognise the harm caused to children by exposure to family conflict and violence.

This led to the 2011 inclusion of exposure to family violence being regarded as family violence against the child.

That means that parents need to not use family violence against their children and they need to protect them from exposure to family violence by one family member against another.  Best way to do that is not use family violence an resolve your differences respectfully.

Here are some of the identified examples of exposure to family violence.

  • overhearing threats of death or personal injury by a member of the child’s family towards another member of the child’s family; or
  • seeing or hearing an assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family; or
  • comforting or providing help to a member of the child’s family who has been assaulted by another member of the child’s family; or
  • cleaning up a site after a member of the child’s family has intentionally damaged property of another member of the child’s family; or
  • being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving the assault of a member of the child’s family by another member of the child’s family.

If you are remaining in a violent relationship be aware that child protection authorities and others with mandatory reporting obligations have a duty of care to your children to try and protect them from that environment, if you won’t.  

We understand that stopping family violence can be a difficult thing to do. We know that there are many reasons why people choose to stay in an abusive relationship.

Clients tell us things like,

  • It’s OK most of the time. It’s only when … that they get abusive or they hurt me. 
  • I’m frightened to leave. They said that if I ever try to leave them they will kill me, take away my children or something else that I just couldn’t live with.
  • I can’t afford to leave them.  I don’t have permanent residency. I have dependent children and couldn’t work enough to support us. I don’t have anywhere to go. 
  • My community say I should stay.  My parents or priest say I have to honour my marriage vows.  My friends don’t see what I see behind closed doors and say I would be mad to leave. 
  • It is only me that gets attacked. They are great with the kids.
  • I love them.
  • They have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another mental illness and it’s not their fault.

You may not actually have to permanently end a relationship to prevent emotional or even physical abuse.

It depends on many things but the first step to any change is to admit that there is a problem and decide that you are no longer going to accept the unacceptable.

Reducing Family Conflict 

Interact Support established to help families to sort out their disagreements without abuse and definitely without using violence against each other.

We support mutual respectful consideration of each others needs and a willingness to discuss the issues and reach an agreement that works for everyone. 

Frequently Asked Questions

It can be. If yelling abuse at your partner or children is something you are doing then it might be time to find other strategies for your interpersonal communication.

Our anger management course is designed to help you to understand what anger is, why it escalates, how to prevent it getting out of control and then we look at ways of getting your needs met without being abusive or coercive. 

Anger Management Course Information.

Studies have shown that exposure to violence harms children in a number of ways. It is the toxic levels of stress that they feel when they are being abused or they are exposed to environments where their family members are being abusive and unsafe that causes the harm.

Exposure to violence, even if they are not the victim, can harm their emotional, psychological and even physical development.

What scientists have discovered is that their brains develop in ways that cause them to be reactive, volatile and generally wired for living in a war zone.  That can cause them to be impulsive and more likely to participate in dangerous activities, have difficulty in school, be attracted to substance abuse, suffer from anxiety and/or depression and other mental health problems. They are also likely to copy the behaviour patterns they see in their family dynamic and be abusive to other people or form relationships with people who abuse them. 

Our New Ways for Families course has a lot of information about the effects of exposure to high conflict behaviour and violence as well as strategies to learn and teach the four big skills needed for healthy interpersonal relationships. 

Find out more about New Ways for Families.

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What is Fa…

by Joanne Law time to read: 9 min
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