Unfortunately, family violence is an epidemic within our community with very little prospects for it being ameliorated in the foreseeable future. One of the best defences against family violence is educating yourself on what family violence is and what it looks like.
Many people and children are experiencing family violence and they are not aware of it because they do not understand what constitutes family violence therefore accept this type of behaviour as normal, family violence can be inflicted in many ways not just by being physically assaulted.
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.”
Examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence include the following, however this is not an exhaustive list:
an assault; or
a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour; 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 he or she would otherwise have had; or
unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the 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; or
preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or
unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member’s family, family, of his or her liberty.
One of the most significant and damaging forms of family violence is coercive control, which was developed by Professor Evan Stark, who defined it as “a pattern of domination that includes tactics to isolate, degrade, exploit and control a person as well as to frighten them or hurt them physically”. This concept of family violence is not well known or understood within the community however it is a very serious form of family violence.
Coercive control is a form of manipulation which can involve isolation by alienating the victim from friends and family, financial control to limit the victim’s ability to leave, surveillance of the victim which limits their ability to seek help and gaslighting which causes makes the victim question their mental health and causes the victim to blame themselves for issues in the relationship. This type of manipulation occurs over a period of time so the victim usually does not notice it is occurring.
When engaging your lawyer you should provide as much information and detail as to the family violence you experienced so they can be best placed to advise you and seek the best orders for yours and your children’s protection.
In order to better manage cases that family violence the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia have introduced the Lighthouse Project which aims to assist families in which family violence has occurred by assessing each case when an Application or Response is filed for parenting orders. When this occurs a screening process is undertaken by asking various questions to assess the level of family violence, the level of risk and safety concerns. It is important to answer these questions honestly so that the Court can best manage your case.
It is important to seek support from a counsellor or other mental health practitioner when ending a relationship in which you have experienced family violence, you should speak to your General Practitioner about your circumstances and obtain a referral to establish what would be the best support for you.
You may also consider applying to an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order to ensure that you remain safe and keep the perpetrator from coming into contact with you. This maybe difficult to achieve if there have been no threats of violence or physical harm, however if you are under surveillance or being intimidated the Police can intervene. It is important to report any threats as they occur, you may not be successful in the first instance however if there is a patter of behaviour the Police will be better placed to take action.
*Disclaimer: This is intended as general information only and not to be construed as legal advice. The above information is subject to changes over time. You should always seek professional advice before taking any course of action*.
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