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Family Violence & Understanding Family Law

written by Lucy Padula
11 · 9 · 20

For many people, including victims of family violence, being at home is not always a safe place.

Both men and women experience violence, and most men are not perpetrators of violence. However, the statistics on domestic violence, emotional abuse and murder demonstrate the prevalence and severity of violence against women in Australia.

On average, more than one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. In 2019 alone 62 women were killed by violence in Australia.

The definition of family violence

Family violence refers to violent, threatening and other behaviour by a person to exert power and control over another family member.

Statistics show that almost 40% of women continued to experience violence from their partner while temporarily separated.

Family violence can involve a range of different behaviours.  Examples of behaviours which may constitute family violence, include, but are not limited to:-

Physical abuse – including direct assaults on the body, use of weapons, driving dangerously, destruction of property, forced sleep deprivation, intentionally causing injury or death to an animal, threats of violence, threats to damage property

Stalking

Emotional abuse – blaming the family member for all problems in the relationship, constantly comparing the family member with others to undermine self-esteem and self-worth, withdrawing all interest and engagement (e.g. weeks of silence).

Sexual abuse – any form of sexual activity without consent, causing pain during sex, coercive sex without protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, criticising, or using sexually degrading insults.

Social abuse – systematic isolation from family and friends through techniques such as ongoing rudeness to family and friends, moving to locations where the family member does not know anyone and forbidding or physically preventing the family member from going out and meeting people and/or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture

Verbal abuse – continual ‘put-downs’ and humiliation, either privately or publicly, with attacks following clear themes that focus on intelligence, sexuality, body image and capacity as a family member, parent or spouse.

Spiritual abuse – denying access to ceremonies, land or family, preventing religious observance, forcing family member to do things against their beliefs, denigration of cultural background, or using religious teachings or cultural tradition as a reason for violence.

Economic/financial abuse – 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, unreasonably refusing to allow a family member to have the financial autonomy they would have otherwise had

A child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or otherwise experiences the effects of family violence (Section 4AB Family Law Act 1975).  Examples include a child:-

  • seeing or hearing a family member being assaulted by another family member; or
  • hearing threats of death or personal injury or threats to injure a pet by a child’s family member to another family member;; or
  • comforting or assisting a family member 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.

 

The Family Law Act 1975 provides that child abuse means:

  1. an assault, including a sexual assault, of the child; or
  2. a person (the first person) involving the child in a sexual activity with the first person or another person in which the child is used, directly or indirectly, as a sexual object by the first person or the other person, and where there is an unequal power in the relationship between the child and the first person; or
  3. causing the child to suffer serious psychological harm, including (but not limited to) when that harm is caused by the child being subjected to, or exposed to, family violence; or
  4. serious neglect of the child.

Family violence increase during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay in their homes and for many exacerbated the problem of family violence. Isolation and being disconnected from their usual network of friends and relatives prevents many from seeking advice and support. We’ve received an alarming number of calls from clients who say they are struggling to find even 10 minutes to call us due to constant monitoring by their partner.

During this time, people subjecting another family member to family violence may use COVID-19 as a tactic or reason to abuse him/her. For example, they may:

  • Withhold necessary items such as food, medicine, hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
  • Misinform a family member about the pandemic to control or frighten them.
  • Use the pandemic as an excuse to gain total or increase control of the family’s finances.
  • Threaten or prevent the family member from seeking appropriate medical attention if he/she has symptoms or hide his/her Medicare card.
  • Increase their monitoring and criticism of the family member’s parenting, such as blaming the family member if the children ‘misbehave’ or are upset.
  • Further isolate family members including  children in the home by restricting their movements within the house, forcing family members including children into specific spaces in the house, or disabling a family member’s mobility devices.
  • Increasingly monitor a family member’s personal communication devices such as mobile phone, email, online messaging.
  • Use COVID-19 to excuse, blame or justify their abusive and violent behaviour towards the family member and the children.
  • An ex-partner may use COVID-19 in their attempt to reconcile or enter/live in the family member’s home.
  • An ex-partner may use COVID-19 to threaten a family member about isolating the children.

 

If you have been isolated, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone if it is safe to do so.

It is important that you know you can reach out for support and that our family law solicitors, as well as specialist family violence services, are here to help.

Remember that times of stress and hardship are never an excuse for violence. Everyone deserves to live free from fear and family violence.

How Anderson Family Lawyers can help

Even during the current pandemic, Anderson Family Lawyers are open and available for support and advice for anyone experiencing family violence who is worried about how potential self-isolation or quarantine will or is impacting on their safety and wellbeing.

The range of assistance we can offer you include:

  • Help with applications for parenting and property orders.
  • Help with urgent applications for the recovery of children.
  • Help with applications for exclusive occupancy of the family home.
  • Help with contravention applications where COVID-19 situation is utilised by one party as an excuse to breach existing parenting or property arrangements and orders.
  • Help with urgent spousal support applications.

This is not the full list of services we provide, and we will be able to guide you as to what particular legal options are available in your individual situation.

Who else can help?

CALL 000 or contact the police – if you are in danger

CALL 1800 015 188 – SAFE STEPS 24/7 family violence response line on – for confidential crisis support, information and accommodation. If it is unsafe to call, email safesteps@safesteps.org.au.

CALL 1800 RESPECT – the National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line for advice on developing a safety plan or see their website.

CALL 1800 457 870 – MENSLINE – 24/7 professional counselling service assisting with men’s mental health, relationship & divorce, emotional wellbeing, social connection.

CALL 13 11 14 – LIFELINE – providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services

CALL 1800 55 1800 – KIDHELPSLINE – free private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.

Lucy Padula

Lucy is the Principal of anderson Family Lawyers and is an Accredited Family Law Specialist who considers it of utmost importance to assist her clients in resolving family law matters fairly and with integrity.