Family Violence

June 27, 2014

Family violence is a devastating and complex issue that affects many Australian families. With an increase in public awareness and concern about the prevalence of family violence amongst Australian families and its tragic effects on those families, recent governments have attempted to combat family violence through various legislative developments.

The Family Law Act 1975 defines ‘Family Violence’ in section 4AB as “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.” This can include, but is not limited to, assault, sexual assault, intentionally damaging property, unreasonably withholding financial support and preventing the person from maintaining contact with their family or friends.

In 2008 the Family Violence Protection Bill (“the Bill”) was introduced to Parliament and subsequently passed in an attempt to ‘establish a system of protection for those who have experienced violence from a member of their family’ (as stated in the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum). In enacting the legislation, parliament acknowledged the importance of non-violence as a “fundamental social value” and the way in which family violence violates the human rights of many Australians, but especially those of women, children and other vulnerable persons. The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (“the Act”) created a civil protection order scheme to operate in conjunction with the continued charging and prosecution of family violence related criminal acts. Whilst criminal sanctions and prosecution focused on punishing the perpetrators of family violence, the focus of the protection order scheme is the safety of the victims. Including, protecting children from witnessing family violence. In the preamble to the Act, parliament recognises the damaging physical, psychological and emotional effects that family violence can have on children who are exposed to it.

Under the Act a family member affected by family violence (or a police officer on behalf of such person(s)) can apply for a Family Violence Intervention Order by submitting an application to the court. Intervention Orders, amongst other things, can prohibit the respondent from further committing family violence against the person(s) protected by the Order, exclude the respondent from the family residence and prohibit the respondent from approaching or contacting the family member without being accompanied by a police officer (or other specified person). Under the Act, Police can issue family violence safety notices to protect the safety of individuals until an application for an Intervention Order can be decided by the Court.

Despite the legislative changes and the Protection Order scheme, family violence remains prevalent in Victoria. Victoria Police recorded 50,382 family incident reports in 2012, this number rose in 2013 to 60,829. Sadly, more than one third of all Australian women who have had an intimate partner have experienced violence at the hands of their partner or ex-partner.

In a recent media release from Domestic Violence Victoria (DVV), backed by many of Victoria’s leading family violence bodies, DVV have called for further reforms and support for victims. The release comes, following the death of a Melbourne mother of four, another victim of family violence.

Reform is needed says DVV because family violence is “clogging up our courts, police and community services and amongst other things it is also very costly for Victorians. Last year, violence against women and children cost the Australian economy approximately $14.7 billion.

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