Domestic violence is front and centre, with women (and men, but mostly women) being hurt or killed by their ex-partners, which was demonstrated in the recent Qld case, where a 40 yo women, and a mother of four, was murdered by her estranged husband. He had no criminal history (apart from one DV incident in November 2016 ) and was released on bail (pursuant to the law applying to bail) two weeks prior to her murder. As family lawyers (and I also represent clients in the Local Court), we are asked to assist clients (both male and female, but particularly female) who complain of domestic violence. How can we assist clients (alleged perpetrators and alleged victims) in family law, as we don’t know for certain the veracity of their claims, whether their claims are for improper intent or purpose or for a perceived tactical advantage or are they genuine? What is the scope of DV? What are some practical tips to assist you with DV clients.
What Is The Scope of DV?
Some believe its purely physical violence, a single incident or a complex pattern of abusive and violent behaviours, however, the scope of DV is wide, where no one size fits all, can include (not exhaustive):
- Economic Abuse
- Excludes the victim from decisions about finances that affect the victim. It may also include controlling the victim’s access to finances and income. For example victims may be refused access to, or information about, bank accounts. Access to finances may be a particular concern in cases where the victim has no access to income, for example where a victim is on a visa requiring the perpetrator to provide financial support. Lack of financial independence is reported as a primary reason victims do not leave abusive relationships
- perpetrators taking out credit cards in the victim’s name without the victim’s knowledge, coercing the victim to sign a contract for the provision of finance, a loan or credit, coercing the victim to sign assets over to the perpetrator or to enable access to line of credit (i.e. mortgage).
- Research also demonstrates the systemic continuation of economic abuse post-separation through the courts and government agencies. This may include the ongoing engagement of the victim in legal proceedings so as to prolong the burden and impact of legal costs, for example by undermining the victim’s ability to work; or masking income and hiding assets to avoid paying child support
- Sexual Abuse & Reproductive Abuse
- Forced, attempted forced or unwanted sexual penetration; forced penetration by a third party, object or an animal; forced prostitution; forced or unwanted sexual touching; or forced partial or total removal of the victim’s external genitalia, or other mutilation or injury to the victim’s genital organs for reasons that are not medically warranted.
- Demeaning the victim’s physical appearance, intelligence and dignity; dictating that the victim meet the perpetrator’s sexual demands; or threatening to severely or fatally injure or abandon the victim if those demands are not met
- Reproductive Abuse: the perpetrator is likely to regard the pregnancy and change in family circumstances as a threat to previously held dominance and may intensify abusive behaviours in an effort to reassert control over the victim
- Reproductive Abuse: rape, insisting on unprotected sex, sabotaging the woman’s birth control measures (destroying pills, pulling out vaginal rings or contraceptive implants), exercising financial control so as to restrict the woman’s access to contraception, or threatening to leave her if she fails to conceive. Where a woman is also experiencing other forms of violence there is an increased risk of unintended pregnancy as she is more likely to fear the consequences of resisting the perpetrator’s coercion, and she may be significantly vulnerable to poor reproductive and general health
- Actual or Threatened Physical Violence or Harm Causing Fear:
- Kicked, slapped, bitten, punched, pushed, grabbed, arm twisted, hair pulled, hit with an object, object throw at them, burned or scaled, threatened with a gun or knife or other weapon, strangulation or suffocation, dangerous driving with partner and children in the car or lock victim outside the house at night.
- patterns of controlling, emotionally abusive behaviour towards the victim
- misuse of drugs and/or alcohol.
Result: Domestic and family violence may disrupt a victim’s cognitive faculties for processing and coping with trauma resulting in a sense of personal failure and loss of control over their life situation, which may, over time, contribute to mental ill health as well as physical ailments associated with extreme stress.
- Emotional and Psychological Abuse
- A perpetrator intends to exercise dominance, control or coercion over the victim; degrade the victim’s emotional or cognitive abilities or sense of self-worth; or induce feelings of fear and intimidation in the victim
- insisting that the children refer to her by demeaning names such as “slut”, “whore”, “moll”, and not “mother”, or “mum”; insisting the children not show affection for her; and generally treating her in a humiliating and abusive manner
- threatening to commit suicide if the victim leaves the relationship
- monitoring the victims whereabouts
- threatening to kill the victim (any children) and pets
NOTE:Research indicates that threats of physical violence, restrictions on the victim’s freedoms and damage to the victim’s personal property are strong predictors of actual violence causing severe injury or death
- System Abuse
- Research recognises that a party to proceedings in domestic and family violence related cases may use a range of litigation tactics to gain an advantage over or to harass, intimidate, discredit or otherwise control the other party
- Perpetrators of domestic and family violence who seek to control the victim before, during or after separation may make multiple applications and complaints in multiple systems (for example, the courts, Child Support Agency, Centrelink) in relation to a protection order, breach, parenting, divorce, property, child and welfare support and other matters with the intention of interrupting, deferring, prolonging or dismissing judicial and administrative processes, which may result in depleting the victim’s financial resources and emotional wellbeing, and adversely impacting the victim’s capacity to maintain employment or to care for children
- The 2015 evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments to the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 recognises that parties to family law proceedings may use those proceedings as a means of perpetuating harassment on the other party. For example, a father who is also a perpetrator of domestic and family violence may use this tactic, while he or his lawyers state to the court that he ‘just wants to see his children’
- Cross applications for domestic and family violence protection orders (ADVO in the Local Court) may be used by some perpetrators to intimidate the victim into withdrawing their ADVO application, resulting in mutual withdrawal and an end to proceedings. This tactic may also be seen as an extension of the violence itself.
NOTE: Research indicates that a court’s failure to respond adequately or appropriately to a victim’s allegations of domestic and family violence may constitute a form of abuse that is secondary to that already being experienced by the victim
6. Cultural and spiritual abuse
7. Following, harassing and monitoring
8. Social abuse
9. Exposing children to DV and family violence
10. Damaging property
11. Animal abuse
12. Forced marriage
IMPORTANT: A victim may feel intimidated, isolated or neglected by, for example: having to sit in proximity to the perpetrator and their family and friends in the courtroom; experiencing condescending, reproachful or diminishing language or demeanour from opponent lawyers or judicial officers; in some courts, being cross-examined directly by the perpetrator (who may have chosen to self-represent so as to secure this opportunity); feeling unable to effectively advocate on behalf of children in their care; or enduring the ongoing economic impact of being a party to judicial proceedings. In these circumstances, judicial officers may need to weigh up and assess the requirements for procedural fairness and access to justice against protection of the victim from further abuse through the perpetrator’s exploitation of the justice system.
Do You Know the Risk Factors?
There are a range of risk assessment tools as key signifiers of risk for the escalation of domestic and family violence the factors affecting risk, include:
- risk will heighten where a perpetrator increasingly engages in multiple forms of violence or abuse, or does so more frequently, intensely or severely
- past domestic and family violence
- past non fatal strangulation
- weapons (in the home or in possession of perpetrator) and threats to kill
- escalates the violence after separation in an attempt to gain or reassert control over the victim, or to punish the victim for leaving the relationship
- pregnancy of the victim
- misuse of drugs and/or alcohol by perpetrator
- stalking, controlling, jealous obsessive behaviour by perpetrator
- suicide threat by perpetrator
- step-child in the family
- family law proceedings
Prepare The Victim
- Plan a ‘familiarisation visit’ with the client, if client is anxious and that would assist (maybe after you have finished at court – separate time)
- Prepare a Court ‘safety plan’ if / when necessary
- ID orders that may be problematic re: contact between parties
- Inform clients (perpetrators and victims) of court processes and support / referral options.
- If victim would like a support person to accompany them, make arrangements for this.
- Make specialised court services available to victims
Prepare The Perpetrator
- early referral to Mens Change Behaviour Program (MCBP)
- judicial officers should seek evidence of behaviour change following program completion and prior to consideration of further orders.
- MBCP work is highly specialised, and quite distinct from other types of intervention. Anger management programs or generalist counselling are contra-indicated for assisting perpetrators to stop their use of domestic and family violence for a number of reasons including lack of consideration of power and control dynamics or gender socialisation, an absence of partner contact, an absence of safeguards against collusion and absence of risk assessment or risk management framework. Relationship counselling and family therapy are generally contra-indicated for similar reasons and because the basis for safe communication between the parties usually does not exist without prior specialist intervention over a period of time
- Where alcohol or other drug use, mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury and cognitive disabilities, are also a concern, MBCP programs may not be suitable unless they are appropriately designed and delivered. Substance misuse or mental health interventions can complement MBCP work and are effective with concurrent participation in an MBCP
A Few of the Helpful Community Services Available
Aboriginal Support Services
- Aboriginal Medical Service (02) 9319 5823
- Womens Legal Services NSW
Immigrant Support Service
- Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (02) 8234 8700 or
- the Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association (02) 9635-8022
- Homeless Multicultural Women Integrated Support Service (HoMWISS)
- SHS (Specialist Homelessness Services)
- GHSH (Going Home Staying Home) reform
- Domestic Violence Line on 1800 65 64 63 (don’t usually take pets)
- PETS: “Safe Beds for Pets” through the RSPCA on (02) 9782 4408
Counselling for Victims
- Women’s health centres and community health centres provide both individual counselling and opportunities for women to speak to others who have had similar experiences. Community Services’ 24 hour Domestic Vio lence Line can provide counselling and referral, otherwise;
- individual private counselling
Counselling for Perpetrators
- Mens Change Behaviour Program
- Mens Referral Service 1300 766 491
- Lifeworks: 1300 543 396
- No to Violence
- Uniting Care etc
- Mensline Australia: 1300 78 99 78
- Private counselling for drug/alcohol abuse, as necessary
- Victims Services NSW provides: immediate needs payment of up to $5,000 to victims of violent crimes + more
- Housing NSW +
- Staying Home Leaving Violence
- Start safely
- victim can change locks even if rental (if have AVO in place with an exclusion order -interim or final)
Many women who are victims of DV and family violence, feel powerless and too afraid to make complaint and seek assistance through the Local Court. However, from my experience in representing clients in criminal (and traffic) proceedings (including ADVO’s) in the Local Court, the pendulum has swung very much on the side of women who complaint of DV in being successful in having an ADVO granted. It is one more protection for victims, that may allow them to feel somewhat empowered as they may have ‘stood up‘ for the first time. An ADVO/AVO can also allow victims certain protections such as changing the locks, even on a rental property, without landlord consent.
If you would like to have a fresh set of eyes look over your family law or Local Court criminal/driving offences matter, contact me at (02) 9336 5399 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can organise a time to chat!
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