In Australia 1 in 6 women and 1 in 16 men have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or previous partner. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, every 9 days a woman is killed and every 29 days a man is killed by a partner. Domestic violence is also one of the main reasons women and children become homeless in Australia.
Our domestic violence rates are simply horrifying. Domestic violence is a major national health and welfare issue. The essential policy discussion about what to do in the face of these appalling statistics continues.
Domestic violence can also manifest in insidious and less outwardly obvious ways, including through persistent control of the other party, down to frequent “checking in”, wanting to know their movements, who they see, or speak to, what they are doing and where they are at any given point. Financial control, including limiting access to money, can be another form of family violence.
For victims of domestic abuse, the situation is usually complex, and choices can feel limited. In this article, we share with you some of the support available in our community and where you can get help.
Why people do not leave family violence situations
By its nature, violence and other forms of domestic abuse, within a family is private. For many, the first instinct may be to try to “keep it within the family” and to find solutions yourself. Victims may try to rationalise the situation (it is not that bad, or if I don’t provoke him, it won’t happen again). They may believe it is only happening to them because their partner is stressed or under a lot of pressure. A range of factors may influence the occurrence of family violence but the perpetrators of family violence are making a choice about how they respond to circumstances in which they are placed. It is not the responsibility of the victim to “fix” the problem.
The realisation that what you have been experiencing is not okay and that it is family violence can be confronting and may require some adjustment. Victims can sometimes feel reluctant to acknowledge what has been happening to them.
Where to find help
Here in Canberra where our firm is based, we have the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, who are able to triage and refer people to the right support service for them (including emergency accommodation options). Their programs include interventions and behaviour change programs for men who want to learn not to engage with violence.
Women who can’t afford private legal advice but who may not qualify for legal aid, can engage the Women’s Legal Centre for urgent or ongoing legal advice and support
The police are trained to respond urgently to calls for assistance and will take steps to ensure the immediate safety of family members, including making arrests if necessary. The police will also make referrals to other services.
At the ACT Magistrates Court, urgent applications for family violence orders can be made, including after hours (with the help of the police). Those orders (often excluding the other party from making contact with or approaching the protected person) are an essential part of the formal tools available to assist victims of family violence. In Australia, we now have a system of national recognition of family violence orders, ensuring the orders will be acted upon by police in other states, as necessary.
How family lawyers assist
Understanding the incidence of family violence and being able to support our clients to be able to take steps towards their protection (and for the protection of their children) is a fundamental part of the role of a family lawyer. We need to be able to engage sensitively with our clients about these complex matters and to ensure that careful risk assessment occurs. The threat of family violence and its persistent consequences will likely continue throughout a matter and the making of a family violence order or injunction seldom means that the risk is resolved.
We know from information gathered by the Family Law Courts that about 70% of cases before the courts will include allegations of family violence. Where delays in the courts can result in cases taking up to 2 or 3 years to reach a final hearing, managing the risk can be complex. Safety plans (to better ensure the practical safety of the victim at court) are an essential part of this process and your family lawyer should engage with the court to assist you. The court will also agree, in certain circumstances, to ensure the conduct of hearings occurs in such a way that the vulnerable party and the alleged perpetrator of the violence are not in direct contact with each other.
Separating under urgent circumstances can also create significant financial pressures. Your experienced family lawyer can also advise you about options for obtaining urgent financial relief, including from the other party (such as orders for spousal maintenance) or helping you to access joint funds or property.
Find a family lawyer who engages in continuous learning about family violence, how it is manifest and how we can better respond to it, for the benefit of our clients.
If you or someone you know is in need of legal advice surrounding domestic violence, please get in touch. If there is an immediate danger please call the police.
DDCS Lawyers specialise in all aspects of family law and can help guide you through the difficult process of separation. If you need assistance, contact our team on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation.