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What is family violence

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Family violence

There is extensive discussion regarding the interpretation of what family violence includes. In 2011, the definition of family violence in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Victoria) was amended to further include the notions of coercion and control. In addition to this change, the definition of child abuse was amended to include serious psychological harm as a result of being exposed to family violence. The below information aims to provide a clearer understanding of family violence and some practical examples. Click the following questions to find out the answer. 

What is the definition of Family Violence?

The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Victoria) (‘the Act’) gives power to the Victorian Courts to make Intervention Orders to protect an individual (referred to as the Affected Family Member) or several individuals from another individual (referred to as the Respondent). Family Violence is defined by Section 5 of the Act. For the purposes of the Act, family violence is broadly defined as and includes behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person if that behaviour is:

  • Physically or sexually abusive; or
  • Emotionally or psychologically abusive; or
  • Economically abusive; or
  • Threatening, coercive; or
  • Controlling or dominating towards the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or well-being of that family member or another person.
It also includes any of the above behaviour that causes a child to be present or be exposed to the effects of the behaviour referred to above.

What are examples of Family Violence?

Although some behaviour may not constitute a criminal offence, it still may constitute family violence. Family violence can include examples of the following behaviour towards a family member:

  • Physical abuse such as assault (including pushing, hitting, punching, slapping, kicking) or causing personal injury;
  • Sexual abuse such as sexual assault (including sexually coercive behaviour, rape, sexual degrading);
  • Verbal abuse (including threats of violence, name-calling, degradation, manipulation, gas-lighting, accusations);
  • Intentional damage to their property (including jointly owned property);
  • Unlawful deprivation of a family member to their liberties or threats to do so;
  • Causing the death or injury of an animal (regardless if the animal belongs to the family member); 
  • Threats to cause physical abuse or assault;
  • Threats to cause sexual abuse or assault;
  • Threats to cause damage to property;
  • Threats to cause the death or injury of an animal (regardless if the animal belongs to the family member). 
More practical examples of family violence include:
  • Witnessing actual acts of assault by a family member towards another;
  • Being present to hear threats being made by a family member towards another;
  • Being present at the aftermath of family violence to console the family member who has been assault by another;
  • Repairing or witnessing damage to property after a family member has caused such damage.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is defined by Section 6 of the Act as behaviour by a person that is coercive, deceptive or unreasonably controls another person in a particular way that denies them their economic or financial autonomy (that would have been the case without that behaviour). It also includes such behaviour conducted by withholding or threatening to withhold any financial support that is necessary for that person meeting their reasonable living expenses; this is on the basis that they are dependent for such financial support to meet those living expenses.

What are examples of economic abuse?

Economic abuse can include examples of the following behaviour:

  • The removal of a family member’s property without their permission; 
  • The disposal of property that is owned by a person against their wishes or without lawful excuse (regardless if it is jointly owned);
  • Preventing a person from seeking out or retaining employment;
  • Preventing a person from being able to access joint financial assets to meet their reasonable living expenses (without lawful excuse);
  • The coercion of a person to claim social benefit payments;
  • The coercion of a person to give authority to another person to control their finances;
  • The coercion of a person to enter into a contract for the acquisition of goods;
  • The coercion of a person to enter a contract as a guarantor; 
  • The coercion of a person to obtain finance or credit;
  • The coercion of a person to enter into a legal contract; 
  • Threats to remove a family member’s property without their permission. 

What is emotional or psychological abuse?

Emotional and psychological abuse is broadly defined defined by Section 7 of the Act as behaviour by a person that torments, harasses, is intimidating or is offensive to the other person The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 provides examples of emotional and psychological abuse to be:

  • repeated derogatory taunts, including racial taunts;
  • threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation to the person’s friends or family against the person’s wishes;
  • threatening to withhold a person’s medication;
  • preventing a person from making or keeping connections with the person’s family, friends or culture, including cultural or spiritual ceremonies or practices, or preventing the person from expressing the person’s cultural identity;
  • threatening to commit suicide or self-harm with the intention of tormenting or intimidating a family member, or threatening the death or injury of another person.

What are examples of economic or psychological abuse?

Economic abuse can include examples of the following behaviour:

  • Threatening to disclose personal information about a person to others, against their wishes;
  • Consistent and repeated derogatory behaviour including taunts or racial slurs;
  • Threatening to withhold, or withholding a person’s medication;
  •  Making threats to commit self-harm or suicide with the intention of controlling another person with those threats;
  • Making threats to injure or cause the death of another person;
  • Preventing a person from maintaining relationships with others;
  • Preventing a person from maintaining connections with their culture or cultural practices.