What is domestic violence, and what can I do if I am experiencing it?

‘Domestic violence’ is a term we hear frequently and one that we may quickly associate with the violent crimes we sadly see all too frequently on the news, where women have been murdered by their partners or ex-boyfriends.

Those are indeed the most serious cases of domestic violence however, the definition ‘domestic violence’ provides for a multitude of behaviours.

This article is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of the behaviours which constitute domestic violence as such behaviours are determined on a case-by-case basis. This article provides however, an overview of the definitions contained within the relevant Queensland domestic violence legislation.

At the outset it needs to be said that if you are immediately fearful for your safety, or the safety of your children you need to act quickly by removing yourself and your children from the danger (if possible) and contact the police by calling triple-0. If you are not in immediate danger, you should obtain urgent legal advice.

What is ‘domestic violence’?

Domestic violence matters in Queensland are governed by the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (“the Act”).   Section 8 of the Act defines “domestic violence” as behaviour by a person towards another person with whom the first person is in a relevant relationship that is:

  1. Physically or sexually abusive;
  2. Emotionally or psychologically abusive;
  3. Economically abusive;
  4. Threatening;
  5. Coercive; or
  6. In any other way controls or dominates the other person and causes that person to fear for their safety and wellbeing, or the safety and wellbeing of someone else.

Of note here, is that for the behaviour to be deemed ‘domestic violence’ it must be behaviour committed by a person towards another with whom they are in a relevant relationship. The term ‘relevant relationship’ is defined in section 13 of the Act as an intimate personal relationship (spouses, engaged or dating couple), a family relationship or an informal care relationship.

Now looking back at section 8, we are provided with a non-exhaustive list of behaviours which constitute domestic violence as follows:

  1. Causing personal injury to a person or threatening to do so;
  2. Coercing a person to engage in sexual activity or attempting to do so;
  3. Damaging a person’s property or threatening to do so;
  4. Depriving a person of the person’s liberty or threatening to do so;
  5. Threatening a person with the death or injury of the person, a child of the person, or someone else;
  6. Threatening to commit suicide or self-harm so as to torment, intimidate or frighten the person to whom the behaviour is directed;
  7. Causing or threatening to cause the death of, or injury to, an animal, whether or not the animal belongs to the person to whom the behaviour is directed, so as to control, dominate or coerce the person;
  8. Unauthorised surveillance of a person; or
  9. Unlawfully stalking a person.

Many of the above behaviours result in offenders being charged with a criminal offence.

Section 9 of the Act explains that ‘associated domestic violence’ is any of the above behaviours (provided in section 8) committed by a person towards:

  1. A child of the aggrieved;
  2. A child who usually lives with the aggrieved;
  3. A relative of the aggrieved; or
  4. An associate of the aggrieved.

Section 10 of the Act provides that children are “exposed” to domestic violence if they see or hear domestic violence or otherwise experience the effects of domestic violence. Some examples of this are:

  1. Overhearing threats of physical abuse;
  2. Overhearing repeated derogatory taunts, including racial taunts;
  3. Experiencing financial stress arising from economic abuse;
  4. Seeing or hearing an assault;
  5. Comforting or providing assistance to a person who has been physically abused;
  6. Observing bruising or other injuries of a person who has been physically abused;
  7. Cleaning up a site after the property has been damaged; or
  8. Being present at a domestic violence incident that is attended by police officers.

Often, the most damaging form of domestically violent behaviour that impacts both adults and children alike is “emotional or psychological abuse”. Section 11 of the Act defines this as behaviour by a person towards another person that torments, intimidates, harasses or is offensive to the other person. This section provides examples of behaviours which are emotionally or psychologically abusive as follows:

  1. Following a person when the person is out in public, including by vehicle or on foot;
  2. Remaining outside a person’s residence or place of work;
  3. Repeatedly contacting a person by telephone, SMS message, email or social networking site without the person’s consent;
  4. Repeated derogatory taunts, including racial taunts;
  5. Threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation to the person’s friends or family without the person’s consent;
  6. Threatening to withhold a person’s medication; or
  7. 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.

As you can see, there are a wide range of example behaviours provided in the Act which establish domestic violence, and these are not the only behaviours which a court may find to be domestically violent. If you are uncertain about your own experience, you should seek legal advice from a family lawyer.

What can I do if I am experiencing domestic violence?

As stated initially, if you are in immediate danger you need to remove yourself from the situation (if possible) and contact the police.   In Brisbane and surrounding suburbs there are organisations such as DV Connect, DVAC (Domestic Violence Action Centre) and Lutheran Services (Mary and Martha’s domestic violence refuge) that assist women by providing them (and their children) with safety plans, refuge accommodation, court support, counselling, information and referrals to additional organisations for support.

You should speak to a family lawyer about your individual situation to ascertain what options are available to you, and what the best way forward is for you.

Sometimes, usually when parties have just separated, there are heightened emotions as a result of the relationship ending. This does not always follow that people will commit domestic violence (although this unfortunately does happen). As separation is an emotional time, sometimes people feel they are being subjected to domestic violence when in fact they are not and what they really need is some legal guidance to assist with parenting and/or property settlement matters. On the other hand, sometimes people do not see that their actions following separation actually fall within the definition of domestic violence and they need legal advice about the potential consequences of their behaviour.

People who experience domestic violence should apply for a protection order in their local Magistrates Court.

If the police have been involved in your matter, they will make their own assessment of your situation and may apply for a protection order on your behalf. If they do not, you should seek legal advice.

In domestic violence matters, it is imperative that you act quickly to obtain the protection of a court order and to ensure you are acting protectively of any children who may be experiencing domestic violence. It is ideal if you can obtain legal advice before making any application, as your lawyer can assist with the preparation of your material and if you are seeking an urgent temporary protection order, the court will usually list your application for mention the same day you file it with the court.

There are a number of factors the court must take into consideration when making temporary and final protection orders, and your lawyer will provide you with advice in relation to these matters and ensure that any application you file addresses them.

There is much to be considered in domestic violence matters and it really is imperative that you seek legal advice to ensure you are provided with full information and all of the options that are available to you, including the potential outcomes of those options.