What is domestic violence?

The Duluth Wheel: what is DV?

Domestic violence (DV) is the name given to acts of violence between people who are in some kind of relationship with each other.  This can mean spouses, parents and step-parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents – anyone who is related to you by blood or marriage, but also informal relationships such as carers, defacto partnerships, boyfriends or girlfriends: people whom you know and have had or continue to have a close relationship with.

Acts of domestic violence incur a serious breach of trust, respect and responsibility between people.  The people one loves and feels closest to are the ones most of us expect to treat us well.  Unfortunately when they do not, we are more inclined to forgive and make excuses for behaviour that we might find unacceptable from strangers.  No cultural or social roles or traditions excuse violence between people, nor do love relationships.  When violence occurs in a relationship, the person committing violence is attempting to control the other person, regardless of their motives for doing it.  Each one of us has a right to make our own decisions, even bad ones, without fear of others committing violence against us in their attempts to stop us.  Our bodies are sacred spaces that we should be the only ones making decisions about what happens to our bodies and in our lives, this includes sexual violence and domestic violence.

Under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Queensland), acts of domestic violence include:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Emotional or psychological abuse (torment and intimidation that is offensive to the other person:  following them, contacting them repeatedly, using derogatory language about them including racial taunts, threats to disclose personal matters to others, threats to withhold medication, preventing them from contacting their family, cultural or spiritual community);
  • Economic abuse (controlling another person’s access to their money, or shared resources, or to provide for the needs of their child eg. Keeping their property, selling their property without consent, preventing them from seeking work, coercing them to seek social security, or sign over power of attorney, or sign a contract for a loan etc);
  • Threats to cause violence, injury, property damage, deprivation of liberty etc to a person or someone else associated with the victim, including animals;
  • Threats to commit suicide or self-harm;
  • Coercion, deprivation of liberty (including preventing them from doing something they want to do);
  • Controlling or dominating behaviours that cause fear;
  • Property damage;
  • Unauthorized surveillance including using technology (reading a person’s SMS messages, monitoring their email, monitoring their social media accounts, using a GPS device to track them);
  • Unlawful stalking;
  • Engaging someone else to do any of the above;
  • Exposing children to the above behaviours (overhearing threats, derogatory language, causing them financial deprivation, hearing or seeing assault, having to comfort a person who was abused, having to clean up after an adults property damage, being present at an incident of violence).

What does it mean under the law?

Violence between people who are in a relationship of any kind is considered a civil matter, not criminal.  So, it goes through the magistrate’s court.  This is so that a matter can still be declared domestic violence without provenance “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  For a matter to be considered DV there has to be a “relevant relationship” between the parties.  Violence or surveillance committed or threatened by someone one is not in a relevant relationship with is called assault or stalking.

The Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Queensland) is the relevant legislation.  It’s purpose is to create protections that are consistent with a number of international agreements that Australia is signatory to including the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Principles for Older Persons which say:

  • Living free from violence is a human right
  • DV is a violation of your human rights, regardless of culture or tradition
  • DV represents a power imbalance between persons, that results in one person living in fear.  It usually represents “an ongoing pattern of abuse over a period of time”
  • DV impacts the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of the victim and can result in death
  • Men are most often the perpetrators and women most often the victims. However anyone can be a victim or perpetrator
  • DV is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children
  • Witnessing or experiencing DV can cause lasting physical, psychological and emotional harm to children
  • DV behaviours can also be criminal offences (paraphrased from the preamble to the Act 2012).

The act also talks about how police and others “administering” the acts should treat people making complaints.  S4 says the “safety, protection and wellbeing of people who fear or experience domestic violence, including children, is paramount”; that they should be treated with respect, minimizing disruption to their lives; that perpetrators should be held accountable and provided with an opportunity to change; and that certain people are more vulnerable:  women, children, ATSI, people with a disability, people of LGBTI orientation and the elderly.  Even when there are claims of DV against both parties, the one most in need of protection should be recognized.

Domestic Violence Orders

Domestic Violence Order (DVO) and Temporary Protection Order (TVO) are the court orders a victim of DV can ask a court to make for their protections from further violence.   A DVO can protect the victim or target and their children, relatives or associates if they are also specified in the order.  Although a DVO cannot prevent a person from committing violence, it can make the legal consequences of them breaching that order much more serious.  It also creates a court record of a person’s behaviour that can be taken into consideration in future, especially if other applications for DVOs are made against that person.  If a person breaches a DV order, the police are empowered to act.

A person who has experienced DV, someone who is authorized to act for them, a police officer or a legal guardian can apply for an order.  An order can also be made by a court if a person has been convicted of a DV offence or a child protection hearing is proceeding in the Children’s Court.  Once an application for an order is made, a date for a hearing will be set by the court.  The respondent must be served a copy of the application by a police officer.  In the case that the applicant is the police, the victim should also receive a copy of the application. However, if the matter is urgent, the applicant can ask the court to make a temporary order before the application is served on the respondent.  This may be the case when the violence has been severe and recent, and there is reason to believe the victim is still at risk.

When the matter comes to court, an order can be placed even if the defendant does not appear at the court.  If the defendant does appear, they can choose to accept the application and consent to the order, consent to the order while rejecting the grounds for it, or contest the order.  The order, once made, will contain the conditions the respondent must abide by including:

  • Being of good behaviour towards the aggrieved and any named persons in the order
  • Other conditions include:
    • Disallowing the respondent to approach, contact or locate the persons named in the order, including their own children;
    • Causing the respondent to return property or allow the aggrieved to recover their own property in the respondents possession, such as a former shared family home and allow a police officer to accompany them to do so;
    • Require the respondent to vacate premises in which the aggrieved has legal interest (such as a family home) and including their workplace;
    • Protection of an unborn child before and after the child is born (regardless of whether or not the respondent is the father of the child);
    • Voluntarily attending counseling or a violence intervention program;
    • Restricting or prohibiting the respondents use of previously owned licensed weapons, and anything the respondent may have threatened or used as a weapon (this is the case even if the weapon is something they need for their usual work);

The above conditions may not be made if the court decides that the character, personal history or language or cognitive skills of the respondent make compliance with the order problematic.  An order expires after two years, at which time another can be applied for.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence call 1800RESPECT for advice (in Australia).


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