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Domestic & Family Violence Prevention Month – May 2023: It’s in our control to end coercive control

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Every year during May we acknowledge “Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month”. Considering this initiative, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Associate Emily Edmonds joined Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to talk about the plans that are underway across Australia to tackle this social issue.

Domestic & Family Violence Prevention Month 2023

Domestic and family violence continues to be an issue that remains out of control across Australia. Too many victims of violence are discouraged from speaking out about what they are suffering.

This May, we continue to reinforce the message that there are no excuses for committing domestic and family violence, and promote the theme “It’s in our control to end coercive control”.

Domestic and family violence is not just physical violence, it is much more complex than that, and can present itself as psychological abuse, coercive control, financial abuse, and emotional abuse, just to name a few.

It can happen to anyone and is a widespread social issue impacting all the community, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, religion, or nationality.

Although a domestic violence situation on its own is generally something that is handled by the police, or a criminal lawyer, the reality is that these issues are interweaved in family law matters and are often seen by family lawyers when assisting people with divorce, separation, parenting disputes and property settlements. Making the big decision to take action to stop the domestic violence usually triggers a separation which is long overdue and that is where the need for sound advice from an experienced family lawyer is required. One of the biggest issues for clients facing this very challenging issue is confidentiality and getting the right assistance and advice without their abusive partner knowing about this. We are acutely aware of these issues and can help you make the transition as safely as possible without detection.

What has changed to tackle domestic and family violence over the past year?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tackle domestic and family violence, however steps are being taken to try to put an end to violence.

Even though domestic violence can impact anyone, male or female, young or old; women are overrepresented as victim-survivors of domestic and family violence. This has historically been, and continues to be the case.

Women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner.

On average, one woman every week is murdered by her former or current partner, and almost ten women every day are hospitalised for assault injuries caused by their spouse or domestic partner.

Because women are predominantly affected by domestic and family violence, the Department of Social Services launched the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032.

This plan has been developed and agreed on by Commonwealth, state and territory ministers and is an extension of the previous national plan, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

As we continue into the second year of the 10-year plan, development of the Action Plan is underway, with the first five-year Action Plan expected to be released this year.

In addition to a specific plan to tackle violence against women, there is also a unique plan being rolled out to tackle violence in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, which is also overrepresented when it comes to domestic and family violence.

There’s a long way to go, but what the National Plan, and previous National Plan, has done so far is:

    • help bring family and domestic violence to the nation’s attention
    • demonstrate the collective commitment by the Commonwealth, States and Territories to address this issue
    • support increased collaboration between organisations, government departments, and services that respond to those impacted by domestic violence

    Unfortunately, despite the acknowledgement and increased awareness of domestic and family violence made by the 2010-22 National Plan, there was no reduction in the prevalence of violence against women and children. The 2022-2032 National Plan must do better!

    How are states and territories responding to the issue?

    Each state and territory have been rolling out their own changes to address domestic and family violence over the past year.

    Queensland

    In 2022, the Queensland Government committed to criminalising coercive control by 2024. The legislation passed parliament at the start of this year and is currently being implemented under the guidance of specific recommendations made by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce.

    The Queensland Government also passed several other reforms to strengthen protections for victims, including expanding the definition of “domestic and family abuse” to include “pattern of behaviour”. This in turn will strengthen the offence of stalking. 

    Legal Aid, in Queensland, has also been granted $18.6 million over four years to ensure victims of domestic and family violence are not further victimised by perpetrators in court. These funds will be vital in ensuring witnesses in court are only cross-examined by a trained lawyer. Historically, if an alleged perpetrator was self-represented, they were allowed to cross-examine their former partner, causing significant trauma to victims of domestic and family violence.

    Victims of domestic violence offences are now considered protected witnesses, which means under no circumstances can they be cross-examined by an unrepresented defendant.

    Since September 2022, the Southport Magistrates Court and Ipswich Magistrates Court have been piloting a program where police captured video statements can be submitted as evidence in domestic and family violence related proceedings. So far this is proving extremely successful.

    This program is designed to provide safeguards for victims and limit the trauma associated with giving evidence in these types of proceedings.

    New South Wales

    In New South Wales, a new scheme called “The Right To Ask Scheme” is set to be launched by the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government, helping people access information in relation to their partner’s criminal history and whether they have been charged with any domestic violence offences. The scheme provides the opportunity for NSW Police to disclose certain information to a person who is a potential victim of domestic violence about their partner’s previous abusive or violent offending. This scheme is based on the UK’s Clare’s Law, and is designed to help anyone at risk of domestic violence be able to make an informed decision about their relationships.

    Survey shows strong response to criminalisation of coercive control

    Criminalising coercive control was a significant focus in 2022.

    A survey conducted by Monash University sought the participation of over 1,200 domestic violence victim-survivors who shared their experience and views on the criminalisation of coercive control.

    The survey received remarkably consistent results, with 93 per cent of respondents agreeing that criminalisation would improve community awareness of coercive control.

    72 per cent of respondents believed that making coercive control a criminal offence would achieve greater safety for victim-survivors.

    While most respondents agreed that the law has its limits, and criminalising coercive control alone will not suffice, it’s a step in the right direction.

    Has the attitude towards domestic and family violence improved?

    One thing that came from the National Plan was the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women Survey which is undertaken every 4 years.

    The purpose of the survey is to monitor the progress of government policies, initiatives, and the roll out of the National Plan.

    Sadly, the results of the recent survey showed that despite decades of advocacy and educational campaigns, there are still many misconceptions about domestic and family violence.

    The latest survey uncovered that:           

      • More than one-third of respondents believed that women going through a custody battle either lie about or exaggerate claims of domestic violence as a way of getting back at their former partner.
      • One-fifth of respondents agreed that “a lot of what is called domestic violence is really just a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration”.
      • 15 per cent of respondents agreed that domestic violence “can be excused if it is as a result of people getting so angry that they temporarily lose control”.

      This feedback is really concerning! To label domestic violence as “normal” or “acceptable” in this manner is detrimental and continues to show a lack of understanding toward the complex nature of this issue.

      There are still too many people justifying certain behaviours due to stress or frustration. In no circumstances should domestic violence or coercive control ever be considered an “acceptable” behaviour. Whether it happens once or as a repeat behaviour, the message must be clear, there is no excuse for violent behaviour.

      Support is available

      If you are experiencing domestic and family violence, safety comes first. If you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000 as soon as possible.

      It is important for victims of domestic and family violence to know that there are shelters that are always ready to assist and support when someone is in need.

      For anyone wanting to understand their rights and the steps they need to take to protect themselves, their children, or to proceed with divorce and parenting and property matters, reach out to an experienced family lawyer.

      A family lawyer knows how to identify what is most important and the immediate steps to take to help anyone in this situation, ensuring that their best interests are protected and that they are safe and confident taking those next steps.

      Attwood Marshall Lawyers – supporting families through their toughest times

      It is devastating to see the number of people impacted by domestic and family violence; however, our lawyers take their responsibility extremely seriously in helping people put an end to what is a traumatic and toxic relationship.  

      With a dedicated team of lawyers who practice exclusively in family law, we are here to help families resolve their conflict and finalise parenting and property arrangements so that all parties can move on with their lives.

      If you want to understand your rights or understand the steps to take to settle your family law matter, or if you need assistance with protecting yourself and your children from a domestic and family violence situation, contact our Family Law DVO Senior Paralegal, Brittany Watsford, on direct line 07 5506 8264, email bwatsford@attwoodmarshall.com.au or call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071 and ask to speak to the family law team.

      Confidentiality is a given with our family law team and we can work with you to make contact and provide advice in a way that does not expose you to detection from your abusive partner.

      We’re here to help you through this difficult time. 

      Support services:

      If you need support or simply want someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out to these extremely qualified services and have a confidential discussion about your situation.

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      Emily Edmonds - Associate - Family Law

      Emily Edmonds

      Associate
      Family Law

      Contact the author

      Disclaimer
      The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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