What is family violence?
Violence is any act that makes another person feel fearful and unsafe. Family violence can include:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- psychological abuse
- emotional abuse
- verbal abuse
- financial abuse
- damage to property
- injury to animals
- publishing on the internet and other electronic communications.
Essentially, family violence is any form of threatening, coercive, controlling or dominating behaviour that makes a family member fear for their safety or wellbeing or for the safety or wellbeing of another person in their family.
Family violence is mostly, but not exclusively, perpetrated by men against women and children.
Definition of family violence in the legislation
Under Victorian state law, ‘family violence’ is defined in section 5 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (‘FVP Act’). The FVP Act (ss 5–7) gives examples of the different forms of family violence.
Under federal law relevant to family law cases, ‘family violence’ is defined in section 4AB of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (‘FL Act’). The FL Act (s 4AB(2) also provides examples of family violence.
Child abuse is family violence
In respect of a child, child abuse is a form of family violence. It includes behaviour where a child is the direct victim of abuse as well as behaviour that causes a child to hear, to witness, or to otherwise be exposed to the effects of family violence.
Examples of such behaviour are listed in section 5(1)(b) of the FVP Act and in section 4AB(4) of the FL Act. These include overhearing threats of physical abuse, seeing or hearing an assault of a family member by another family member, comforting or providing assistance to a family member who has been physically abused, cleaning up a site after property has been intentionally damaged, and being present when police officers attend a family violence incident.
Child abuse cases are dealt with in different courts and jurisdictions under different state and federal laws. Cases where children are the direct victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse are dealt with by Child Protection in the relevant state or territory and in the Children’s Court (see Chapter 1.4: The Children’s Court).