Family violence can include any physical assault, sexual abuse, emotional and economic abuse or pet abuse. Family violence includes violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that occurs in current or past family, domestic or intimate relationships.
Family violence is not just physical – it includes control and manipulation and behaviour that causes you to live in fear. Some examples of family violence might include:
- stopping you from seeing your family and friends
- threatening to harm other family members or pets
- humiliation, threats or insults
- constant criticism
- taking your medication from you
- taking away your access to money for food and clothes
- threatening to report you to immigration
- threatening to tell your family and friends about your sexual orientation when you do not want them to know
- damage to property
- harassment or stalking.
A perpetrator who causes a child to witness an incident or clean up after an incident, is also committing family violence.
Family violence can happen:
- in a marriage, de-facto relationship or civil union
- in a gay or lesbian relationship
- to people with a disability who rely on their carer
- between parents, children and relatives
- between people in a 'family-like' relationship.
In some cases, the violence might be by a young person against a parent or relative. For an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, 'family' can mean a relative according to tradition or social practice.
Family violence can be reported to the police
All family violence is unacceptable and you can get help from services and protection from police and the courts through a Family Violence Intervention Order. In some cases, where there are criminal forms of family violence, including physical violence, sexual abuse, stalking, property damage, threats and homicide, criminal charges may also be laid. See Charges Laid for more information.
Police will respond to, and take action on, any family violence that is reported to them, regardless of who made the report or how it was made.
Your safety and protection
The police will respond to all reports of family violence, and have a duty to protect people, including children, if they are at risk of harm from family violence. The top priority for police when responding to a report of family violence is safety. This includes the safety of police and other people present, especially children.
The police will ensure your safety by:
- removing the perpetrator in some circumstances
- referring you to a service that can support you
- referring you to emergency accommodation if it is not safe to stay in your home, and you want to go
- help you safely leave the premises
- if necessary, stay at the scene until you and your family members can be removed from risk.
Police assess the risk to you by considering issues such as:
- the level of fear experienced by you and your children
- the level and nature of violence
- the likelihood that the incident will escalate
- the presence of children
- the presence of or access to firearms or other weapons
- any threat of suicide or murder
- the vulnerability of those involved – for example, pregnancy or recent separation
- any history of family violence.
This assessment will also help police decide how best to keep you and your family safe in the future.
More information on your safety can be found in Keeping Safe.
Reporting to police
Family violence can be reported to police directly by the victim or another member of the family, including children, by a friend, neighbour or anonymous person or by another agency. Police may also detect family violence in the course of their work.
Police take all reports of family violence seriously. When family violence is reported to police, they will:
- respond as a priority
- make sure you and your children are safe immediately (this may include removing the perpetrator)
- assess the risks and threats
- seek any immediate assistance that is needed - for example, call an ambulance or interpreter
- get as much information as possible
- tell the victim about keeping any physical evidence - for example pictures, or clothing or SMS.
- make sure there is someone who can support you.
Read Investigating Family Violence for more information.
Family Violence Intervention Orders
The police may also decide to apply for a Family Violence Intervention Order if the safety, welfare or property of a family member appears to be in danger.
Police may make an application for an Intervention Order even if you do not agree. The police officer will make it clear to the abusive family member that applying for an Intervention Order is a police decision. Your children can be included on the Intervention Order, or in a Safety Notice, to make sure you are all safe.
You can also apply for an Intervention Order at a court, without police. The Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817 can offer more information about this option.
If the police come to your house after hours or on the weekend they can issue a Family Violence Safety Notice (FVSN), which has similar conditions to an Intervention Order. It last for 72 hours and acts as an application for an Intervention Order, which will go to court. A magistrate will then decide what happens next.
The perpetrator must follow the rules on the Intervention Order or FVSN. It is a criminal offence for someone to disobey an intervention order or FVSN. If they are found guilty they could pay a fine or even go to jail.
Referrals to support services
Police will provide you and your family with referrals to specialist services for ongoing support. These referrals may be formal (police give your information to the organisation) or informal (police give you the organisation’s contact details).
Even if you do not want help at the time of the crime, you may later change your mind. You can find details of the services available to you in Get Help.
Mandatory reporting for children
If a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of physical or sexual abuse, and the parents have not or are unlikely to protect them from that type of harm, police must notify the Department of Human Services.
Protection at court
Victims of sexual assault and family violence victims may be quite fearful, and have the right to be protected from unnecessary contact with the accused at court. For information on the special arrangements in place for victims of sexual assault or family violence, go to Protection at Court.