During the past two decades, crimes of domestic violence have been taken more seriously in Victoria than they were in the past. Police officers who might once have scolded a husband for striking his wife now make arrests.
Changing attitudes are reflected in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008. That law supplements traditional criminal offences, such as assault, by providing abused family members with a way to seek court protection. This article will bring you up to date on the status of domestic violence laws in Victoria.
In Victoria, “family violence” means behaviour toward a family member that is:
Physically, psychologically, sexually, emotionally, or economically abusive;
- Threatening; or
- So controlling or dominating that the family member fears for his or her safety or for that of another family member.
Some aspects of the definition are vague and not all of the defined behaviour is criminal. Acts that clearly fall within the scope of the definition include:
- Assaults causing injury
- Threats to cause physical harm
- Sexual assaults upon a spouse or other family member
- Using threats of violence to coerce participation in sexual activity
- Intentionally damaging or threating to damage a family member’s property, including a pet
- Restraining an adult family member’s liberty
A family member includes a spouse, domestic partner, or other person who has been in an intimate personal relationship, as well as their children and relatives.
A family member who has been the victim of family violence can apply to the Magistrate’s Court for an intervention order against another family member. If the evidence supports the order, the court can prohibit a family member from:
- Committing acts of violence against other family members
- Threatening other family members
- Damaging the property of other family members
- Entering a home occupied by the victimized family member
- Entering the work premises of the victimized family member
- Being near or following the victimized family member
- Communicating with the victimized family member
- Engaging in offensive behaviour toward the victimized family member
An intervention order can also require a family member to participate in counseling. In addition, the court can cancel any firearms licence or permit held by a family member who has engaged in domestic violence.
The magistrate can enter an interim intervention order on the basis of limited evidence to provide short-term protection until a full hearing can be held. An interim order generally lasts no longer than two weeks. The person seeking protection then has the opportunity to prove his or her entitlement to a final intervention order which lasts for a longer period of time as designated by the court. The final order can be extended, if necessary, before it expires.
Breaches of intervention orders
Breaching an intervention order by deliberately disobeying its terms is a criminal offence. An intentional breach subjects the accused to a fine of up to $24,000 and imprisonment of up to two years.
Other criminal offences
Whether or not a family intervention order has been issued, a person who commits a criminal offence does not receive immunity simply because the victim was a family member. Relevant criminal offences that can be charged in Victoria as the result of domestic violence include:
- Causing injury intentionally or recklessly
- Causing serious injury intentionally or recklessly
- Threats to kill or to inflict serious injury
- Conduct endangering life
- Sexual abuse of a child
Penalties depend upon the crime, but they all carry the possibility of imprisonment.