What is Domestic Violence?

At times victims can be unaware that they are experiencing domestic violence (DV) because it comes in a variety of forms. However, there are other situations where someone may think they are experiencing DV but may not legally fall into this category. To help yourself, your loved ones and your community it is important to understand what domestic violence is and is not, including more subversive types of DV like emotional, psychological and financial abuse. It’s also important to give yourself the best chance at winning in court.  

The legal definition of domestic violence

Legislation states the definition of Domestic Violence as:

behaviour by a person (the first person) towards another person (the second person) with whom the first person is in a relevant relationship that:

  • is physically or sexually abusive
  • is emotionally or psychologically abusive
  • is economically abusive
  • is threatening
  • is coercive
  • in any other way controls or dominates the second person and causes the second person to fear for the second person’s safety or wellbeing or that of someone else.

The RK Law team has worked on hundreds of DV cases, and most situations do fit within these parameters. However, in a small percentage of cases the application of this definition is misguided, or used as an attempt to circumvent the Family Law Courts. At times, it can also be a misunderstanding about what DV really is. 

To help guide those who are unsure if a situation is considered DV, a number of examples are provided in legislation. Please note, these are not the only situations that would be considered DV, but can be a helpful start to recognising if you or someone you love is experiencing DV. 

Examples of DV in Legislation include: 

  • causing personal injury to a person or threatening to do so
  • coercing a person to engage in sexual activity or attempting to do so
  • damaging a person’s property or threatening to do so
  • depriving a person of the person’s liberty or threatening to do so
  • threatening a person with the death or injury of the person, a child of the person, or someone else
  • threatening to commit suicide or self-harm so as to torment, intimidate or frighten the person to whom the behaviour is directed
  • causing or threatening to cause the death of, or injury to, an animal, whether or not the animal belongs to the person to whom the behaviour is directed, so as to control, dominate or coerce the person
  • unauthorised surveillance of a person
    • unauthorised surveillance, of a person, means the unreasonable monitoring or tracking of the person’s movements, activities or interpersonal associations without the person’s consent, including, for example, by using technology
    • Examples of surveillance by using technology
      • reading a person’s SMS messages
      • monitoring a person’s email account or internet browser history
      • monitoring a person’s account with a social networking internet site
      • using a GPS device to track a person’s movements
      • checking the recorded history in a person’s GPS device
  • unlawfully stalking a person.

What is emotional, psychological and financial abuse? 

The water often gets muddied when it comes to things such as “emotional abuse” or “psychological abuse” and “financial abuse”.

The legislation explains emotional, psychological and financial abuse as follows:

Emotional and psychological abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse means behaviour by a person towards another person that torments, intimidates, harasses or is offensive to the other person.

Examples of emotional and psychological abuse include:

  • following a person when the person is out in public, including by vehicle or on foot
  • remaining outside a person’s residence or place of work
  • repeatedly contacting a person by telephone, SMS message, email or social networking site without the person’s consent
  • repeated derogatory taunts, including racial taunts
  • threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation to the person’s friends or family without the person’s consent
  • threatening to withhold a person’s medication
  • preventing a person from making or keeping connections with the person’s family, friends or culture, including cultural or spiritual ceremonies or practices, or preventing the person from expressing the person’s cultural identity

Financial abuse 

Economic abuse means behaviour by a person that is coercive, deceptive or unreasonably controls another person, without the second person’s consent. It includes behaviour that:

  • denies the second person the economic or financial autonomy the second person would have had but for that behaviour
  • withholds or threatens to withhold the financial support necessary for meeting the reasonable living expenses of the second person or a child, if the second person or the child is entirely or predominantly dependent on the first person for financial support to meet those living expenses.

Examples of financial abuse include:

  • coercing a person to relinquish control over assets and income
  • removing or keeping a person’s property without the person’s consent, or threatening to do so
  • disposing of property owned by a person, or owned jointly with a person, against the person’s wishes and without lawful excuse
  • without lawful excuse, preventing a person from having access to joint financial assets for the purposes of meeting normal household expenses
  • preventing a person from seeking or keeping employment
  • coercing a person to claim social security payments
  • coercing a person to sign a power of attorney that would enable the person’s finances to be managed by another person
  • coercing a person to sign a contract for the purchase of goods or services
  • coercing a person to sign a contract for the provision of finance, a loan or credit
  • coercing a person to sign a contract of guarantee
  • coercing a person to sign any legal document for the establishment or operation of a business.

What is not domestic violence?

While it’s impossible to cover all situations, here are two examples. 

Recently we had a case where the applicant said that our client prevented them from making or keeping connections with their family and friends. The accusation was that he would sit on the lounge and snore after coming home from work. This apparently became a barrier to family and friends visiting. This case was dismissed because our client got legal advice and challenged the matter in Court.

Another example may be that sometimes a spouse may not give the other person money to purchase wine or cigarettes because there is no money to purchase food for the kids. That is not DV – but reasonable financial control.  

How to win a DV Case in Court

Domestic violence cases are really won or lost on the quality of the paperwork. It’s important to ensure you have the right evidence before embarking on what can be a difficult legal and personal experience. Do not do it alone. 

If you need a defence lawyer to stand by you and fight for justice in your situation, then we’d love to help. Find out more about RK Law’s domestic violence legal services or contact the team today.


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