Is It Really Domestic Violence?

Despite the prevalence of domestic violence in Australian families, community attitudes still seem to be ‘out of step’ with the facts.

As a first step to helping someone who is in an abusive relationship, it’s important to know how the law defines domestic violence.

In Queensland, this primarily means looking at the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (“the Act”).

A Relevant Relationship

First, the Act says there has to be a “relevant relationship”. This means the person suffering the violence has to be in a “relevant relationship” with the person perpetrating the violence. The relevant relationships are:

  1. A family relationship. For example, brother-sister, brother-father-in-law, child-parent, aunt-nephew, etc.
  2. An informal care relationship. For example, paid or volunteer carers who come into the home to provide care services.
  3. A spousal relationship including de facto relationships.
  4. An engagement relationship. For example, a couple who is engaged to be married but not living together.
  5. A couple relationship. For example, a couple who is dating, but do not live together and are not married.

Certain Behavior

Second, the Act says that domestic violence exists where one person in the relationship engages in behavior with the other person, which is:

  • physically or sexually abusive; or
  • emotionally or psychologically abusive; or
  • economically abusive; or
  • threatening; or
  • coercive, which means they compel or force the other person to do, or not do, something; or
  • in any other way controls or dominates the other person, causing them to fear for their own safety or wellbeing, or the safety and wellbeing of someone else.

The Act specifically gives the following behavior as examples of domestic violence:

  • causing personal injury to the other person or threatening to do so;
  • coercing the other person to engage in sexual activity or attempting to do so;
  • damaging the other person’s property or threatening to do so;
  • depriving the other person of their liberty or threatening to do so;
  • threatening the other person with death/injury, or death/injury of their child or someone else;
  • threatening to commit suicide or self-harm so as to torment, intimidate or frighten the other person;
  • threatening to or actually causing 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 the other person, which means the unreasonable monitoring or tracking of their movements, activities or interpersonal associations without their consent, including, for example, by using technology. Example:
    • 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 the other person.

In addition, if someone in a relevant relationship gets another person (outside of the relationship) to engage in any of the above behavior, they will be taken to have committed domestic violence.

Real Life Examples

For more examples about what constitutes domestic violence, have a look at the following links:

Gaining a better understanding of how the law defines domestic violence often surprises people.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact a support service or make an appointment to see one of our family lawyers.

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