Sutherland Shire Leading the Way on Domestic Violence Initiatives with the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

In April 2016, an Australian first trial of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme was launched in the St George and Sutherland Shire.

Under the pilot program, people in the St George and Sutherland Shire area, who feel they or someone they know are at risk of domestic violence by a romantic partner, have been able to go into their local police station to find out whether that person has a history of violence.

Applications can be made by partners or by a concerned third party. However, if police believe there is a serious risk involved, the individual believed to be in danger will be notified of the information within 48 hours.

The program values the safety of at risk partners above that of the right to privacy for the past perpetrators.

In the modern age of internet dating and matching making apps such as “tinder”, people are meeting up and becoming romantically involved with people they know virtually nothing about. This creates opportunities for perpetrators of domestic and family violence to slowly escalate their behaviour with romantic partners who may not be aware of what is happening until it is too late.

Unfortunately, the program hasn’t received the publicity it deserves, but by all reports it is starting to gather momentum in the local community.

According to Fairfax Media, across all areas in 12 months, 65 primary and third-party applications have been made under the scheme and of these applications, 20 have been approved.

In the St George and Sutherland Shire areas 20 applications have been made which have resulted with six (6) of those resulting in disclosure being made under the scheme.

It is common for perpetrators of domestic and family violence to repeat abusive and controlling behaviour in successive relationships. Identifying the signs early and being able to make enquires about a partner’s past behaviour when it comes to domestic and family violence can be crucial in not becoming a victim yourself.

Of course, just because a partner does not have a police or criminal record for domestic violence, does not mean they have not been a perpetrator in the past, with many instances of domestic and family violence going unreported.

Family violence is a serious issue for all communities and one that cannot be ignored. Cases of family violence are treated extremely seriously by the Family Court when dealing with Parenting Cases.

In 2011, the definition of family violence in the Family Law Act was expanded to incorporate notions of coercion and control (which are not always accompanied by physical violence or threats). At the same time, the definition of child abuse was amended to include serious psychological harm arising from the child being subjected to or exposed to family violence. The Family Law Act contains a range of provisions designed to protect parties and children from family violence.

The definition of family violence is contained in section 4AB of the Family Law Act and states:

  • For the purposes of this Act, family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person's family (the family member), or causes the family member to be fearful.
 
  • Examples of behaviour that may constitute family violence include (but are not limited to):
    • an assault; or
    • a sexual assault or other sexually abusive behaviour; or
    • stalking; or
    • repeated derogatory taunts; or
    • intentionally damaging or destroying property; or
    • intentionally causing death or injury to an animal; or
    • unreasonably denying the family member the financial autonomy that he or she would otherwise have had; or
    • unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet the reasonable living expenses of the family member, or his or her child, at a time when the family member is entirely or predominantly dependent on the person for financial support; or
    • preventing the family member from making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture; or
    • unlawfully depriving the family member, or any member of the family member's family, of his or her liberty.
 
  • For the purposes of this Act, a child is exposed to family violence if the child sees or hears family violence or otherwise experiences the effects of family violence.
 
  • Examples of situations that may constitute a child being exposed to family violence include (but are not limited to) the child:
 
  • overhearing threats of death or personal injury by a member of the child's family towards another member of the child's family; or
  • seeing or hearing an assault of a member of the child's family by another member of the child's family; or
  • comforting or providing assistance to a member of the child's family who has been assaulted by another member of the child's family; or
  • cleaning up a site after a member of the child's family has intentionally damaged property of another member of the child's family; or
  • being present when police or ambulance officers attend an incident involving the assault of a member of the child's family by another member of the child's family.

As you can see, family violence covers much more than physically abusive behaviour and unfortunately, many victims of family violence do not even realise they are victims.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic or family violence, do not be afraid to contact the local police or Sutherland Shire Family Services at http://ssfs.org.au/.

Daniel Stephenson
Lawyer

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