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Australia gets national domestic abuse guide

Judges in Australia have published the country’s first national guidelines for the judiciary in domestic abuse cases.

The New South Wales (NSW) Judicial Commission’s new guide encourages judges to consider all aspects of abuse rather than just physical attacks.

Emotional and psychological abuse can consist of “angry verbal outbursts”, the “withdrawal of affection”, ignoring a partner and prolonged silence according to the guide.  Over a sustained period of time, these can form a “complex pattern of violent or abusive behaviours”.

The guide also advises that criticising a partner’s appearance or the way they keep the house can also be a possible sign of abuse. However Dr Jacoba Brasch QC, chair of the Law Council of Australia’s Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce, said “one-off” criticisms would not count. For something like this to constitute abuse, it would have to be ongoing behaviour that “coerces, controls or causes fear” in a partner, she said.

Moo Baulch is the CEO of campaign charity Domestic Violence NSW. She welcomed the new guidelines, stating that for a lot of people non-violent abuse is “often a lot harder to recover from than the physical abuse”.

There are “many abusive relationships where there is never any physical violence”, she explained, but those victims can be kept from seeing family and friends or they could be financially controlled by their partner. “You don’t need a black eye for it to be abuse”, Ms Baulch said.

The guide comes shortly after the NSW Domestic Violence Death Review Team claimed lawyers and judges used victim blaming language in these cases.

NSW Police dealt with 29,227 cases of domestic violence last year, Australia’s Daily Telegraph reports. This was a record high for the state.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Withdrawal of affection is not and cannot be a breach of the criminal law. That is s bridge too far. If affection ceases, it ceases.
    It is symptomatic of the failure to grasp the distinction: the criminal law can be applied to events and to actions; it does not work well with states of affairs.

  2. David Mortimer says:

    Domestic Violence is a social issue, not a gender problem. It will never be reduced until both sides of the problem are acknowledged and addressed by those who claim to be concerned about it.

    The persistent claim that the overwhelming majority of victims of domestic violence are women is not supported by any impartial research, either in the UK or elsewhere. The results of all gender-neutral studies of domestic violence in couple relationships, published to date, indicate that there is an almost equal numerical culpability between men and women.

    In spite of mounting evidence the issue of women’s violence has been discounted or ignored by the media, law enforcement agencies and the social services. Furthermore, there is reason to be alarmed when our understanding of family violence, policy making and allocation of scarce resources has been significantly shaped without regard to an abundance of evidence showing that family violence as a social phenomenon is not gender-specific. This clearly has important implications for research, education funding and social policy.

    The technique of collecting data from Women’s Aid type groups is misleading the public about domestic violence because they use surveys that show higher rates of men as aggressors based on National Crime Survey data or official law-enforcement records, but these studies are flawed methodologically because the samples are not representative and because men are less likely to lodge official victimisation reports.

    Another problem with much of the domestic violence literature is that it is based on clinical populations, specifically battered women receiving shelter services or therapy. Data collected and conclusions drawn from those who seek shelter or therapy cannot be generalised to the broader population. Victims who seek services may differ significantly from the broader population, so the value of these studies lies primarily in spawning clinical prescriptions for treatment, not in describing or explaining domestic violence in general. Studies of residents in shelters for battered women are sometimes cited to show that it is only their male partners who are violent. However, these studies rarely obtain or report information on assaults by women, and, when they do, they ask only about self-defence, precluding information on female initiated assaults.

  3. spinner says:

    “ignoring a partner and prolonged silence” – lol family law is a joke, are you really going to be able to call the cops on your partner because they are ignoring you.

  4. Jacky says:

    I agree with Andrew that withdrawal from affection between adults cannot be seen as a breach of criminal law…if the feeling has ceased then it has ceased….. emotional abuse is very hard to prove between adults .. unless the adult concerned is prepared to report the complaint.i have an adult child who lives with a complete control freak and she will not accept that his behaviour is wrong .if I did send the authorities rnd to her house it would be denied emphatically by both parties leaving me in a dreadful situation with her …all I can do is sit and wait for her to realise whats happening and pick up the pieces AGAIN .

  5. says:

    Agree with all of the above however, I understand the intent behind the wording. “Over a sustained period of time”, a “complex pattern” of abuse can be established through psychological torment such as ignoring a person. It’s an age old favourite with schoolyard bullies and it can be just as effective with adults. Extremely difficult to document and prove.

    It has also been my experience that often what is obvious to an observer as being abusive, is not recognised by the abuser, or indeed the person being abused who has undoubtedly lost confidence in their own ability to accurately reflect on their circumstances.

    It is a very complex area which requires us to continue to talk about the issues, raise awareness and find new approaches to deal with the growing problem in our society.

  6. Jo Archer says:

    Where there is an imbalance of power, some people will push their advantage. They know what they are intending to do and, more often than not, are very subtle about it and each incident might seem trivial, in isolation- but over time, the ordinary person on the street can see exactly what is going on. If you don’t indulge in controlling and coercive behaviour, you have nothing to worry about.

  7. Jo Archer says:

    The hard-pressed Australian Government must be idiots, then, if they have allocated $100 mill to this problem if there isn’t a problem…

  8. Andrew says:

    Jo, the point is not that that these are not matters for the law but that they are for the family and not the criminal courts.

    And not being affectionate is not an incident, it’s a state of mind.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Well put Andrew. The constant enlargement of the definition of domestic abuse/violence has become worse than farcical. It’s worse than farcical because it is so dangerous and damaging to families, especially children, and has now well and truly crossed the boundary of interference with private family life. This is yet more evidence. as if we needed it, that feminism will eventually destroy the family.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Please explain why my reply to Andrew has not been posted. It was not abusive or in any other way inappropriate.

      • Cameron Paterson says:

        Morning Stitchedup – it has been posted, hasn’t it? I can’t find any record of a comment of yours being removed

    • Jo Archer says:

      No, Andrew. These are definately crimnal matters.

      • Andrew says:

        If you mean the Aussies want to treat them as criminal, yes, indeed they do, but it’s absurd.
        “Joseph Bloggs, you are charged with having ceased to feel any love or affection for Susan Sloggs, do you plead guilty or not guilty?”
        And what sentence would you pass?

  9. Susan Titus Glascoff says:

    Each comment already written has some merit, although I do caution re treating DV as 50/50 as many men’s groups in the U.S. even corroborate (such as Vice Pres. Biden’s Founding Fathers, etc. & one group even stating that viewing DV as 50/50 impairs solutions). Some females are surely nasty, including some female judges, but making this a gender war will only increase antagonism! DV is a HUMAN issue with worst effects re how kids turn out as they have high tendency to learn what they live- natch! It is well documented here, as well as in UK & I believe in Australia & elsewhere, that 1000s of kids yearly are ordered into unsupervised contact (custody or visits) with abusive parent (more often the dad) when they divorce or separate. That promotes both boys & girls becoming dysfunctional in assorted ways -some of which are more gender specific – since cycling of abusive behaviors is also well documented. Past 2-3 decades books & articles have been published re all this as have several award-winning documentaries with new one in process. JKRowling re serious issues- “They can refuse to know.”
    At the very least it seems that well-developed countries need to share ideas re how to insure their legal systems can establish checks & balances when there are custody & visitation disputes because maximizing development of responsible, non-violent, caring adults seems increasingly critical for WORLD survival! How about asking everyone to use a catchy promotion such as- “How Kids Turn Out Everywhere Determines Everything. How Could It Not?” ? THEN require each discussion of each issue to give pros & cons re how it affects kids, being careful that participants be well-trained re recognizing Dr. Jekyl /Mr. Hydes (not necessarily male), etc, etc. Don’t we need enforceable checks & balances that reflect common sense? In the U.S. last fall at a judicial forum one candidate was outraged re a judge’s decision since he’d ordered a nursing mom of 3 month old to pump her milk every other day & deliver infant to father! Pumping ahead for the day is not even physically possible! But ask YOURSELF- Wouldn’t 50/50 custody be disruptive to most kids?

    • Stitchedup says:

      “In the U.S. last fall at a judicial forum one candidate was outraged re a judge’s decision since he’d ordered a nursing mom of 3 month old to pump her milk every other day & deliver infant to father! Pumping ahead for the day is not even physically possible! But ask YOURSELF- Wouldn’t 50/50 custody be disruptive to most kids?”

      You ask people to ask themselves a question pre-loaded with an extreme scenario. I’ll ignore the extreme scenario and answer your question…. NO, not if handled in the right way.

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