Children and the Domestic Violence Act
The Domestic Violence Act beefed up protection for children (see also Hitting children – section 59 in this publication).
Children under 17 can apply for protection orders in their own right through a representative. A child can also be included in their parent’s application for a protection order.
The Act aims to keep children safe. If violence is proved, the court will not allow the violent person to have custody or unsupervised access, unless it is satisfied that the children will be safe.
It is important to tell the school, day-care centre or other caregivers about a protection order so that the violent person cannot have access outside the court-ordered arrangement. It is also important to say exactly who is allowed to visit or collect the children from school or day-care.
If the parents of a child are married, or they were living together when the child was born, both parents have custody rights unless the court says otherwise. Make an application for sole custody if you are a parent who fears your partner will harm you or the children or take the children away.
Your partner will be ordered to attend a stopping violence programme. Occasionally the court might decide there are special reasons for them to be exempt.
The Police response
The Police have a policy of arresting family violence offenders.
For the Police, “family violence” includes:
“... violence that is either physical, emotional, psychological or sexual. It includes people in all types of relationships; not just married couples, but those in de facto and homosexual relationships, children and other relatives of those directly involved in the abuse, flatmates or other people who share accommodation, and anyone in a close personal relationship. It includes not only violence, but also intimidation or threats of violence, damage to property, and allowing a child to witness the physical, sexual or psychological abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship.”
Police policy recognises that the protection of the victim is priority. Their aim when they are called is to stop the violence, ensure the safety of any children who might be present and organise support for the victims.
Offenders will be held accountable for the violence by bringing them into the criminal justice system. When they investigate a case of family violence, Police will intervene immediately to stop any further violence.
The assailant, if a male, will usually be charged with “male assaults female”.
Offenders who have breached a protection order, or who are responsible for family violence offences, are arrested, unless exceptional circumstances exist. The arrest is to ensure the victim is made safe and has an opportunity to get help and advice without interference from the offender. The victim will usually be told if the offender is freed from custody.
The Police will check the house for firearms and other weapons. Where there are grounds for applying for a protection order, the Police will consider seizing any firearms or other weapons the offender owns or has access to, and also revoking his or her firearms licence.
If the offender has breached a protection order, any weapons or firearms in their possession or control will be seized.
Once the victim’s safety is established, the Police will normally arrange for help agencies to be called, whatever the hour. In most areas, Women’s Refuge and Victim Support have 24-hour crisis lines that the Police can call. It means that a trained helper will call on the victim immediately to help calm the victim and advise what ongoing support is available.
Don’t turn a blind eye
Sometimes we know or suspect what’s happening. It could be:
the woman wearing sunglasses that barely hide the black eye, explaining that she fell. . . .
the man who, fearing ridicule from his mates or co-workers, cannot confide that the burns on his arms came from his wife attacking him with a hot iron. . . .
the child with welts and bruises all over their body. . . .
the flatmate who is everyone else’s target for teasing that is malicious rather than just fun. . . .
the elderly woman who seems to have a lot of “falls” when a particular relative visits.
Victims can be good at hiding the signs of violence in their homes. They might be ashamed, scared or too proud to say anything.
Clues can be picked up from:
depression that can’t be explained;
taking more drugs or alcohol than seems normal;
bruising or difficulty moving;
excessive concern with housework or the relationship;
isolation from people close to them;
making last-minute excuses not to see people closer to them.
The signs of abuse in children can include:
moodiness, irritability, excessive crying;
loss of appetite and change in eating habits;
changes in behaviour at school or towards other people, regularly missing school;
dirty appearance, wearing clothes not adequate for the climate;
withdrawing into themselves;
being afraid to go home, running away;
undernourished and not taken to the doctor when ill;
inability to concentrate;
having unexplained fears – of the dark, of being alone, of specific people (relatives and friends), and of places such as the toilet or bedroom;
sleep disturbances – nightmares, fear of going to bed or sleeping alone;
being unsupervised for long spells.
Violence against children can also be indicated by signs of physical harm – bruises, burns, fractures, scalds or grazes. Injuries can be accidental, but if a child seems to be hurt often, the injuries are getting more serious, or there is something odd about them, then it could be abuse.
Emotional abuse is more difficult to see, and because emotional abuse doesn’t wear bruises or broken bones, we might not treat it as seriously as we do physical violence.
Emotionally abused children might:
tend to believe they’re bad and worthless;
have problems getting on with others or be hard to live with;
“shut off” or become too good;
have difficulty controlling their anger.
Sexually abused children might:
complain of genital pain or irritation, or get infections and urinary problems;
start doing something they’ve grown out of, such as crying, wetting or soiling their pants, or being “clingy”;
indulge in inappropriate sexual play;
give a coded message, or say straight out that they’re being abused.