Abusive behaviour and protection orders

by The FindLaw Team

The actions which can be subject to protection orders caused by domestic or family violence cover a broad range of behaviours and vary between the States. However, generally speaking, conduct that can form a basis for a protection order may include:

  • physical injuries;
  • sexual abuse;
  • threatening behaviour;
  • harassing or offensive behaviour;
  • deprivation of liberty;
  • property damage;
  • stalking;
  • injury to animals;
  • threats to carry out any of the above behaviours.

Is psychological abuse also covered in domestic violence and family violence laws?

Legislation across all jurisdictions has recognised the effect psychological and emotional abuse, and coercive or controlling conduct can have on a victim and has now been reflected in statute law. Using s 7 of Victoria’s Family Violence Protection Act as an example of the type of behaviours that can form the basis of a protection order – comprises “behaviour by a person towards another person that torments, intimidates, harasses or is offensive to the other person”.

The types of emotional and psychologically abusive behaviour that the Act deems as abusive are:

  • repeated derogatory taunts that can include racial taunts;
  • threats to disclose a person’s sexual orientation to family and friends against the person’s wishes;
  • threats to withhold a person’s medication;
  • preventing a person from making or keeping connections with their family, friends or culture – which can include preventing a person from expressing or practicing cultural or spiritual ceremonies;
  • threats to commit suicide or self-harm with the intention of intimidating or tormenting a family member, or threatening death or injury of another person.

Can ‘economic abuse’ be subject to a protection order?

The Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria have specifically recognised ‘economic abuse’ as behaviour that can be subject to a protection order. Looking to s 8 of the Domestic and Family Violence Act of the Northern Territory, economic abuse is defined as “coercing a person to relinquish control over assets or income” – such as using standover tactics to obtain a person’s credit card for example.

Further behaviour that can be considered as economic abuse by the Act can also include:

  • unreasonably disposing of property without consent, whether it is jointly owned with the person or by someone else;
  • unreasonably preventing the person from taking part in decisions over household expenditure or the disposition of joint property;
  • withholding money reasonably necessary for the maintenance of the person or a child.

We can also look to s 8(5) of South Australia’s Intervention Orders (Prevention Of Abuse) Act for further examples of economic abuse, which can include:

  • without lawful excuse, preventing the person from having access to joint financial assets for the purposes of meeting normal household expenses;
  • preventing a person from seeking or keeping employment;
  • causing the person through coercion or deception to claim social security payments, or sign a power of attorney enabling the person’s finances to be managed by another person, are just some of the other examples considered as economic abuse.

 What are the requirements for the issuing of a protection order?

The States and Territories have differing requirements on when a protection order can be issued, for example, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria require that past instances of family violence and the likelihood that it will happen again forms the basis for a protection order, while in New South Wales and the Northern Territory require “fear” from a victim as to when a protection order can be issued. If there are no specific acts of violence, fear of violence, harassment or intimidation, then protection orders may not be issued.

Although, we should state that once again, the States and Territories differ on whether an objective or subjective fear of violence is sufficient for a protection, but for the most part, the courts apply an objective test on whether the fear from a person is objectively warranted and that it is satisfied on the balance of probabilities.

If you’re seeking further information on the types of orders that can be made, click here.

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance due to a family law matter, please seek the help of a lawyer who will be able to help.


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