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Family Violence and the Family Pet

Family violence is arguably one of the most pervasive forms of violence faced by our community.  The issue has recently gained popular attention as a result of campaigners such as Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who along with others, have campaigned for reforms to the community’s response to family violence. The issue has moved further into focus with the first week of the Royal Commission into Family Violence hearings commencing on 13 July 2015.

Nearly one in five women report being subject to family violence in some part of their adult lives. Family violence is the leading preventable contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women between the ages of 15 – 44.  Australia wide, the yearly average holds that more than one woman per week is murdered at the hands of her current or former partner.

Sadly, animals are often used as a tool of control, fear and intimidation by perpetrators of family violence. Perpetrators may use threats or actual acts of violence on the family pet as a means to control their partner.

A study of women entering refuges after fleeing family violence found that 71% of those who owned pets reported that their perpetrator had threatened, hurt or killed their pets. Further, 32% of mothers reported that their children who were exposed to the violence had hurt or killed their pets. Another survey found that 60% of women delayed leaving their abusive partner because they were afraid of leaving their pet behind.

In 2011, the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (‘the Act’) was amended to expand the definition of family violence. Section 4AB(2)(f) lists examples of behavior that constitutes family violence, including, “intentionally causing death or injury to an animal.” 

Further, s 4AB(1) of the Act provides that “family violence means violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or causes the family member to be fearful.” This expanded definition covers situations in which an animal is threatened but not actually harmed if the threat was intended to coerce a family member or cause a family member to be fearful.

The Victorian Government has recently pledged $100,000 over the next four years to provide shelter and care for pets when their owners are fleeing family violence. This program has yet to become fully operational, however, once implemented it will be overseen by family violence response centre, Safe Steps.

The RSPCA has also recently made a submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The RSPCA made the following recommendations:

  1. Compulsory reporting of family violence for all authorised RSPCA officers;
  2. Training and reporting mechanisms for early intervention for all authorised RSPCA officers;
  3. Compulsory reporting of family violence for all veterinarians;
  4. Training and reporting mechanisms for early intervention for veterinarians;
  5. Shelters for fleeing victims of family violence which accommodate pets;
  6. Local governments to implement animal accommodation for families in crisis; and
  7. Government funding for boarding animals at private boarding establishments.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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