The Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) (“the Act”) defines ‘family violence’ as behaviour by a person towards a family member of that person that is physically or sexually abusive, emotionally or psychologically abusive, economically abusive, threatening or coercive, or in any other way controls or dominates the family member and causes that family member to feel fear for the safety or wellbeing of that family member or another person.
The meaning of emotional or psychological abuse for the purposes of the Act means behaviour by a person towards another person that torments, intimidates, harasses or is offensive to the other person. Examples of such abuse are provided for in the Act and specifically include the act of threatening to disclose a person’s sexual orientation to the person’s friends or family against the person’s wishes.
Emotional or psychological abuse also includes behaviours such as repeated derogatory taunts including racial taunts, threatening to withhold a person’s medication, preventing a person from making or keeping connections with the person’s family, friends or culture and threatening to commit suicide or self-harm with the intention of tormenting or intimidating a family member, or threatening the death or injury of another person.
The definition of ‘family member’ for the purposes of the Act is given broad meaning and includes a person who is, or has been, the relevant person’s spouse or domestic partner, or a person who has, or has had, an intimate personal relationship with the relevant person. The Act applies to heterosexual and same-sex relationships, regardless of the length of the intimate personal relationship or the current relationship status of the parties.
Defining ‘outing’ as a form of abuse
Policies on family violence are traditionally gendered and focus predominantly on heterosexual relationships involving women as victims and men as perpetrators, however, the introduction of the Act has broadened the definition of Affected Family Members to include children who are exposed to family violence, and non-gender specific relationships.
In a submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence on Family Violence and the LGBTIQ Community, Dr Philomena Horsley touched on ‘outing’ as a form of abuse and noted that other jurisdictions are starting to recognise the threat of outing as a form of family violence.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies refers to domestic violence within the LGBTIQ as ‘intimate partner violence’ which can take the form of ‘outing’ whereby a partner may use their partner’s sexuality as a form of control by threatening to disclose their sexuality.
Victims of family violence are eligible to apply for a Family Violence Intervention Order which has the effect of restraining the perpetrator from committing family violence on the Affected Family Member. If the Order is granted by the Magistrates Court of Victoria, criminal offences may apply for breaches of the Intervention Order.
In the case of an emergency victims experiencing family violence contact 000 for assistance. Telephone and online counselling for victims of family violence is also available via 1800RESPECT (1800-737-732), https://www.1800respect.org.au/.