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Family violence: the experience of LGBTIQA+ victim survivors and avenues for support

The experience of victim survivors of family violence, especially within the LGBTIQA+ community, is diverse and nuanced. Indeed, societal attitudes and structural barriers produce a long-term stigma which affects the community, and permeates in a general underreporting of family violence in LGBTIQA+ relationships. As such, the Magistrates’ Court undertakes activities to strengthen its service to those people who are LGBTIQA+ identifying, in circumstances of family violence. Adopting this intersectional approach to family violence allows the Court and practitioners alike to consider the range of factors that affect the risk, frequency, and severity of family violence in the provision related services.

What is family violence?

The definition of family violence under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) is expansive, meaning violent, threatening, or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family to be fearful. The Act provides a non-exhaustive list of behaviour that may constitute family violence, including but not limited to:

  • Assault
  • Sexual assault or sexually abusive behaviour
  • Stalking
  • Repeated derogatory taunts
  • Intentionally damaging or destroying property
  • Intentionally causing death or injury to an animal
  • Unreasonably denying financial autonomy
  • Unreasonably withholding financial support needed to meet reasonable living expenses
  • Preventing the person from making or keeping family, friendship, and cultural connections
  • Unlawfully depriving the person of liberty

The non-exhaustive definition reflects the changing needs of society and more holistically reflects what constitutes family violence. Further to the examples provided by the Act, it should be noted that family violence not only includes physical abuse, and unfortunately many instances involve emotional or psychological abuse which manifests in different ways depending on the experience and background of the victim survivor. Family violence also extends to behaviour which causes a child to be exposed to family violence, which may include incidences where a child overhears threats, witnesses an assault or is present when a police officer attends an incident of family violence.  

The context at a glance

The prevalence of family violence in LGBTIQA+ relationships has, unfortunately, remained underreported and generally underacknowledged by relevant legal and community services. Indeed, it has predominantly remained absent from governmental, policy, and service responses which overwhelmingly adopt a heteronormative perception of the incidence of family violence. There has also been a lack of acknowledgement within the LGBTIQA+ community due to societal views which correlate the perpetration of family violence with gender and resultant gender power dynamics. Often, the perpetrator is assumed to be a man, which creates a stigma within LGBTIQA+ couples where the perpetrator may be of any gender.

The University of New South Wales, in its 2014 report “Calling it what it really is”, found that: 

  • 34.8% of all LGBTIQA+ participants reported that they had been abused sexually or physically by a previous partner
  • rates of sexual and physical abuse were higher (52.5%) for trans and gender diverse and intersex participants
  • only 12.9% made a report to the police and 31.3% never sought support, information or advice on the abuse

Family violence in LGBTIQA+ relationships can also include behaviour relating to sexual orientation or gender identity, often taking the form of threats to ‘out’ a partner publicly or using this information as a method of control.

Intervention Orders

In circumstances of family violence, victim survivors can obtain an Intervention Order at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria to protect themselves.

When deciding what conditions should be included in an Intervention Order, the Magistrate must give paramount consideration to the safety of not only the affected family member but also any children.  

A breach of an Intervention order is a criminal offence, and any breach of an Intervention Order can be reported by contacting the Police.

An Intervention Order can be applied for by:

  • A family member of the Respondent (being the person who has been alleged to have committed the family violence)
  • Children over 14 (with consent of the Court)
  • Police

The following requirements apply to applications for an Intervention Order:

  1. Is the Applicant/Affected Family Member a “family member” of the respondent as per the definition in the Act?
  2. Has the Respondent’s behaviour constituted family violence?

The Court must consider the evidence and conclude that it is more likely that there has been family violence, and it is likely to occur again.

Intervention Orders and the Magistrates’ Court

The Magistrates’ Court continues to adopt specialist programs which reflect the trauma-informed approach to family violence, as it is experienced by the LGBTIQA+ community. Namely, the Court refers LGBTIQA+ victim survivors to a specified LGBTIQA+ practitioner on election. The process required from legal practitioners is to notify the Court of the victim survivor’s circumstances which are suited to the assistance of an LGBTIQA+ specified practitioner. The Court then arranges for the victim survivor to be assisted by the practitioner, who generally assists the victim survivor during their experience.

Furthermore, Victoria Police has now appointed a number of LGBTIQA+ Liaison Officers (GLLOs) across the state. GLLOs provide a contact point for the LGBTIQA+ community and can provide advice, assistance and recommendations to Victoria Police on the policing needs of LGBTIQA+ people

In unison, these initiatives by the Magistrates’ Court and Victoria Police work towards the development of a family violence system that continues to address barriers to the identification of family violence, accessibility of services and the need for individualised responses in the LGBTIQA+ community.

In conclusion

Family violence in LGBTIQA+ relationships remains a pertinent, yet under addressed issue. While family violence continues to be perceived through a heteronormative lens at a legal and societal level, there is a continued under reporting and under acknowledgement of the LGBTIQA+ victim survivor experience.

Towards a more cohesive framework which addresses these issues, the Magistrates’ Court adopts policies and procedures which continue to improve understandings and responses and prevent further violence in LGBTIQA+ communities. If this blog post has raised any immediate concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our office by phone on 9670 4122 or email at reception@nicholeslaw.com.au to discuss how we may assist you.

By Nicholes Family Lawyers


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