Children who experience Childhood Trauma do not “just get over it”

Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, and horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspires survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).

traumaIn fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.

If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.

If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on over drive and senses threat everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.

Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart racing, breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only lasts for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.

Then stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old though, how will you cope, especially as your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?

As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.

The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:


Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose

Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant

Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt that baby’s get more kindness and attention or have some inbuilt ‘memory’ of this – this can be negatively viewed as regression yet is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them so it needs gentle handling and holding until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch but were driven to seek it out, that takes real courage.

Dramatic reactions

When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over

The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously over used, it will be fight

Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use

They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’


Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body copes with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults

Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.

How long until they do ‘get over it?’

It’s a fair question as why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?

Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!

Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy.As practitioners it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far. 



Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence grow up in an environment that is unpredictable, filled with tension and anxiety and dominated by fear. This can lead to significant emotional and psychological trauma, similar to that experienced by children who are victims of child abuse. Instead of growing up in an emotionally and physically safe, secure, nurturing and predictable environment, these children are forced to worry about the future;  they try to predict when it might happen next and try to protect themselves and their siblings. Often getting through each day is the main objective so there is little time left for fun, relaxation or planning for the future.  

Emotional and psychological trauma

Children living with domestic violence suffer emotional and psychological trauma from the impact of living in a household that is dominated by tension and fear. These children will see their mother threatened, demeaned or physically or sexually assaulted. They will overhear conflict and violence and see the aftermath of the violence such as their mother’s injuries and her traumatic response to the violence.  Children also may be used and manipulated by the abuser to hurt their mother.
A report undertaken by the Queensland Domestic Violence Taskforce 1988 stated that 90 per cent of children present in violent homes had witnessed the violence perpetrated against their mother. In research undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology 15 per cent of young people surveyed had experienced domestic violence and 32 per cent of young people knew someone who had experienced domestic violence (National Research on Young People’s Attitudes and Experiences of Domestic Violence 2000).  Children witnessing the violence inflicted on their mothers often evidence behavioural, somatic or emotional problems similar to those experienced by physically abused children (Jaffe, Wolfe, and Wilson 1990). 

Risk of physical injury

Children may be caught in the middle of an assault by accident or because the abuser intends it.  Infants can be injured if being held by their mothers when the abuser strikes out. Children may be hurt if struck by a weapon or a thrown object and older children are frequently assaulted when they intervene to defend or protect their mothers (Hilberman and Munson 1977-78). 

Direct victim of physical or sexual abuse:

A child may be directly targeted by the perpetrator and suffer physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or serious neglect. It has been more than 2 decades since the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse was identified; men who abuse their partners are also likely to assault their children. The abuse of women who are mothers usually predates the infliction of child abuse (Stark & Flitcraft 1988). At least half of all abusive partners also batter their children (Pagelow 1989). The more severe the abuse of the mother, the worse the child abuse (Bowker, Arbitell, and McFerron 1988).
Daughters are more likely than sons to become victims (Dobash and Dobash 1979). Woman abuse is also the context for sexual abuse of female children. Where the mother is assaulted by the father, daughters are exposed to a risk of sexual abuse 6.51 times greater than girls in non-abusive families (Bowker, Arbitell and McFerron 1988). Where a male is the perpetrator of child abuse, one study demonstrated that there is a 70 per cent chance that any injury to the child will be severe and 80 per cent of child fatalities within the family are attributable to fathers or father surrogates (Bergman, Larsen and Mueller 1986). 

Violence occurring during or after separation including child abduction

There is clear evidence that abusers often increase their use of violence and abuse to stop their partners from leaving, or to force their partners and children to return home following separation. The abuser may attempt to take the children away from their mother to punish the woman for leaving and in some cases children have even been killed.  The risk to children during and following separation is substantial.  


Children and young people’s reactions to domestic violence

  • Self-blame
  • Helplessness
  • Grief
  • Ambivalence
  • Fear
  • Dread
  • Terror 
  • Worry
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Numbness 

How domestic violence impacts on children

  • Poor concentration
  • Aggression, hyperactivity, disobedience
  • Disturbed sleep, nightmares
  • Withdrawal, low self-esteem
  • Showing no emotion (‘spaced out’)
  • Always on edge, wary
  • Fantasise about normal home life
  • Pessimism about the future
  • Physical symptoms 

How domestic violence impacts on young people

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Abuse of parents
  • Take on a caretaker role prematurely, trying to protect their mother
  • Poorly developed communication skills
  • Parent-child conflict
  • Enter marriage or a relationship early to escape the family home
  • Embarrassed about family
  • Shame
  • Poor self-image
  • Eating disorders
  • Low academic achievement
  • Dropping out from school
  • Low self-esteem
  • Staying away from home
  • Leaving home early
  • Running away from home
  • Feeling isolated from others
  • Violent outbursts
  • Participating in dangerous risk-taking behaviours to impress peers
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Difficulty communicating feelings
  • Nightmares
  • Experiencing violence in their own dating relationships
  • Physical injuries when they try to intervene to protect mother
  • Suicide 

The extent each child will be impacted varies depending on:

  • The length of time the child was exposed to the domestic violence;
  • The age of the child when the exposure began;
  • Whether the child has also experienced child abuse with the domestic violence;
  • The presence of additional stressors such as poverty, community violence, parental substance abuse or mental illness and disruptions in family life;
  • Whether the child has a secure attachment to a non-abusing parent or other significant adult;
  • Whether the child has a supportive social network;
  • Whether the child has strong cultural identity and ethnic pride;
  • The child’s own positive coping skills and experience of success;
  • Family access to health, education, housing, social services and employment
Often the behavioural and emotional impacts of domestic and family violence will improve when children and their mothers are safe, the violence is no longer occurring and they receive support and specialist counselling.
Apart from the emotional, physical, social and behavioural damage abuse creates for children, statistics show that domestic violence can also become a learned behaviour. This means that children may grow up to think it is okay to use violence to get what they want and as adults that it is okay for there to be violence in their relationships.
the article is published from Queensland Organisation
Domestic Violence Prevention Centre _ Gold Coast

Walking on eggshells Emotional Abuse and Domestic Violence

Anger and abuse in relationships begin with blame: “I feel bad, and it’s your fault.”

Even when they recognize the wrongness of their behavior, resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive people are likely to blame it on their partners: “You push my buttons,” or, “I might have overreacted, but I’m human, and look what you did!” Angry and abusive people feel likevictims, which justifies in their mindsvictimizing others.

Angry and abusive partners tend to be anxious by temperament. From the time they were children, they’ve had a sense of dread that things will go badly and that they will fail to cope. They try to control their environment to avoid feelings of failure and inadequacy. The strategy of trying to control others fails to satisfy them for the simple reason that the primary cause of their anxiety is within them. It springs from one of two sources—a heavy dread of failure, or fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation.


The Silent Abuser

Not all emotional abuse involves shouting or criticism. More common forms are “disengaging” (a distracted or preoccupied partner) or “stonewalling” (a partner who refuses to accept anyone else’s perspective).  

Partners who stonewall may not overtly put anyone down. Nevertheless, they punishby refusing even to think about their partners’ perspectives. If they listen at all, they do so dismissively or impatiently.

Disengaging partners say, “Do whatever you want, just leave me alone.” They’re often workaholics, couch potatoes, flirts, or obsessive about something. They try to deal with their sense of inadequacy about relationships by simply not trying—since no attempt means no failure.

Both stonewalling and disengaging tactics can make you feel:

  • Unseen and unheard;
  • Unattractive;
  • Like you don’t count;
  • Like a single parent.

Harmful Adaptations to Anger and Abuse: Walking on Eggshells

The most insidious aspect of living with an angry or abusive partner is not the obvious—nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behavior. It’s the adaptations you make to try to prevent those episodes. You walk on eggshells to keep the peace, or a semblance of connection.

Women can be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of walking on eggshells due to their greater tendency to be vulnerable to anxiety. Many may engage in constant self-editing and self-criticism to keep from “pushing his buttons.” Emotionally abused women may second-guess themselves so much that they feel as though they have lost themselves in a hole. Emotionally abused men tend to isolate more and more, losing themselves in work or hobbies—anything but family interactions.

No One Escapes the Effects of Abuse

Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. We know that no less than half the members of such families, including children, will suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” meaning that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. They can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy themselves without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem(based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good about themselves as other kids.

When it comes to more severe forms of destructiveness, purely emotional abuse is usually more psychologically harmful than physical abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this: Even in the most violent families, incidents tend to be cyclical. Early in the abuse cycle, a violent outburst may be followed by a “honeymoon period” of remorse, attention, affection, and generosity—but not genuine compassion. (The honeymoon stage eventually ends, as the victim begins to say, “Never mind the flowers, just stop hitting me!”) Emotional abuse, on the other hand, tends to happen every day—the effects are more harmful because they’re more frequent.

The other factor that makes emotional abuse so devastating is the greater likelihood that victims will blame themselves. When someone hits you, it’s easy to see that he or she is the problem. But when the abuse is subtle—saying or implying that you’re ugly, a bad parent, stupid, incompetent, not worth attention, or that no one could love you—you are more likely to think it’s your problem.

Important questions to ask of yourself:

  • Do I like myself?
  • Am I able to realize my potential?
  • Does everyone I care about feel safe?
  • Do my children like themselves?
  • Are they able to realize their fullest potential?
  • Do they feel safe?

Recovery from walking on eggshells requires removing focus from the repair of your relationship, or your partner, and placing it squarely on your personal healing. The good news is that the most powerful form of healing comes from within you. You can draw on your inner resources by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner does. And it will give you the strength to seek a relationship in which you are valued and respected.

This is an interesting article I found in Pyschology Today about Anger & abuse & walking on eggshells.

PTSD due to Domestic violence and no sleep is like being the walking dead

Its 1.34am in the morning. I have been to bed three times already tonight, fallen asleep possibly a few times, but woken by my PTSD.

Have warm milk, don’t get up, try to relax, these are some the advice given by thoughtful family members. 

Instead im up researching sleephealth at the australian foundation. I cannot lay in bed for half an hour, not sleeping and fidgeting!

this is what they say

How might PTSD affect sleep?

There are may sleep problems that may be associated with PTSD.

• The extreme anxiety of PTSD (caused by trauma or catastrophe) can seriously disrupt sleep. In some cases this starts a few months after the event. You might suffer from horror or strong fear and feel helpless.

See Anxiety and Sleep.

• People with PTSD have higher rates of depression and this is often associated with poor sleep.

See Depression and Sleep.

• Side effects of medications used to treat symptoms of PTSD, such as those used to treat depression and anxiety, may cause sleep problems. Talk to your doctor about this.

• Nightmares. These may be types of ‘nocturnal flashbacks’ of the event that caused the PTSD. The nightmares may be linked to the PTSD in a symbolic sense, or they can be frightening and not make any sense.

• You may experience other problems with how you sleep such as sleep terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, upsetting dreams and night sweats or REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder, where dreams are acted out.

• Insomnia.

People with PTSD may have difficulty with getting to sleep or staying asleep. They may wake up frequently during the night and be unable to get back to sleep. • Issues linked to the body clock, such as Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder may occur in a person with PTSD. If you can’t get to sleep until very late at night and then need to sleep in you may be experiencing this problem.

• Obstructive Sleep Apnoea may be caused by weight gain due to the life style changes associated with the PTSD. If the sleep apnoea is serious, medications such as Seroquel can be an additional danger.

• It is important to remember that poor sleep can make the other symptoms of PTSD worse. How might these sleep disorders be treated in people with PTSD? For many such problems it is important to keep Good Sleep Habits.

People who are most at risk of PTSD include many professions where shift work may also be common, such as police officers, people in the armed forces, and those who work in emergency services (e.g. fire fighters and ambulance personnel).

A person with PTSD who does shift work may need to pay special attention to maximising their sleep time and sleep quality. A sleep psychologist may be able

Raising awareness of sleep health Important Things to Know About PTSD and Sleep

• PTSD can happen after a period of extreme trauma and stress.

• One of the symptoms of PTSD may be problems with sleeping.

• The treatment for this will depend on how the PTSD is affecting sleep.

• There are many treatments available.

How might PTSD affect sleep? There are may sleep problems that may be associated with PTSD. 

• The extreme anxiety of PTSD (caused by trauma or catastrophe) can seriously disrupt sleep. In some cases this starts a few months after the event. You might suffer from horror or strong fear and feel helpless.

See Anxiety and Sleep.

• People with PTSD have higher rates of depression and this is often associated with poor sleep. See Depression and Sleep.

• Side effects of medications used to treat symptoms of PTSD, such as those used to treat depression and anxiety, may cause sleep problems. Talk to your doctor about this.

• Nightmares. These may be types of ‘nocturnal flashbacks’ of the event that caused the PTSD. The nightmares may be linked to the PTSD in a symbolic sense, or they can be frightening and not make any sense.

• You may experience other problems with how you sleep such as sleep terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, upsetting dreams and night sweats or REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder, where dreams are acted out.

• Insomnia. People with PTSD may have difficulty with getting to sleep or staying asleep. They may wake up frequently during the night and be unable to get back to sleep.

• Issues linked to the body clock, such as Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder may occur in a person with PTSD. If you can’t get to sleep until very late at night and then need to sleep in you may be experiencing this problem.

• Obstructive Sleep Apnoea may be caused by weight gain due to the life style changes associated with the PTSD. If the sleep apnoea is serious, medications such as Seroquel can be an additional danger.

• It is important to remember that poor sleep can make the other symptoms of PTSD worse. How might these sleep disorders be treated in people with PTSD? For many such problems it is important to keep Good Sleep Habits. People who are most at risk of PTSD include many professions where shift work may also be common, such as police officers, people in the armed forces, and those who work in emergency services (e.g. fire fighters and ambulance personnel).

A person with PTSD who does shift work may need to pay special attention to maximising their sleep time and sleep quality. A sleep psychologist may be able assist. SHF-PTSD-0312 21/3/12 6:20 PM Page 1 Nightmares can often be successfully treated with Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT).

IRT is not much more than writing a script of the nightmare. The only thing is that the ending is changed to something happier. Every night as you go to bed, you read the script out aloud a few times. Then as you fall asleep you use a technique to relax. The nightmare happens, except that now it does not end badly. In time, it will go away. Success depends on the choice of the new ending.

This means that it needs to be chosen carefully and a sleep psychologist can help. REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder also responds well to Image Rehearsal Therapy. Often, treatment with the benzodiazepine Clonazepam (Rivotril) may be used.

Sleepwalking and talking can be dealt with by hypnosis.

Often as part of the treatment you might learn methods to relax as you go to bed. For military people with sleep disorders and PTSD, sleeping tablets often don’t work well.

This is because their training has taught them to be alert around the clock. In brief, being on patrol means that it is hard to find the chance to sleep deeply at night. Hypnosis can work to help un-learn this. Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD), where the hours of sleep are later than usual, is common in those who have served in wars.

A former soldier might not let himself / herself sleep until near dawn. The reason they do this is that they worry they will get nightmares if they sleep in the dark. So, over the years the body clock gets stuck on a sleep wake cycle that is not at the normal times.

Or it can be that DSPD stems from years of military “shiftwork” schedules of army guard duty or ever-changing watches in the navy at sea. Sleeping pills can not change this body clock. All they do is mask the underlying problem, often without providing refreshing sleep.

Melatonin may help with such problems.

ok I have read all the material and still awake. As boring as reading it for the fifth time, i am still not tired.

Back to warm milk perhaps (again)

Brandis & Cash will let 184 women be killed by #domesticviolence before release in 2017

National Family Violence Bench Book

9 June 2015

Joint media release

Senator The Hon George Brandis QC

Minister Assisting The Prime Minister For Women
Senator The Hon Michaelia Cash

Today we announce that work has commenced on a National Family Violence Bench Book which is another Abbott Government initiative to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence.

The current prevalence of family violence in Australia is utterly unacceptable. The Abbott Government has made it a priority to protect the safety of women and children.

It is fundamental that women and their families are safe from violence in their homes and communities and we remain absolutely committed to ensuring we reduce and ultimately end domestic violence.

The Bench Book will be a comprehensive online tool for judges across Australia, covering civil and criminal laws in federal, state and territory jurisdictions. It will promote best practice and consistency in judicial decision making in cases involving family violence.

This is a significant step towards an effective, harmonised approach to family violence in our courts. We have asked the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, in partnership with the University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law, to develop the Bench Book.

An expert advisory group, including judges, legal practitioners and academics will inform the content.

The Bench Book implements a recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in their 2010 Report, Family Violence— A National Legal Response. It will complement efforts under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

We thank the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the University of Queensland for undertaking this important work.

The Bench Book will be made available in June 2017. We look forward to it becoming Australia’s leading judicial resource on family violence in the court system.

No Justice Family Court Australia Reabusing Domestic Violence Survivors

In 2012, approximately 5000 women in Victoria used the services of the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Outreach Services. Of those 5000 women it is estimated that most of the services were for women and children escaping violence. After two years, 350 of those service users were randomly selected to see where they are now.

All of the group were immediately homeless upon leaving the family home environment. Some left without their children, and in 29 per cent of the cases do not have access to their children anymore. The perpetrator of the Family Violence, or government agencies have become the caregivers. In total that is 152 children without their mother in their lives. What generation of children will we have in the future?

A further 68 percent of the group now share “Parental responsibly” with their perpetrator, and “Shared Care”. Which means they get to face their perpetrator on a regular basis, and their children get to spend time with the person who they watched inflict violence on their mother. The biggest concern of this group was the undue pressure placed on them by Lawyers and the Family Court to share care with their perpetrator or otherwise be seen as an alienating parent.

Their legal support ranged from Legal Aid to Privately engaged Solicitors, to self-representation.

Family Violence Royal Commission Recommendation

1. Violence of any type needs to be recognised and should become a specialised legal area. Education and understanding is the key.

When you speak to lawyers, they will inform you, that usually you will become specialised in one area, and basically stick to it throughout their career. Yet I have had the privilege of seeing Family Court Barristers who “cut their teeth” so to speak in Criminal Law, and only went into Family Law recently. Their performances in court remind me of something of a circus that should have stayed at the Supreme Court.

Again and again I have seen Family Violence victims treated with disrespect by not only the legal profession, but also by Judges. Justice Thornton who was one of the first female Magistrates in Melbourne cut her teeth in the days of armed robbers, corrupt police, and women were sparse, not only on the bench. She went onto a successful career at the Country Court, and the Full Bench of The County Court before being made a Family Court Judge.

But to survive that sort of atmosphere of tough crimes, and horrendous acts, it would toughen anyones heart. I am not suggesting Justice Thornton is in any way bias, it his her criminal law past that has become part of her mannerisms.

So when you are in her courtroom one can close their eyes and be reminded of the late 1970’s and the old Melbourne Bluestone Magistrates Court. This is not the type of atmosphere anyone who has suffered family violence should be subjected to.

2. Legal assistance is a right not a privilege.

Legal Aid, now that is another circus altogether. Firstly you need to be fortunate enough to even qualify for legal aid, (which in the 350 women less than 60 did, basically less than ten percent.) The reason being is they had assets. That is correct. Even if you dont live in the family home, or have no access to your ex partners superannuation, or their bank accounts, these are deemed assets so you do not qualify for legal aid. Time and time again family violence victims are turned away from legal aid.

If you are fortunate to even get legal aid, each time a victim of Family violence attends court, they get a different lawyer. So they repeat most or some of their story (yet again) and hope and pray for the best.

Had these women been found at sea and been acknowledged as a refugee, they would gain more free legal assistance than women from family violence.

Then there are the family violence victims who sign over their potential assests in order to get legal assistance. Yes, your equity in your family home, and anything else you own can be hocked so to speak to assist you with legal assistance. That is only until the legal fees come close to the value of your assests, then you no longer qualify for any further assistance, and you are on your own.

Self represented family violence victims up against a party with representation is possibly the worst case scenario I have had to watch in Family Court. Usually the Judge becomes agitated  because time is being wasted, but also the unfairness and pressure placed on someone in this situation is so difficult to watch. Hence they sign up to shared care with their perpetrator, the quickest and easiest solution to get out of the court cycle.

What happened to the other 3 percent of the follow-up study? Well it is actually 10 women. In six cases the father has had no contact or walked away from the ex partner  (five did not have children and one was pregnant at the time which was stillborn), and the other four have partners incarcerated. No, only one was incarcerated for violence. The other three are in prison for other offences.

If you would like to read more about womens experiences with the family court and family violence a detailed report by Dr Lesley Laing called NO WAY TO LIVE should be read.

“No way to live”

Women’s experiences of negotiating the family law system in the context of domestic violence Dr Lesley Laing, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney. June 2010


The Honorable Chief Justice Diana Bryant I believe is attempting to support victims of Family Violence through the Family Court system. The Family Violence Best Practice Principles approved and supported by the Family Court of Australia is to be commended. You can view this at the link below

However the Chief Justice Diana Bryant has a long way to go before these principles are actually adhered to by all members of the Family Court, including Judges and staff.

I have been researching family violence in the Family Court system for approximately four years. I have been privy to some situations whereby as a bystander I have held concerns for the unethical behaviour of Judges and staff of the Family Court system.

I have attended over 700 sitting days in different Family Court rooms listening to, watching, and talking with people associated with proceedings regarding family law and more importantly family violence. This includes lawyers, barristers, court staff, security staff, victims, court support network staff, and other members of the public at family court proceedings.

Firstly my recommendations to the Family Violence Royal Commission regarding the Family Court System are as follows

1. No victim should be subjected to any type of ridicule or abuse by anyone. Family Court proceedings for any person involved is already stressful enough, then add the mixture of Family Violence and there is another fear and stress amongst parties.

This recommendation regards the following:

a. Protestors in the front area of the family court entrance. I know we are a country that has free speech, but to be subjected to certain groups yelling with a megaphone about their rights to a victim about to enter Family Court is incomprehensible.

I am going to give you an example. Please do not email me with abuse that I have used a mens group as an example here. I have met and spoken with male victims of Family Violence and they will also be featured in my blog. Violence does not have a gender and can occur across many types of blended families.

I was with a woman who was attending Family Court regarding Family Violence. At the front of the court entrance area a group of men protesting about men being victims of Family Violence started directing their speech toward the woman I was with. She had bruising to her face that was fading, and one comment that was made was “I bet he looks worse”. The woman in question became upset and that seemed to encourage an onslaught of further demeaning comments.

Fortunately I was able to get Family Court Security Staff to assist. No one has the right to behave like this. No one should be able to protest in this area ever.

b. Another time when the case of Mr Hird and the Essendon Football club recent incidents, the entrance walkway to the Family Court was full of reporters and cameras. I was that day with a woman who had just been granted an emergency relocation order due to her ex partner breaching the Family Violence Orders on 36 occasions, (including breaking into the former family home and beating the mother and children.) The Family Court had granted her permission to move to an unknown place. She had attended the Melbourne Family Court because of security fears at another Family Court Facility.

Upon coming to and from the Family Court of Melbourne she was filmed by camera crews awaiting Mr Hird and his entourage. So much for her personal security.

2. Security measures at Family Court should be effective enough to reduce the threat or fear of being subjected to any type of intolerable behaviour by any person(s) towards any other person(s). 

At the entrance to the front of the Family Court of Melbourne is inadequate with security, and deemed in my opinion quite dangerous.

a. Anyone who has had the privilege of standing in line to get through only one security check point at the Family Court in Melbourne may have been privy to some of the issues I have seen and heard. Firstly it can take up to 40 minutes some mornings. I have been present when victims and perpetrators have been within a confined distance. I have heard degrading comments made, intimidating hand gestures ( once a perpetrator kept slicing his throat with his hand and mouthing YOU’RE FUCKING DEAD) in front of me. I have heard barking (unaware who it was directed at), aggressive mannerisms, and basically stand offish filthy intimidating looks.

The entrance should be larger, contain cameras and more security. Perhaps even the model taken by the Melbourne Magistrates Court whereby solicitors, Barristers and Qcs or anyone attending the court regularly in this type of capacity have a different que in order to speed things up. I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is it is another area where a victim can be re victimized unnecessarily, or see others be victimized in front of them.

b.Upon leaving the Family Court, well that’s another matter and a whole other bag of security issues. I have seen people who have not gained the required results so to speak in the court room become upset and agitated and started being abusive towards others (including their legal representation). There should be a separate exit area. Imagine attending Family Court for the first time and hearing verbal abuse and viewing aggression from a person who is clearly upset regarding their predicament. Regardless of whether this is a once off behavioural issue, “out of character” so to speak, I have seen this time and time again. It is very concerning.

c. Security inside the Courtrooms is insufficient. I have been privy to many instances whereby I have been concerned for my own safety sitting in the gallery watching court room proceedings. There are no cameras. I have seen victims be intimidated by looks, hand gestures and remarks made by perpetrators turning their backs to where the actual microphones in the court rooms are. I have seen an entourage of family and friends in the gallery intimidating victims. I have also seen unfortunately members of the Legal profession behave in similar ways. Knowing exactly where the microphones are and turning their bodies to make snide comments to victims. I have actually been privy to a legal representative slide across the bar table written assistance to a perpetrator, and a law-book marked and open. If there were cameras in the court rooms there would be more accountability.

d. Security when no one is present in the courtroom. Cameras need to be installed. The recording of matters only occurs when the residing person is present. Therefore once they leave the court room the recording ceases. I have been privy to perpetrators taking this opportunity to intimidate victims. I have been informed by Family Court Clerk staff of their concerns for safety when they need to leave the courtroom after the Judge and having self represented litigants left by themselves. In one instance I was in the gallery when two self representing litigants involving family violence became embroiled in what can only be described as a Mexican standoff so to speak. For ten minutes I became concerned for my welfare as well as the victims.

3. When someone requests Security to be present in a courtroom it should be provided. The fear of being within a confined space with a perpetrator can trigger emotional and psychological fears. It also can be a way to intimidate the victim.

a. This would have to be one of the most highly discussed issues of concern with Victims of Family Violence. I have been privy to Justice MacMillan removing security from the courtroom because “she did not see the need for it as the defendant didn’t look like a threat to her” and she openly ridiculed the victim in the courtroom for suggesting that security was warranted. Prior to this hearing in front of Justice MacMillan the same victim had been intimidated, verbally berated, and another Judge had made sure that security was always present on numerous occasions.

b. Another case I was observing involving Justice Thornton whereby a Victim requested not to attend court physically and requested video link facilities was declined. The request was made by the victim due to recent breaches in their family Violence orders that were being investigated by Victoria Police. Justice Thornton made a comment in open court that “nothing will happen because others will be present”. Yet that did not assist the trauma the Victim had to face being within a confined space of a perpetrator who was under investigation for stalking and intimidation.

c. I was also privy to another incident regarding Justice Thornton that totally shocked me. An issue was raised in a case regarding Economic Abuse and Justice Thornton remarked “is that Family Violence?” I have kept in contact with the victim of these proceedings and have received transcripts of further proceedings regarding this case and Justice Thornton. Another comment made by Justice Thornton which shocked me was when the victim was being cross-examined on the fourth day, she was crying and asked the Independent children’s Barrister why she was doing this to her? Justice Thornton replied “well that’s what your barrister did (referring to the half day of cross-examination the perpetrator had)”. Fifteen minutes later, after continual sobbing, the victim, still in the witness-box asked for a 10 minute break to compose herself. Justice Thornton denied the victim not once, but four times these requested breaks. So a victim of 12 years of extensive family violence was in the witness-box for four days, being cross-examined by the perpetrator as well as the Independent Childrens Lawyer Barrister. Evidence was heard and admitted to by the perpetrator and by the expert psychiatrist admitting to family violence. (including the father assaulting the child).

What happened at the end of the trial? The victim lost parental responsibility and her children to the perpetrator. Just for an update. The child in question was assaulted again by the father, and he still has not been investigated regarding this issue. The mother is in the process of attempting to appeal the family court orders, but was recently informed by Justice Thornton that “she had no hope” and the application to suspend the current family court orders until the appeal was heard was denied.

d. I have viewed Justice Benjamin, who upon a request from a victim to have security present he rolled his eyes and said no. When the victim attempted to explain that they feared the perpetrator, he held his hand up in a stop like position and stated “no and that’s the end of that matter”.

e. Magistrate Turner from the Federal Circuit Court, I was privy to observing his approach to Family Violence. The victims solicitor requested security to be present (due to a previous incident at the Federal Circuit Court outside the courtroom regarding intimidation towards the solicitor and victim by a family member of the perpetrators) Magistrate Turner informed the solicitor that “she was a big girl” and “could handle a bit of criticism, as it went with the job” . Afterwards the victim informed me that the solicitor had been intimidated. She was approached and told that they knew where she lived, and the train times she caught to work was discussed. I asked the victim why the solicitor did not push the matter further, and I was informed because her role entailed being at the Family Court regularly, and she did not want to upset Magistrate Turner because she would be in front of him again. This solicitor who I have kept in touch with moved firms and relocated to a regional area to practice only recently.

f. Magistrate O’Dwyer from the Federal Circuit Court wins the wooden spoon for having no empathy whatsoever for Family Violence Victims. I have been present (when after an apparent back operation, and appeared to be in extreme pain and medicated) Magistrate O’Dwyer decided that one victim of family violence was, in his words was “stretching the truth”. In this instance the victim and the perpetrator were both self represented. The victim was requesting that she did not attend round table dispute services due to ongoing family violence. Magistrate O’Dwyer stated that the perpetrator in this instance “looked harmless” , “he was only small in stature” and that he “didn’t appear to be the type who would hurt anyone”. I kept in touch with the victim in this instance, and her family violence worker. Approximately three weeks after this court appearance the perpetrator was charged with assaulting the victim in a supermarket car park with an iron bar. Looks can be deceiving Magistrate O’Dwyer.

g. Magistrate O’Sullivan from the Dandenong Federal Circuit Court has been dubbed as the loose cannon of Magistrates. His demonstration of his understanding on Family Violence matters has been known to “change like the wind” as one legal counsel described him as. I have been privy to a number of sittings of Magistrate O’Sullivan in Dandenong, yet I was not present when he was involved in Family Violence cases so I cannot substantiate any previous information obtained from victims of family violence.

4. An expert witness has a duty to act independently and needs to be transparent and professionally accountable for their actions.

a. Family Consultants, like any expert witness (ie psychologist, psychiatrist etc) should be accountable for their report processes and this function should be outsourced from the actual Family Court Building in Melbourne.

Firstly independence is the key. Most Family Consultants are psychologists with professional liability insurance and are accountable like any other professional body. My biggest grievance is with the fact that the Family Court of Melbourne has enabled Family Consultants to be housed inside the court arena. This means that all sorts of families attending family court to see a family consultant is subjecting children and parents to seeing behaviors of others mentioned previously.

Secondly, a senior female Family Consultant, with only a Social Work background has been involved in proceedings time and time again that I believe is not benificial to anyone who has been a victim of Family Violence. One victim, who provided me with copies of her reports demonstrates her bias nature that should be addressed immediately. Another victim provided me with recordings of their interviews with this said consultant, and after reading the reports I was overwhelmed with the discrepancies and unprofessionalism of the Senior Family Consultant. Had she been in private practice a lawsuit would have incurred.

Thirdly, the relationship with this senior Family Consultant and other court staff is unhealthy and bias in nature. She sends other court staff into family court appearances literally as spies. How do I know this? I have been privy to watching some of these staff contacting the said consultant directly after hearings on their mobile phones. As I have spent four years in the court arena I have been privy to watching the same court staff attend matters that she is involved in. Coincidence? I think not. I have also been privy to Michelle Smith, who works on the same floor as the said consultant report back to the Senior Family Consultant in front of another victim. (who relayed the information to me). Another need for cameras in the courtroom.

Fourthly, then there is the relationship with this said Senior Female Family Consultant and a Senior Female Registrar that I have been privy to obtaining from Victims of Family violence evidence of their incestuous relationship. It is deplorable in this day and age that two such senior staff of the Family Court of Australia can wield such unauthorised power. They appear to be judge, jury and executioner. The amount of evidence that I have gathered regarding these two staff have become a focus of fear for the victims of family violence. They have no accountability and seem to be able to influence proceedings. This senior registrar informed a family violence victim not to press charges against her former partner regarding assault, and berated her by yelling and bullying her in front of her ex partner. The victim in this instance recorded the conversation, and upon hearing the conversation I was appalled by the behaviour in question. Another victim received written emails from the same senior registrar that I believe were abusive, insensitive and demeaning.

5. All Court Staff employees should have accountability for their behavior towards others.

In my time of being at the Family Court I have met a lot of genuinely helpful people who are employed at the Court in different types of roles. Yes I have heard the odd disgruntled complaint about one or two staff members, but overall the real complaints I have genuinely heard about have been regarding the senior family consultant and the senior registrar that can basically “make or break” a family violence case. This is a failure of the family court system and should be addressed immediately.

a. A proper complaints process needs to be enforced in a timely manner. I have seen copies of complaints made regarding these two by family violence victims, and eventually they get a rely usually 90 to 120 days after the complaint is made. The reply letters I have seen are basically the same, and possibly come in the standard letter format.


Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court of Australia has implemented some positive principles and guidelines surrounding family violence, and should be commended for her contribution into addressing this significant issue.

I just hope and pray that the recomendations I suggest to the Family Violence Royal Commssion assists in some further improvement in the implementation of these principles and guidelines.

Apparent Government Response to Family Domestic Violence in 2013

I kept this report for some time before I actually read it and realised that the current Government has taken on some of the recommended Law Reforms but has failed in so many other areas.

How do we make these important Reforms become principles of our everyday life and community?

Government Repsonse to the Australian and NSW Law Reform Commissions’:


Family Violence – a national legal response 2013

Australian Government response to recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission Report 114 and New South Wales Law Reform Commission Report 128: Family Violence – A National Legal Response Final Report that recommend unilateral action by the Australian Government


The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (the Council) was formed in 2007 as part of the Australian Government’s election platform.  In May 2008 the Council was given the task of developing a National Plan to reduce the incidence and impacts of violence experienced by women and their children.  In their April 2009 report ‘Time for action: The National Council’s Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children’, the Council identified a number of high priority actions.  The Australian Government agreed to act immediately on many of those high priority actions, including undertaking to make a reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine the integration of the domestic violence, child protection and federal family law.  Former Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland MP issued terms of reference to the Australian Law Reform Commission to work jointly with the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in this regard on 17 July 2009.


As a result of the reference, the Australian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions extensively examined family law, family violence laws and legal frameworks to improve the safety of victims of family violence across Australian jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth.  The report, ‘Family Violence – a National Legal Response’ (the Report), released in November 2010, provides a detailed analysis of the Australian legal system’s capacity to address family violence.  The Report’s recommendations provide a useful means by which the Australian Government can assess the effectiveness of the federal family law system in addressing family violence, and consider solutions to problems associated with intersections across state and territory based criminal law and child protection systems and federal family law systems, to better protect victims of family violence.

The Australian Government welcomes this comprehensive report into family violence and acknowledges the dedicated work of the Law Reform Commissions in conducting this inquiry.  The Australian Government recognises the devastating impacts of violence in families and is committed to improving the way that the federal family law system tackles the issue.

Of the 186 recommendations contained in the report, 56 have been identified as appropriate for the Commonwealth to respond to separately, independent to the responses of the states and territories.  24 recommendations that affect the Commonwealth, States and Territories jointly are being addressed in a national response through the Standing Council on Law and Justice.  9 recommendations are being addressed through a National Justice CEOs project which is looking at collaboration between the family law and child protection systems.  States and Territories have committed, through the first three year action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, to respond separately to the remaining 97 recommendations that relate specifically to them.

Of those 56 recommendations that relate to the Commonwealth, many have been acted upon by the Australian Government to improve the capacity of the federal family law system to respond to family violence, since the release of the report.  These initiatives include;

  • a multidisciplinary training package known as AVERT‑ Addressing Violence: Education, Resources, Training; Family Law System Collaborative Responses to Family Violence (AVERT), developed by the Commonwealth Attorney‑General’s Department in collaboration with Relationships Australia South Australia, 
  • a standardised common screening and risk assessment framework and tool, and associated learning guide and software system to detect and respond to safety and well-being risks in families, across the family law system, known as the Detection of Overall Risk Screen (DOORS), and
  • reforms to the Family Law Act 1975  to assist people within the family law system to better capture, understand, disclose and act on family violence and child abuse.

In working through the response to the report, a number of additional legislative reforms to the Family Law Act to improve family violence responses have been identified for consideration.  The Australian Government will consider future work in this area in the context of this report and the broader context of the National Plan.  The Australian Government welcomes the Report of the Australian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions and thanks them for their consideration of, and valuable input into, reforming family violence laws in Australia.











Recommendation 6-4

The Family Law Act 1975 (Family Law Act) should adopt the same definition as recommended to be included in state and territory family violence legislation (Rec 5–1). That is, ‘family violence’ should be defined as violent or threatening behaviour, or any other form of behaviour, that coerces or controls a family member or causes that family member to be fearful. Such behaviour may include but is not limited to:

(a) physical violence;

(b) sexual assault and other sexually abusive behaviour;

(c) economic abuse;

(d) emotional or psychological abuse;

(e) stalking;

(f) kidnapping or deprivation of liberty;

(g) damage to property, irrespective of whether the victim owns the property;

(h) causing injury or death to an animal, irrespective of whether the victim owns the animal; and

(i) behaviour by the person using violence that causes a child to be exposed to the effects of behaviour referred to in (a)-(h).


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government takes the issue of addressing and responding to family violence and the safety of children very seriously.  As part of wide-reaching reforms implemented by the Australian Government to address the serious issue of family violence in Australia, the Family Law Act 1975 (Family Law Act) has been amended to incorporate a broader definition of family violence that is in line with this recommendation.  

The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 (Family Violence Act) expands the definition of family violence in the Family Law Act to better capture harmful behaviour.  In addition to this change, the definition of abuse in relation to children has also been amended to include assault, sexual abuse and exploitation, causing a child to suffer serious psychological harm, including where the child is exposed to family violence, and serious neglect of a child.

These amendments are designed to improve the understanding of what family violence and abuse are by clearly setting out what behaviour is unacceptable.  For example, the new definition is provided in a new section, section 4AB of the Family Law Act, and is no longer contained in the interpretation section of the Family Law Act.  The new definition reflects a more comprehensive understanding of the types of conduct that are considered unacceptable and may constitute family violence.






Recommendation 7-3

The Family Law Act should be amended to include a similar provision to that in Recommendation 7-2 explaining the nature, features and dynamics of family violence.

Recommendation 7-2 provides;

State and territory family violence legislation should contain a provision that explains the nature, features and dynamics of family violence including: while anyone may be a victim of family violence, or may use family violence, it is predominantly committed by men; it can occur in all sectors of society; it can involve exploitation of power imbalances; its incidence is underreported; and it has a detrimental impact on children. In addition, family violence legislation should refer to the particular impact of family violence on: Indigenous persons; those from a culturally and linguistically diverse background; those from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities; older persons; and people with disabilities.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.

The Australian Government acknowledges that statistics on family violence show that family violence is predominantly committed by men, that it can occur in all sectors of society, that it can involve exploitation of power imbalances, that its incidence is underreported and that it has a detrimental impact on children.  However, the Family Law Act is focused on the best interests of the child and is gender neutral.  The Australian Government is of the view that the recommended provision is not suitable for inclusion in the Family Law Act but its objectives can be achieved through other non-gender specific and non-legislative means. 

The Australian Government recognises that the underlying rationale for this recommendation is to ensure that decision makers particularly, are aware of the nature, features and dynamics of family violence.  An important tool used by decision makers in federal family courts to understand the nature and dynamics of family violence is the Best Practice Principles for Use in Parenting Disputes When Family Violence or Abuse is Alleged.  These principles are the culmination of an extensive Family Violence Strategy implemented by the Family Court of Australia.  After being revised to extend to the then Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, the principles were launched by the former Attorney‑General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP, on 19 July 2011.  The principles provide important guidance to decision makers when dealing with matters involving allegations of family violence and sexual abuse and explain some of the suggestions proposed by this recommendation about the nature, features and dynamics of family violence, including the impacts of family violence on people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and children.  The principles complement other training measures, including the AVERT Family Violence training package.

The former Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland, launched AVERT in March 2011.  AVERT is intended for use by practitioners, judicial officers, counsellors and other professionals working in the family law system, to improve the level of understanding about the nature and dynamics of family violence and the handling of family violence cases.  AVERT contains a module on diversity, ‘Responding to Diversity’, which assists professionals in developing a sound and practical understanding of family violence.  This module provides training on the impacts of family violence and strategies for responding which promote safety for all involved.  The module, as part of a broader training environment, deals specifically with family violence in the context of how it may affect people from Indigenous backgrounds, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, rural communities and those living with a disability.

Through the development of AVERT, the Australian Government has demonstrated commitment to the training and education of all practitioners in the family law system about the nature, features and dynamics of family violence.

In addition, the Australian Government, in consultation with States and Territories through the national response to recommendation 31.2 of the Report, is considering the development of a national bench book on family violence as an important educative tool for judicial officers and decision about the nature, features and dynamics of family violence. 

The Australian Government is of the view that the educative purpose of this recommendation is best addressed through training and education rather than through legislative measures.  The Family Law Act is gender neutral and focused on the best interests of the child, and as stated above the Australian Government is of the view that this essential feature of the Family Law Act should be preserved.

Recommendation 12-2

Federal, state and territory police, and directors of public prosecution should train or ensure that police and prosecutors respectively receive training on how the dynamics of family violence might affect the decisions of victims to negate the existence of family violence or to withdraw previous allegations of violence.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

The Australian Government considers that this is primarily a matter for State and Territory police and directors of public prosecution.

Recommendation 13-2

Federal, state and territory police, and Commonwealth, state and territory directors of public prosecution respectively, should ensure that police and prosecutors are encouraged by prosecutorial guidelines, and training and education programs, to use representative charges wherever appropriate in family-violence related criminal matters, where the charged conduct forms part of a course of conduct.  Relevant prosecutorial guidelines, training and education programs should also address matters of charge negotiation and negotiation as to agreed statements of facts in the prosecution of family-violence related matters.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

Please see response to recommendation 12.2 above.



Recommendation 16-4

Section 60CG of the Family Law Act—which requires a court to ensure that a parenting order does not expose a person to an unacceptable risk of family violence and permits the court to include in the order any safeguards that it considers necessary for the safety of a person affected by the order—should be amended to provide that the court should give primary consideration to the protection of that person over the other factors that are relevant to determining the best interests of the child.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.

Recent amendments to the Family Law Act by the Family Violence Act make it clear that the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm or from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence is to be given greater weight than the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents in the event of any inconsistency in applying these considerations.

However, the overarching principle of the Family Law Act is to promote the best interests of the child.  When making a parenting order, the Family Law Act requires a court to regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.  The Australian Government is of the view that the ‘best interests of the child’ is the appropriate principle upon which a court should make a parenting order.  Section 60CC of the Family Law Act guides the court as to the appropriate matters to be taken into account when determining what is in the best interests of the child.

The two primary considerations for a court to consider when determining the best interests of the child is the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both of the child’s parents and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm and from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence.

Where a person continues to fear for their safety, or requires protection, state and territory courts have the power to vary or suspend a parenting order to provide that person with protection from violence.  The state and territory courts have the protection of a victim of family violence as their primary focus.  The family courts have the best interests of the child as their paramount focus.  The Australian Government is of the view that the Family Law Act should retain its paramount focus on the best interests of the child when resolving parenting disputes.  Family courts are required to consider the need to protect the child from being exposed to family violence as the primary consideration of what is in a child’s best interests.  The family courts must also ensure that parenting orders are consistent with family violence orders and do not expose a person to an unacceptable risk of violence to the extent that it is possible to do so consistently with the child’s best interests.  The Australian Government is of the view that the family courts can adequately protect victims of family violence without disrupting the philosophical foundation of the Act; a child’s best interests.

  Recommendation 17-1

The ‘additional consideration’ in s 60CC(3)(k) of the Family Law Act, which directs courts to consider only final or contested protection orders when determining the best interests of a child, should be amended to provide that a court, when determining the best interests of the child, must consider evidence of family violence given, or findings made, in relevant family violence protection order proceedings.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government takes the issue of addressing and responding to family violence and the safety of children very seriously.  Amendments made to the Family Law Act by the Family Violence Act expand the types of family violence protection orders that the court must consider when determining the best interests of the child to include any past or current family violence order. 

The Family Law Act now provides at section 60CC(3)(k) that:

if a family violence order applies, or has applied, to the child or a member of the child’s family—any relevant inferences that can be drawn from the order, taking into account the following:

(i) the nature of the order;

(ii) the circumstances in which the order was made;

(iii) any evidence admitted in proceedings for the order;

(iv) any findings made by the court in, or in proceedings for, the order;

(v) any other relevant matter;

The section now also requires courts to consider any relevant inferences that can be drawn from any family violence order, considering also the nature of the order, the circumstances in which the order was made, any evidence admitted in proceedings for the order, any finding made by the court in, or in proceedings for, the order and any other relevant matter.


Recommendation 17-2

The Australian Government should initiate an inquiry into how family violence should be dealt with in property proceedings under the Family Law Act.


The Australian Government agrees in principle with this recommendation.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring victims of family violence are protected from harm and this is evident in the recent amendments to the Family Law Act that came into effect on 7 June 2012.  These amendments were the result of a number of reports commissioned by the Australian Government into how the family law system deals with family violence. 


The primary reports contributing to the recent amendments to the Family Law Act include:

  • Evaluation of the 2006 family law reforms by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS);
  • Family Courts Violence Review by Professor Richard Chisholm AM; and
  • Improving responses to family violence in the family law system: An advice on the intersection of family violence and family law issues by the Family Law Council.


The Australian Government is committed to evidence based policy making and will consider a review of how family violence is addressed in property proceedings in the context of other priorities and budgetary allowance.


Recommendation 17-3

The Family Law Act should be amended to provide separate provisions for injunctions for personal protection.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

The Australian Government notes the submissions to the Commissions supporting this recommendation.  The Australian Government supports making laws clearer and more accessible to the community.

The Australian Government also notes the submissions to the Commissions referring to the advantages of state and territory protection orders, in particular, that the processes for obtaining a protection order in state and territory courts are simple, quick and low cost.  The Australian Government is of the view that state and territory courts are the most appropriate avenue for addressing personal protection in the community.  The Australian Government notes that statistics indicate that since the introduction of state and territory legislation aimed specifically at family violence – and particularly the ready availability of family violence protection orders – the number of family violence injunctions sought in the Family Court of Australia has fallen dramatically.[1]

The Australian Government is committed to improving protection for those affected by family violence and, as such, the injunction provisions remain in the Family Law Act as additional protection for victims of family violence.  However, protection through state and territory courts is the most effective protection for victims of family violence and the Australian Government considers that they are best placed to protect victims of family violence.




Recommendation 17-4

The Family Law Act should be amended to provide that breach of an injunction for personal protection is a criminal offence.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

The Australian Government notes the overwhelming support from stakeholders for this recommendation.

The Australian Government is committed to assisting the community to find the most appropriate and effective means for obtaining personal protection.  There are well established processes for breaches of state and territory protection orders and state and territory courts are the most appropriate avenue for victims of family violence to obtain protection and to have a breach of a protection order enforced.  The family courts are a specialised jurisdiction, with a primary focus of resolving private disputes about children and property between separating partners.  The state and territory courts have a closer and well-established relationship with the relevant enforcement and prosecution agencies and are the most appropriate jurisdiction to obtain and enforce protection for victims of family violence. 

Recommendation 17-6

Section 114(2) of the Family Law Act, which permits a court to make an order relieving a party to a marriage from any obligations to perform marital services or render conjugal rights, should be repealed.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government is of the view that subsection 114(2) of the Family Law Act is not consistent with the societal values of Australians.  The case of R v L [1991] HCA 48 provides that ‘if it was ever the common law that by marriage a wife gave irrevocable consent to sexual intercourse by her husband, it is no longer the common law’.[2]  A recent case PGA v The Queen [2012] HCA 21 also confirms that ‘lawful marriage to a complainant provide[s] neither a defence to, nor an immunity from, a prosecution for rape’.[3]  It is clear that there are no obligations upon a party to a marriage to perform marital services or render conjugal rights and as such, the Australian Government proposes to introduce legislation to repeal this subsection of the Family Law Act.




Recommendation 21-1

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department should continue to collaborate with the family dispute resolution sector to improve the standards in identification and appropriate management of family violence by family dispute resolution practitioners.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government is committed to continuing to collaborate closely with the family dispute resolution sector, including services funded by government to provide support to families experiencing family violence.  This includes Family Relationship Centres and the network of other support services funded to provide services to families. 
One of the objectives of the Attorney-General’s Department funded Family Law Pathways Networks is to develop and maintain cross sector training and the recent Networks evaluation report indicated that during 2011-12, many Networks facilitated or delivered the AVERT family violence training.   

The Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution Pilot was developed to trial a model of providing families affected by family violence with safe and supportive options to allow them to try to resolve their disputes outside court.  Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution is a distinct, new model of family dispute resolution that builds on and enhances family dispute resolution practice by involving a wide range of professionals (e.g. legal and support services for victims and perpetrators) working collaboratively.  The pilot concluded on 30 April 2013, having been extended by 12 months.  The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) evaluated the pilot and provided its final evaluation report to the Government on 15 December 2012.  The findings in the AIFS evaluation report, combined with the current budgetary environment, do not support the roll-out or extension of the pilot at this time.  Other work underway may provide an opportunity in the future to implement CFDR-type service delivery to assist families experiencing family violence. 

The Allen Consulting Group (now known as ACIL Allen Consulting) was commissioned to conduct research into other family law services that has helped inform a review of family law services undertaken by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.  The Department expects to provide a brief to Government about the review in June 2013. 

Additionally, as highlighted in response to recommendation 7-3, former Attorney‑General, the Honourable Robert McClelland, launched AVERT in March 2011 with the intention of improving the standards in identification and appropriate management of family violence by all family law system professionals, including family dispute resolution practitioners.  The AVERT training can also be delivered as part of the family violence units of competency within the Vocational Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution.  This qualification forms the basis for accreditation as a family dispute resolution practitioner and includes two compulsory units of competency relating to family violence.

The Australian Government also contracted Relationships Australia South Australia to develop a standardised common screening and risk assessment framework and tool and associated learning guide and software system to detect and respond to safety and well‑being risks in families, across the family law system.  This package is known as the Detection of Overall Risk Screen (DOORS) and is simple, practical and sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of different professionals, locations and client demographics.  It is also intended to facilitate the referral of clients to appropriate services, when required.  DOORS is being disseminated by the Australian Government and is freely available for family law system practitioners to use.  DOORS covers the following behaviour domains: client’s culture and religious background; about the separation; managing conflict with the other parent; how the client is coping lately; how the other parent seems to be coping; client’s children; managing as a parent; children’s safety; parent’s personal safety; behaving safely; and other stresses.

Recommendation 21-2

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department should:

(a)     Promote and support high quality screening and risk assessment frameworks and tools for family dispute resolution practitioners;

(b)     Include these tools and frameworks in training and accreditation of family dispute resolution practitioners;

(c)     Include these tools and frameworks in the assessment and evaluation of family dispute resolution services and practitioners; and

(d)     Promote and support collaborative work across sectors to improve standards in the screening and assessment of family violence in family dispute resolution.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.

As discussed in the response to Recommendation 21-1 above, DOORS is now available throughout the family law system, including for use in training of family dispute resolution practitioners.  The DOORS tool also has the potential to be utilized for professional development for family dispute resolution practitioners and other providers.

The Vocational Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution (or its higher education provider equivalent) underpins the accreditation regime for family dispute resolution practitioners.  This qualification includes two compulsory units of competency (‘Responding to family and domestic violence in family work’ and ‘Creating a supportive environment for the safety of vulnerable parties in dispute resolution’) relating to family violence.  Those units are aimed to assist future family dispute resolution practitioners to identify the different forms of family violence, determine suitability of family dispute resolution where family violence exists and consider what safety measures should be in place and which medium of family dispute resolution should be utilised if dispute resolution proceeds where family violence is an issue (ie shuttle, telephone, face to face).  Practitioners seeking accreditation must complete these units of competency (or the higher education provider equivalent) prior to being accredited.  Accreditation also requires ongoing professional development.

The pilot of Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution, as discussed in Recommendation 21.1 above, also trialled family dispute resolution in cases where there is family violence involving collaboration between professionals including legal providers, family dispute resolution practitioners, domestic violence and men’s workers.  As discussed above, after considering the pilot evaluation report and taking account of current budgetary restraints, the Government has determined it is not in a position to either extend or roll out the pilot at this time.

Recommendation 21-3

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, family dispute resolution service providers, and legal education bodies should ensure that lawyers who practise family law are given training and support in screening and assessing risks in relation to family violence and making appropriate referrals to other services.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

As discussed in the response to Recommendation 21-1, Relationships Australia South Australia has developed DOORS.  As part of the development of DOORS, Relationships Australia South Australia has also developed a learning guide to help ensure that all professionals in the family law system are trained consistently in the use of the framework and tool.  The learning guide has been developed so that it can be adapted as an accredited course with the Continuing Legal Education program for legal practitioners.

As discussed in response to recommendation 7-3, former Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland, launched AVERT in March 2011.  This multidisciplinary training package is also intended for use by lawyers who practise family law to provide training and information on screening, risk assessment and safety planning for family violence.  AVERT is designed to improve the identification of family violence, assessing the seriousness of the risk presented by family violence, and the screening of family violence to determine the appropriate referrals, if required.

Recommendation 21-4

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department should continue to provide leadership, support and coordination to improve collaboration and cooperation between family dispute resolution practitioners and lawyers.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government provides leadership, support and coordination to improve collaboration between family dispute resolution practitioners and lawyers in a number of ways, including:

  • sponsorship of and participation in professional development conferences hosted by national bodies such as the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and Family and Relationship Services Australia
  • establishing the Family Law Pathways Networks that include local family dispute resolution practitioners and legal practitioners, and
  • developing AVERT to improve the understanding by participants in the family law sector of the different roles of each participant in the family law sector.

Since 2009, the Australian Government has allowed lawyers to be present at Family Relationship Centres to provide non-adversarial legal assistance services.  To further improve collaboration and cooperation between family dispute resolution practitioners and lawyers, the Australian Government announced funding for 12 months to develop pilot partnerships between Family Relationship Centres, Community Legal Centres and Legal Aid Commissions.  These partnerships have been extended until 2013 and consist of sixty-four Family Relationship Centres and seventy-seven legal assistance bodies.


The partnerships assist families by providing access to early, targeted legal information as well as advice when attending Family Relationship Centres.  The Australian Government notes that National Legal Aid is of the view that these partnerships, funded by the Australian Government for the provision of legal assistance before, during and after family dispute resolution within Family Relationship Centres have built on strong links between family dispute resolution practitioners and lawyers.

Recommendation 21-5

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department should take a comprehensive and strategic approach to support culturally responsive family dispute resolution, including screening and risk assessment processes.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

In November 2010, the then Commonwealth Attorney-General made a reference to the Family Law Council to examine ways in which the family law system (courts, legal assistance and family relationship services) meets client needs; whether there are ways the family law system can better meet client needs including ways of engaging clients in the family law system, and what considerations are taken into account when applying the Family Law Act to Indigenous clients and clients of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.  The Family Law Council provided their report on 27 February 2012 and the recommendations contained in the report are being considered by the Australian Government.

The Vocational Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution contains six elective units relating to diversity and cultural context that are available to be completed by persons seeking to be accredited as a family dispute resolution practitioner.  Some employers may require the completion of these elective units to suit workplace needs.  They include competencies around providing domestic and family violence support in both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and communities with a non-English speaking background.  In addition, many of the compulsory competencies of the diploma require an understanding of cultural issues that arise in the context of family dispute resolution.

AVERT also contains a component on diversity, ‘Responding to Diversity’, that is intended to provide professionals with a sound and practical understanding of family violence, its impact and strategies for responding which promote safety for all involved in the context of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

As discussed in the response to recommendation 21-1, Relationships Australia South Australia developed DOORS, which entails an associated learning guide and software system.  DOORS is intended to identify special considerations that might be had by family law system professionals to the impacts and considerations that culture and religion might have on family violence. 

Family Relationships Services Australia has also been funded to provide scholarships for family dispute resolution training for potential Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse family dispute resolution practitioners.  These were offered for the first time for study during 2012 and a second round has been funded for students to commence in 2013.  More practitioners from these backgrounds are expected to assist in the provision of more culturally sensitive family dispute resolution services.  The scholarship scheme is expected to conclude on 31 January 2014.

In May 2012 the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department provided funding to Interrelate Family Centres to undertake train-the-trainer programs in the delivery of the Aboriginal Building Connections program in each state and territory.  The training program has been constructed within a partnership framework with the aim of enhancing the skills and expertise of professionals currently operating within the family law system that will advance the development of cultural competency and a shared understanding of the post‑separation needs of Indigenous families across services and communities. 





Recommendation 22-1

Sections 10D(4)(b) and 10H(4)(b) of the Family Law Act should be amended to permit family counsellors and family dispute resolution practitioners to disclose communications made during family counselling or family dispute resolution, where they reasonably believe that disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to a person’s life, health or safety.


The Australian Government agrees with the recommendation. 

The Family Law Act permits a family counsellor and a family dispute resolution practitioner to disclose a communication made to the family counsellor or family dispute resolution practitioner if the family counsellor or family dispute resolution practitioner believes on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary for the purpose of protecting a child from the risk of harm; preventing or lessening a serious or imminent threat to the life or health of a person or reporting the commission, or preventing the likely commission, of an offence involving violence or a threat of violence to a person. 

The Australian Government agrees to consider amending the Family Law Act to remove the requirement that a threat to the life or health of a person is imminent. 

Recommendation 22-2

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, in consultation with family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors, should develop material to guide family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors in determining the seriousness of a threat to an individual’s life, health or safety and identifying when a disclosure may be made without consent.  Such guidance should also encourage family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors to address the potential impact of disclosure on the immediate safety of those to whom the information relates, and for that purpose:

(a)     Refer those at risk to appropriate support services; and

(b)     Develop a safety plan, where appropriate, in conjunction with them.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

As discussed in response to recommendation 7.3, AVERT is intended for use by practitioners, judicial officers, counsellors and other professionals working in the family law system, to improve level of understanding about the dynamics of family violence and the handling of family violence cases.  The package provides training to the sector to improve the understanding of the legal framework of family violence; including providing information about mandatory reporting requirements and the types and form of protection from family violence offered.

AVERT specifically addresses the skills required to identify family violence, and respond effectively.  AVERT provides information and training for family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors to specifically address how to respond to risks faced by women, men and children involved in the family law system.

The DOORS package will also help practitioners detect threats to an individual’s health welfare and safety, refer the individual to appropriate services and where appropriate, develop a safety plan.

In addition, the training requirements for accredited family dispute resolution practitioners include, as part of the required skills and knowledge, that family dispute resolution practitioners are able to help develop a safety plan and to build networks for appropriate referrals. 

Recommendation 22-3

Bodies responsible for the education and training of family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors should develop programs to ensure that provisions in the Family Law Act and in state and territory child protection legislation regulating disclosure of information relating to actual or potential abuse, harm or ill-treatment of children are understood and appropriately acted on.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

AVERT specifically addresses mandatory reporting obligations for family dispute resolution practitioners and family counsellors to improve understanding of their legal obligations.  The training package addresses the professional obligations of court staff, family dispute resolution practitioners, court counsellors and independent children’s lawyers under the Family Law Act in relation to child abuse and risk of child abuse.  The training package also identifies the various professional obligations under state and territory laws relating to the disclosure of information relating to actual or potential abuse, harm or ill-treatment of children.

As discussed in the response to Recommendation 21-1, Relationships Australia South Australia was contracted by the Australian Government to develop DOORS, for use throughout the family law system by all family law system professionals.

DOORS will facilitate screening and risk assessment in relation to children’s safety issues.

Recommendation 22-4
Sections 10E and 10J of the Family Law Act, which regulate the admissibility of family dispute resolution and family counselling communications, should be amended to state expressly that the application of these provisions extends to state and territory courts not exercising family law jurisdiction.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.


As part of current reform, the Australian Government is proposing to clarify that these sections of the Family Law Act extend to state and territory courts not exercising family law jurisdiction.




Recommendation 22-5

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department should coordinate the collaborative development of education and training – including cross-disciplinary training – for family courts’ registry staff, family consultants, judicial officers and lawyers who practise family law, about the need for screening and risk assessment where a certificate has been issued under s 60I of the Family Law Act indicating a matter is inappropriate for family dispute resolution.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

As discussed in the response to Recommendation 21-1, Relationships Australia South Australia was contracted by the Australian Government to develop DOORS, for use throughout the family law system by all family law system professionals.

AVERT is also intended for use by practitioners, judicial officers, counsellors and other professionals working in the family law system, to improve levels of understanding about the dynamics of family violence and the handling of family violence cases.

Recommendation 23-6

The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department and state and territory governments should ensure that family violence screening and risk assessment frameworks indicate the importance of including questions in screening and risk assessment tools about:

(a)     past or current applications for protection orders;

(b)     past or current protection orders; and

(c)     any breaches of protection orders.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.


As discussed in the response to recommendation 21-1, Relationships Australia South Australia has developed DOORS, a standardised frontline screening framework and associated learning guide and software system, to detect and respond to safety and well‑being risks in families, across the family law system. 


DOORS will prompt family law system professionals, including family dispute resolution practitioners, to ask about the existence of past and current protection orders and applications, and any breaches of protection orders. 

Recommendation 23-7

Family dispute resolution service providers should ensure that:

(a)     Tools used for family violence screening and risk assessment include questions about past and current protection orders and applications, and any breaches of protection orders; and

(b)     Parties are asked for copies of protection orders.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 23-6 above.


Recommendation 25-2

Federal, state and territory sexual offence provisions should provide a uniform age of consent for all sexual offences.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

Commonwealth criminal law does not contain family violence or general sexual assault offences.  For the limited range of Commonwealth sexual offences (child sex tourism, sexual servitude and sexual assault of United Nations personnel), the applicable criminal proceeding and evidence laws and court procedure rules are State and Territory laws and rules (with the exception of provisions in Commonwealth legislation dealing with children in proceedings for sexual offences).  

Recommendation 25-4

Federal, state and territory sexual offence provisions should include a statutory definition of consent based on the concept of free and voluntary agreement.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 25-5

Federal, state and territory sexual offence provisions should set out a non-exhaustive list of circumstances that may vitiate consent including, at a minimum:

(a)     lack of capacity to consent, including because a person is asleep or unconscious, or so affected by alcohol or other drugs as to be unable to consent;

(b)     where a person submits because of force, or fear of force, against the complainant or another person;

(c)     where a person submits because of fear of harm of any type against the complainant or another person;

(d)     unlawful detention;

(e)     mistaken identity and mistakes as to the nature of the act (including mistakes generated by the fraud or deceit of the accused);

(f)      abuse of a position of authority or trust; and

(g)     intimidating or coercive conduct, or other threat, that does not necessarily involve a threat of force, against the complainant or another person.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 25-6

Federal, state and territory sexual assault provisions should provide that it is a defence to the charge of ‘rape’ that the accused held an honest and reasonable belief that the complainant was consenting to the sexual penetration.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 26-2

Commonwealth, state and territory Directors of Public Prosecution should ensure that prosecutorial guidelines and policies:

(a)     facilitate the referral of victims and witnesses of sexual assault to culturally appropriate welfare, health, counselling and other support services at the earliest opportunity;

(b)     require consultation with victims of sexual assault about key prosecutorial decisions, including whether to prosecute, discontinue a prosecution, or agree to a charge or fact bargain;

(c)     require the ongoing provision of information and assistance to victims of sexual assault about the status and progress of proceedings;

(d)     facilitate the provision of information and assistance to victims and witnesses of sexual assault in understanding the legal and court process;

(e)     facilitate the provision of information and assistance to victims and witnesses of sexual assault in relation to the protective provisions available to sexual assault complainants when giving evidence in criminal proceedings;

(f)      ensure that family violence protection orders or stalking intervention orders are sought in all relevant circumstances; and

(g)     require referral of victims and witnesses of sexual assault to providers of legal advice on related areas, such as family law, victims’ compensation and the sexual assault communications privilege.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 26-3

Federal, state and territory governments and relevant educational, professional and service delivery bodies should ensure ongoing and consistent education and training for judicial officers, lawyers, prosecutors, police and victim support services in relation to the substantive law and the nature and dynamics of sexual assault as a form of family violence, including its social and cultural contexts.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 26-5

Federal, state and territory legislation should:

(a)     establish a presumption that, when two or more charges for sexual offences are joined in the same indictment, those charges are to be tried together; and

(b)     state that this presumption is not rebutted merely because evidence on one charge is inadmissible on another charge.


The Australian Government notes these recommendations.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above. 




Recommendation 26-6

Federal, state and territory legislation should permit the tendering of pre-recorded evidence of interview between a sexual assault complainant and investigators as the complainant’s evidence-in-chief. Such provisions should apply to all complainants of sexual assault, both adults and children.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 26-7

Federal, state and territory legislation should permit child complainants of sexual assault and complainants of sexual assault who are vulnerable as a result of mental or physical impairment, to provide evidence recorded at a pre-trial hearing. This evidence should be able to be replayed at the trial as the witness’ evidence. Adult victims of sexual assault should also be permitted to provide evidence in this way, by leave of the court.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 26-8

The Australian, state and territory governments should ensure that relevant participants in the criminal justice system receive comprehensive education about legislation authorising the use of pre-recorded evidence in sexual assault proceedings, and training in relation to interviewing victims of sexual assault and pre-recording evidence.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-1

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that complainants of sexual assault must not be cross-examined in relation to, and the court must not admit any evidence of, the sexual reputation of the complainant.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-2

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that the complainant must not be cross-examined, and the court must not admit any evidence, as to the sexual activities—whether consensual or non-consensual—of the complainant, other than those to which the charge relates, without the leave of the court.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.



Recommendation 27-3

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that the court must not grant leave under the test proposed in Rec 27–2, unless it is satisfied that the evidence has significant probative value and that it is in the interests of justice to allow the cross-examination or to admit the evidence, after taking into account:

(a)     the distress, humiliation and embarrassment that the complainant may experience as a result of the cross-examination or the admission of the evidence, in view of the age of the complainant and the number and nature of the questions that the complainant is likely to be asked;

(b)     the risk that the evidence may arouse discriminatory belief or bias, prejudice, sympathy or hostility;

(c)     the need to respect the complainant’s personal privacy;

(d)     the right of the defendant to fully answer and defend the charge; and

(e)     any other relevant matter.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-4

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that evidence about the sexual activities—whether consensual or non-consensual—of the complainant, other than those to which the charge relates, is not of significant probative value only because of any inference it may raise as to the general disposition of the complainant.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-5

Federal, state and territory legislation should require that an application for leave to cross-examine complainants of sexual assault, or to admit any evidence, about the sexual activities of the complainant must be made:

(a)     in writing;

(b)     if the proceeding is before a jury—in absence of the jury; and

(c)     in the absence of a complainant, if a defendant in the proceeding requests.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-6

Federal, state and territory legislation should require a court to give reasons for its decision whether or not to grant leave to cross-examine complainants of sexual assault, or to admit any evidence, about the sexual activities of the complainant and, if leave is granted, to state the nature of the admissible evidence.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.



Recommendation 27-7

Australian courts, and judicial education and legal professional bodies should provide education and training about the procedural requirements for admitting and adducing evidence of sexual activity.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-8

Federal, state and territory legislation and court rules relating to subpoenas and the operation of the sexual assault communications privilege should ensure that the interests of complainants in sexual assault proceedings are better protected, including by requiring:

(a)     parties seeking production of sexual assault communications, to provide timely notice in writing to the other party and the sexual assault complainant;

(b)     that any such written notice be accompanied by a pro forma fact sheet on the privilege and providing contact details for legal assistance; and

(c)     that subpoenas be issued with a pro forma fact sheet on the privilege, also providing contact details for legal assistance.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-9

The Australian, state and territory governments, in association with relevant non-government organisations, should work together to develop and administer training and education programs for judicial officers, legal practitioners and counsellors about the sexual assault communications privilege and how to respond to a subpoena for confidential counselling communications.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-11

Federal, state and territory legislation should authorise the giving of jury directions about children’s abilities as witnesses and responses to sexual abuse, including in a family violence context.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 27-13

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that, in sexual assault proceedings, tendency or coincidence evidence is not inadmissible only because there is a possibility that the evidence is the result of concoction, collusion or suggestion.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 28-1

Federal, state and territory legislation should prohibit a judge in any sexual assault proceedings from:

(a)     warning a jury, or making any suggestion to a jury, that complainants as a class are unreliable witnesses; and

(b)     giving a general warning to a jury of the danger of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of any complainant or witness who is a child.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 28-2

Australian courts and judicial education bodies should provide judicial education and training, and prepare material for incorporation in bench books, to assist judges to identify the circumstances in which a warning about the danger of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of a particular complainant or child witness is in the interests of justice.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 28-4

Federal, state and territory legislation should provide that, in sexual assault proceedings:

(a)     the effect of any delay in complaint, or absence of complaint, on the credibility of the complainant should be a matter for argument by counsel and for determination by the jury;

(b)     subject to paragraph (c), except for identifying the issue for the jury and the competing contentions of counsel, the judge must not give a direction regarding;

(c)     the effect of delay in complaint, or absence of complaint, on the credibility of the complainant, unless satisfied it is necessary to do so in order to ensure a fair trial; and

(d)     if evidence is given, a question is asked, or a comment is made that tends to suggest that the victim either delayed making, or failed to make, a complaint in respect of the offence, the judge must tell the jury that there may be good reasons why a victim of a sexual offence may delay making or fail to make a complaint.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 28-5

Federal, state and territory legislation should:

(a)     prohibit an unrepresented defendant from personally cross-examining any complainant, child witness or other vulnerable witness in sexual assault proceedings; and

(b)     provide that an unrepresented defendant be permitted to cross-examine the complainant through a person appointed by the court to ask questions on behalf of the defendant.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.


Recommendation 28-6

Federal, state and territory legislation should permit prosecutors to tender a record of the original evidence of the complainant in any re-trial ordered on appeal.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 25-2 above.

Recommendation 29-2

The Australian, state and territory governments, in establishing or further developing integrated responses to family violence, should ensure ongoing and responsive collaboration between agencies and organisations, supported by:

(a)     protocols and memorandums of understanding;

(b)     information-sharing arrangements;

(c)     regular meetings; and

(d)     where possible, designated liaison officers.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

The Australian Government is currently working with States and Territories, through the National Justice CEOS forum, on a collaboration project to improve the interface between the child protection and family law systems.  As part of this work the Attorney-General’s Department commissioned Professor Richard Chisholm to prepare a report on “Information-sharing in family law and child protection – enhancing collaboration”.  This report includes a draft pro forma Memorandum of Understanding to provide guidance to stakeholders in the two systems in their development of agreements for information sharing. This work may potentially inform the future development of protocols for the exchange of information between the family law and criminal justice systems. 

Recommendation 29-3

The Australian, state and territory governments should prioritise the provision of, and access to, culturally appropriate victim support services for victims of family violence, including enhanced support for victims in high risk and vulnerable groups.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The AVERT training package contains a section on ‘Responding to Diversity’ that is intended to provide professionals with a sound and practical understanding of family violence, its impact and strategies for responding which promote safety for all involved in the context of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.







Recommendation 30-1

The Initiating Application (Family Law) and Initiating Application (Family Law) Response forms should clearly seek information about past and current family violence protection and child protection orders obtained under state and territory family violence and child protection legislation and past, pending or current proceedings for such orders.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.  The Australian Government notes that giving effect to the recommendation is a matter for the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court.

The Australian Government notes that all family court forms were renewed and updated in line with the family violence amendments that commenced on 7 June 2012.  Page 6 of the Initiating Application (Family Law) and Initiating Application (Family Law) Response forms now contain questions that request this information. 

The Australian Government takes the issue of addressing and responding to family violence and the safety of children very seriously.  As part of wide-reaching reform that the Australian Government has implemented the Family Law Act requires a party to proceedings who is aware that a child, or another child who is a member of the child’s family, is or has been the subject of a notification or report to a prescribed state or territory agency or an investigation, inquiry or assessment by a prescribed state or territory agency and the notification, report, investigation, inquiry or assessment relates to abuse, or an allegation, suspicion or risk of abuse to inform the court of the matter.  The Family Law Act expressly authorises a person who is not a party to the proceedings to inform the court of the abovementioned matter.  Information about whether a child, or another child who is a member of the child’s family, is or has been the subject of a care order, notification or investigation under a child welfare law is crucial in assisting the court to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child.

Recommendation 30-2

The Initiating Application (Family Law) and Initiating Application (Family Law) Response forms should be amended to include a question seeking more general information, for example, ‘Do you have any fears for the safety of you or your child or children that the court should know about?’


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.  The Australian Government notes that giving effect to the recommendation is a matter for the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court.

See response to Recommendation 30-1.




Recommendation 30-8

Federal family courts should provide state and territory courts dealing with family violence and child protection matters – and others with a proper interest in such matters, including police and child protection agencies – with access to the Commonwealth Courts Portal to ensure that they have reliable and timely access to relevant information about existing federal family court orders and pending proceedings for such orders.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation in principle.  The Australian Government notes that giving effect to this recommendation is a matter for the family courts.

The Australian Government agrees that it is important for State and Territory courts and others with a proper interest in family violence and child protection matters to have efficient and timely access to relevant information about existing federal family law orders and pending proceedings for such orders.  The Policy Advisory Committees of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court are actively considering ways to improve the timely and efficient access to this information by relevant agencies and organisations with the primary focus at present being on improving access to family law information for child protection agencies.

The Australian Government proposes to consult with the Courts about the progress of their consideration of this issue.

Recommendation 30-9

The Australian, state and territory governments should ensure that privacy principles regulating the handling of personal information in each jurisdiction expressly permit the use or disclosure of information where agencies and organisations reasonably believe it is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to an individual’s life, health or safety.


The Australian Government agrees with this recommendation.

The Australian Government accepts that personal information should be used or disclosed for a secondary purpose where an agency or organisation reasonably believes that the use or disclosure is necessary to lessen or prevent serious threat to the life, health or safety of any individual, or to public health or safety.  However, to ensure that there are safeguards against the mishandling of personal information, this activity should only be permitted only after the consent of the individual concerned has been obtained, unless it is unreasonable or impracticable to obtain that consent.   

That is consistent with the Australian Government’s response to recommendation 25-3 of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report 108, For Your Information, Australian Privacy Law and Practice.  The Government’s response to that recommendation has been included in the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012 (Sch 1, Item 82, clause 16A). 

As to state or territory laws, the Government recognises there are clear benefits of nationally consistent privacy regulation.  The Government stated in its response to rec 3-1 of the ALRC’s privacy report that it would ‘work with its state and territory counterparts to progress this matter through further discussions in appropriate fora’.

Recommendation 30-10

The Australian, state and territory governments should consider amending secrecy laws that regulate the disclosure of government information to include an express exception to allow the disclosure of information in the course of a government officer’s functions and duties.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

This recommendation is similar to recommendations 7-1 and 10-2 of the ALRC Report 112 on Secrecy Laws and Open Government in Australia.  The Australian Government is working through the policy issues associated with the legislative reforms involved in responding to ALRC Report 112 and will respond to this recommendation in the context of responding to that Report.

Recommendation 30-14

The Australian, state and territory governments should develop guidelines to assist agencies and organisations working in the family violence and child protection systems to better understand the rules relating to the sharing of information.


The Australian Government notes this recommendation.

See response to recommendation 29-2 above.

[1] R Alexander, Domestic Violence in Australia: The Legal Response (3rd ed, 2002), 64. 

[2] At paragraph 19

[3] At paragraph 64





The aftermath of Family Domestic Violence

This is an interesting report done in February 2007. Yet regardless of how many studies occur, in 2015 we are still dealing with ongoing issues associated with Family Domestic Violence. One thing I related to as victims callingthemselves SURVIVORS.

Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence

Dr Ilsa Evans

Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Research Monash University

Domestic violence (DV) is one of the most serious social issues facing our society and is increasingly recognised as a human rights issue, defined and protected under international law, and as a criminal issue (DVIRC, 2005).

In 2002-2003, the total number of current Australian victims was estimated at 408,100, with an annual cost to the economy of approximately 8.1 billion dollars (Access Economics, 2004: vii).

The majority of victims are women, and the majority of victims eventually leave their abusive relationship (Seddon 1989). Policies and services within Australia have been long established to support women as victims and to assist women to leave abusive relationships.

However, leaving an abusive relationship does not end the impact of DV – instead, a personal experience of DV carries into future experience a range of long-term repercussions that have a continuing impact within the lives of survivors.

This report examines these repercussions for women survivors in terms of six broad service areas: health, justice, income, child support, parenting, and social support services. It does this primarily through the analysis of a comprehensive study of 134 women survivors of violent relationships.

The overall findings are that, in each of the above areas, past experiences of DV have an ongoing impact that needs to be understood if the policies and services currently provided by governments are to be effective. Currently, existing service responses are closely linked to expectations of ‘recovery’, and do not align with the experience of most DV survivors.

In this study, women survivors identified the lack of services and supports that recognise long-term effects for women as resulting in additional and unnecessary trauma for the survivor, increasing the long-term impacts of DV overall. Health In terms of health, study participants reported enduring a range of psychological, physical and sexual abuse during the abusive relationship, and that this abuse had long-term repercussions.

Respondents not only carried tangible scars of past abuse, there was also strong evidence to suggest an ongoing susceptibility to a range of negative health outcomes, such as depression, PTSD, eating disorders, arthritis, early menopause and cancer.

As the women recorded a higher than average long-term GP-attendance rate, however, there exists the opportunity for health professionals to identify such vulnerable patients.

This identification, especially whilst the women are still within an abusive relationship, would enable health professionals to provide information, guidance, undertake appropriate health assessments, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, and provide clinically and psychosocially appropriate treatment and support.

Currently, this rarely appears to be the case. Justice Few of the study participants found their contact with the legal system either beneficial or empowering.

It is a paradox of our legal system that the adversarial conflict that characterises abusive relationships is actually replicated within the pursuit of a judicial decision in contested cases.
This clearly favours perpetrators rather than victims, by providing a context more suited to those skilled in tactics and the exercise of power. This was strongly reflected within this study where, as a result of manipulation and/or intimidation by the perpetrator, most participants had settled for less property than was their entitlement.

Nevertheless, those who accessed legal channels received more property overall than those who elected to negotiate without legal recourse. Overall, the study participants exhibited a lack of faith in dealings with the family court and justice system in terms of child residence and contact.

The majority found that, rather than neutralise the oppositional nature of the relationship, the system potentially provided the perpetrator with a legally sanctioned avenue through which to vent his aggression.

This often led to significant, and ongoing, difficulties for those women with dependent children that made a mockery of expectations of ‘recovery’, and severely compromised their attempts to rebuild, both economically and psychologically.

Income The long-term nature of these consequences was most evident within the areas of income, home-ownership and superannuation, however rather than remaining dependant on social security, most study participants used the welfare system at the time of greatest vulnerability but, over time, made deliberate moves to gain qualifications and/or obtain employment, often in areas where they could draw on their past experiences of abuse.

Child support

The receipt of child support remained a major postseparation issue for most study participants with dependant children, with the large majority receiving little or no support at all. This has an obviously detrimental effect on future financial stability (such as retirement savings or home ownership). For such women, therefore, it is actually impossible to fully ‘recover’ financially, with the costs of raising children likely to continue to impact on their financial security long after the children have become adults.

In addition, many of the women perceived the Child Support Agency (CSA) as an ineffective tool that, in effect, often made their situations more problematic.

Of major concern also is the strong likelihood that a significant number of DV survivors have made a conscious decision not to enforce child support assessments due primarily to either fear of ongoing contact or associated repercussions.

However, as the study participants reported that it is common for women to claim successful receipt in order to avert Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence additional or further conflict with their former partner, survivors who choose this option disappear amongst the CSA statistics as positive outcomes rather than appear as they really are – victims of ongoing abuse.

Parenting As with child support, issues of parenting were a major post-relationship issue for the majority of study participants, and for good reason. Many were in a situation where continuing contact, via child access, was acting as a conduit for the continuation of the abusive relationship itself, with ongoing manipulation and hostility hampering their efforts to rebuild.

Participants considered that elements of the negative parenting exhibited by some perpetrators were, in fact, deliberate tactics used to undermine the survivor’s own parenting and general wellbeing.

The past and ongoing damage severely complicated the survivors’ postrelationship re-building, with most finding that subsequent issues necessitated a continuous investment of time, money and emotion.

Coping with their children’s problems thus created a range of difficulties, which in turn impacted on many participants’ ability to parent effectively, creating a catch-22 with serious consequences.

As a result, the women in this study were strongly in favour of safeguards, such as supervision and compulsory parenting courses, being implemented to ensure emotional and physical safety for all concerned. Social support services

Most study participants had sought some form of postseparation counselling, with a significant minority accessing support groups to assist in the rebuilding process.

The women had found the majority of such contact to be positive and several continued to access support even though it had been a considerable time since the relationship ended. Participants felt strongly that postseparation assistance should continue to be available to provide support as issues arose in a long-term sense.

Findings also indicate that most survivors would benefit from negotiating the rebuilding experience in company with other survivors and from having the example of more experienced survivors before them as an example of what can be achieved over time.

This ‘mutually rehabilitative’ model would give survivors the opportunity to use their experiences in a positive manner that, in turn, goes some way towards validating those experiences.

Few study participants had access to support based on such a model. In a similar fashion, despite an academic and agency trend (for example, Drauker, 1992; Herman, 1992; Matsakis, 1996; Phillips & Daniluk, 2004; Simpson, 2003; Young & Maguire, 2003) away from such usage, most study participants drew empowerment from identifying as a ‘survivor’.

The women spoke of seeing this as part of a forward moving trajectory, complementing the eventual integration of their survivor identity within their overall identity as they progressed.

They considered identification as a ‘survivor’ affirmed their progress away from the abuse without being defined by it, and without fragmentation, and felt strongly that the ‘survivor’ identification recognised the long-term psychosocial and economic impacts on them and on their children. Conclusion Overall, this report demonstrates that the damaging effects of DV have a continuing long-term impact on survivors.

The evolving and expanding nature of such long-term effects led to many participants either criticising, or consciously rejecting, associated ‘recovery’ terminology. This was articulated by the following two women: I do not use the term ‘recovery’ as, for me, it implies that being abused or its consequences constitute an illness from which I can be cured.

(Anna, 55/11/17)2 I’ll never be completely healed, it’s something you live with but doesn’t dominate your life anymore. (Gypsy, 36/7/8) Findings from this study indicate strongly that these responses are much closer to the mark than any assumptions that the past abuse is something to ‘just get over’ and then ‘move on.’ DV is relatively unique amongst crimes in that the victim must come to terms not only with the crime itself, but also often with ongoing contact with the person who perpetrated the crime against them.

Many of the participants in this study had to deal with ongoing threats to their safety. Yet the vast majority of these women had reconnected with their communities, with most establishing careers, raising children, and some returning to further education and/or forming new partnerships.

The major implication of this study is that the consequences for women of DV should be recognised as both long-term as well as in terms of the severity of their immediate impact.

An abusive relationship will reverberate, in a variety of ways and degrees, for the remainder of the lives of most survivors. The challenge for public policy and services now is to formulate responses that take this into account to redress and reduce, as much as is possible, the damaging nature of these long-term effects on families, women and children, whilst supporting the rebuilding efforts of those women and children who have experienced DV.

These three numbers represent the following formula: (age of participant /number of years that the abusive relationship lasted /number of years since separation from the abusive relationshipImplications and recommendations Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence letter of advice (2001) should be adopted by the judicial system as the guiding rule rather than the occasional exception.

This would build on the potential of the court to restore equity and uphold justice in property divisions where a background of DV is established. The recently released Review of Family Violence Laws Report (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 20064) represents the potential for considerable reform regarding the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987.

The review makes recommendations on all aspects of the justice system and family violence, including comprehensive changes to the intervention order process. It is strongly urged that all these recommendations, both legislative and non-legislative, be adopted as many are interdependent and interrelated and it is imperative that a holistic approach be taken to reform current law and improve the lot of victims and survivors of DV.

In particular, it is urged that exclusion orders should be given a greater profile within the community and abused women routinely informed of their availability at the point of contact with police.

As recommended within the Review of Family Violence Laws Report (Victorian Law Reform Commission, 2006: 329), there should be a judicial presumption in favour of exclusion orders rather than the reverse. The removal of the victim and children from the home in which the abusive relationship has occurred is an inadequate and frequently inappropriate response to the safety needs of the victim and children.

The accommodation rights of the perpetrator should be subordinate to the best interests of the victim and the children. Whilst this is increasingly recognised in research and policy debate, and is available in practice, developing a comprehensive policy approach to ensure consistency of practice should be given high priority as a matter of urgency.

This would locate service responses to the safety needs of DV victims within “a broader context of social justice, prevention of women’s homelessness, protection of children and making the violent party accountable” (Edwards, cited in Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2003: 7).

Child Support Agency (CSA) and child support payments It is strongly recommended that a number of modifications be adopted regarding the way in which the Child Support Agency (CSA) currently addresses cases that involve DV. This study clearly identifies that the current practice by the CSA of the release of personal financial details of one party of a relationship to the other party, particularly exposes women who have left abusive relationships to increased vulnerability and risk.

Given that the CSA may not be informed of, nor be able to confirm, the existence of abuse in a relationship, this practice should be reviewed in recognition of the increased risk of providing perpetrators of DV with their ex-partners’ personal financial details as this empowers the abuser at the expense of the abused. Participants in this study have strongly urged that the CSA commission a study of the potential to provide exceptional provisions for the permanent waiver of child support and

As discussed in Section 4, this letter was sent as a result of the case: ‘In the Marriage of Kennon’ (1997). This review was commissioned by the Attorney-General, the Honourable Rob Hulls MP, in 2002. parental support obligations where ongoing risk of abuse can be demonstrated. Finally, the CSA should immediately address the present situation, identified by women in this study, whereby battered women feel compelled to falsely claim receipt of child support in response to intimidation from, or to avoid contact with, abusive ex-partners.

Curtailing government expenditure should not be accomplished at the expense of an at-risk woman who has been threatened by criminal behaviour. Parenting The Australian Government report The Cost of Domestic Violence to the Australian Economy (Access Economics, 2004) found that there was little data on long-term impacts of DV on children (2004: 74).

This lack of available data was also identified within this report and it is evident that further research should be conducted into the long-term effects of DV on children, and also into the extent to which these effects are exacerbated by continued contact with abusive parents.

The findings presented in this report add weight to research (Bancroft & Silverman, 2002; Levendosky, Lynch, & Graham-Bermann, 2000) suggesting that abusive behaviour in the home should, in fact, be seen as indicative of a perpetrator’s negative parenting attitudes and the limitations of his basic parenting skills.

A system of mandatory parenting education should be considered with sanctions in place for those that do not comply. With regard to perpetrators, it is also recommended that psychiatric assessments and some form of ongoing review of behaviour during contact needs to be implemented to ensure the safety of all concerned.

Further education

This report demonstrates that the majority of study participants actively sought further education postrelationship as a means of bolstering self-esteem and extending employment options. It is recommended, therefore, that research be conducted into ways in which this self-help behaviour can be more fully supported and encouraged as a means of combating the long-term effects of DV.

Religious organisations Members and leaders of religious communities have a particular capacity to contribute to and engage in government and community agency programs and approaches to address DV, and should be included in all government and community programs and approaches to this issue.

Assertions by clerics of all faiths that violence in a relationship is unacceptable, and a criminal act, would contribute to changed community attitudes. Individual clerics should recognise and understand the significant role they can play when confronted by a perpetrator, victim or survivor.

A national strategy to engage clergy should be considered, and this could include use of an Australian teaching curriculum regarding DV, which resulted in a significant increase in clergy awareness, sensitivity, resourcefulness and supportiveness (Dixon, 1995).

Battle-scars: Long-term effects of prior domestic violence Social support agencies

The availability of social support agencies, and their appreciation of the complexities of DV, can be central to the immediate and long-term well-being of DV survivors. This report demonstrates that most study participants actively sought some form of support post-relationship, but that many were critical of expectations regarding short-term ‘recovery.’

The significance of this for the current approaches to women leaving violent relationships should be assessed.

Psychological, sociological and therapeutic interventions should be refocussed to ‘incorporation’ rather than ‘recovery’ and provide an open-ended model of assistance capable of recognising the long-term nature of the impact of DV and anticipating the evolving nature of the repercussions.

Additionally, the benefit to women survivors of the experience and support of other survivors is evident in this study, and the concept of mutually rehabilitative support, with an emphasis on the survivor-perspective, should be included in support services for women who have left violent relationships.

The concept of mutual support for health care consumers from other consumers who have survived or are living with the same health condition is now well recognised.

This model of care and support should be developed for women leaving violent relationships with education and mentoring training for survivor supporters. Involvement of women survivors with other women seeking and needing support would validate survivor knowledge by listening to the voices of the women themselves as a “source of innovative theory and policy development” (Hague, Mullender, Aris, & Dear, n.d.: 2).

To assist the development and implementation of this approach to care and support of women leaving violent relationships, funding should be provided to establish a pilot self-help support program for DV survivors.

The women’s experiences in this study indicate that a self-help and support program would be effective as a community program based on the Alcoholics Anonymous guidelines5, where an open-ended, mutual rehabilitative, non-obligatory, democratic framework bases itself upon the belief that (with regards to alcohol): “the personal, subjective experience of alcoholism [is] something which one alcoholic is able to share with another. We have found that trying to help another alcoholic is good for us, whether or not the alcoholic uses what we offer” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1972).

One of the strongest findings of this study is the affinity most study participants felt with identifying themselves as ‘survivors’, even after the abuse itself has become a less dominant issue within their lives.

This report therefore recommends that support agencies contemplating the ‘shedding’ of the survivor label should review this in light of the wishes of survivors themselves. This is not to suggest that DV survivors have an addiction, or even a predetermination towards victim-hood. Nor is it to suggest that DV perpetrators have a disease. The AA guidelines are only recommended here because much of their framework draws on the open-ended, mutually rehabilitative credo, and has had considerable success. 

PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hidden Hurt

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) consists of common symptoms displayed by survivors after natural or man-made disaster, combat, serious accident, witnessing the violent death of others, or being the victim of torture, terrorism, rape, abuse, or other crime. All these events fall outside the range of ‘normal’ human experience and leave the sufferer with delayed and/or protracted intrusive responses, which can be so debilitating, that they prevent normal day-to-day life.

Those who have been abused often experience long-term feelings and reactions which can cause a lot of distress. They may have flashbacks, sudden feelings of anxiety, an inability to concentrate or feel as though everything is somehow unreal. These reactions and feelings are a comparatively normal reaction to a traumatic event or events and are called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is estimated that around 20% of people experiencing traumatic events such as physical or sexual assault may develop PTSD.

The extent of PTSD varies from person to person, and can occur while still in the abusive relationship or after it has ended, can last only a short time or can remain for years. In any case it is advisable to seek the help of a counsellor or therapist to help come to terms with the events which have led to PTSD and explore ways to either lessen them or their impact.

The following are symptoms experienced by people suffering from PTSD, though this list was created from a variety of sources and does not consitute a medical description:

  • Flashbacks. Re-experiencing a traumatic event, such as a battering or rape, but also things said, gestures, aggression. Flashbacks are commonly triggered by stimuli which in some way link the present with the past, eg seeing a knife similar to one with which you were threatened, re-visiting a place in which you were emotionally or verbally abused, etc. If you find yourself avoiding certain places, activities or objects, this could be because they act as a trigger to the abuse. A flashback is not just a memory of an event, but the re-experiencing of it, ie your body reacts as though the danger were in the present rather than in the past.
  • Dreams/Nightmares and Sleep Disturbances. These dreams can be in the form of re-enacting or changing what happened. Some survivors wake at night in a state of anxiety or suffer from insomnia.
  • Numbness and Emotional Blunting. This is an extremely useful survival tool which enabled us to keep going, especially where the abuse is still ongoing. But once the trauma, stress and real danger has passed, it prevents us from dealing with the issues and moving on.
  • Detachment from Other People. You may feel different, as though you were physically in the same world, but actually living in a parallel universe, not part of it. Also, you may feel unable to respond “normally” to others, interact properly. You may avoid people generally, or avoid eye contact.
  • Unresponsiveness to Surroundings. You may feel almost trance-like or “switch off” and have to make a concerted effort to concentrate on your surroundings. More seriously, you may dissociate (there are several different types) and either be totally detached from or unable to react to the outside world.
  • Anhedonia. This basically means an inability to feel pleasure. You may be able to see and hear the things that would usually give pleasure (children playing or laughing, sunshine, blue sky, bird singing), but cannot feel anything. You feel devoid of any emotion.
  • Avoidance of anything that may remind you fo the abuse or trigger flashbacks. See ‘Flashbacks’, above.
  • Acute Bursts of Fear or Panic. Sudden fear or panic, often for no apparent reason Hyperarousal and/or Enhanced Startle Reaction. This means not simply that you may be easily startled, but that when startled, the reaction is extreme. If suffering from Hyperarousal, you may constantly be in ‘fight or flightmode. Some survivors have found that these responses increase initialy as the numbness and emotional blunting wears off.
  • Depression and Anxiety. Although it is possible to experience depression and/or anxiety without suffering from PTSD, where these symptoms coincide with others, they form part of the disorder.
  • Suicidal Ideation. The urge to harm or even kill oneself. If you feel you may harm yourself, please do seek support as soon as possible.

Although not all abused persons experience all the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most experience a number of these reactions. If you recognise yourself in several of the above, it is advisable to visit your local GP who will be able to offer help and further support.

It has also got to be noted that not only the person being abused directly can suffer from PTSD, but that children, either living in a home where the mother is being abused or being abused themselves, can also suffer from the disorder.

The good news is that PTSD does not have to last forever, it is not a life sentence. PTSD in adults and in children can be treated successfully and often the symptoms get less and less frequent over time as we naturally work through the issues which domestic abuse has left us with.

The Rage of the Privileged vs The Rage of the Oppressed

Brilliant read

indigenous motherhood

The rage of the privileged will never surmount to the rage of the oppressed. As much as it convinces itself it does. As much as it portrays itself to be. As much as it self-victimizes it self in pursuit of.

Here’s why:

The rage of the privileged thrives off of the false idea that they are exempt from wrong-doings and not responsible when committing injustice.

The rage of the privileged gives excuses and self-proclaimed righteousness in the murder and victimization of the oppressed.

The rage of the privileged holds self-legitimization and “we are the real victim” discourse as a reason to commit treason and acts of barbarianism against indigenous bodies and treaty lands.

The rage of the privileged is the outcome of settler children being raised completely and utterly by colonialism in the cobweb of confusion that makes up their systems.

The rage of the privileged carries generations of guiltless…

View original post 521 more words

I spend a lot of time, telling abuse survivors “I’m so sorry”. — Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

Throughout my work, online, my website, my social media…. I have a lot of survivors express the abuse and harm they have endured. This harm can be from the abusers, from the family/friends/people who ignored it, from people who victim shamed and victim blamed, from religious people, from unhealthy therapists…. the list is endless. Whenever someone […]

via I spend a lot of time, telling abuse survivors “I’m so sorry”. — Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

Domestic Violence & Traumatic Brain Injury the Silent Assassin

The overlap between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and violence is an important yet little understood problem. The exact number of violence-related TBIs each year is not known. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 11% of TBI deaths, hospitalizations, and ED visits combined (a total of 156,000 each year) are related to assaults (Langlois et al, 2004). But this number likely is low because it excludes the many other TBIs, including concussions, caused by violence that go unidentified and unreported. Although not a focus of this article, prisoners and young children are two of the groups at high risk of a violence-related TBI that may not be identified. (See articles by Wald, et al, and Berger, this issue).

Furthermore, the problem of TBI and violence is complicated by the fact that violence is not only a cause, but a consequence of TBI. Specifically,TBI-related cognitive and behavioral problems can also result in aggressive behavior that leads to perpetration of violence, or a lack of insight and judgment, and resulting vulnerability, that can lead to victimization. Depression after TBI can lead to an increased risk of self-inflicted injury, including suicide (Oquendo et al., 2004). Although not a focus of this article, suicide is an important aspect of violence that is addressed elsewhere in this issue (See Brenner article).

The goal of this article is to increase awareness among TBI and health care professionals about the overlap between TBI and violence by summarizing the epidemiology and providing case examples for victimization and aggressive behavior. In addition, we focused on intimate partner violence and TBI because of the limited information published about this topic.

Violence as a Cause of Traumatic Brain Injury

Intimate Partner Violence

The term intimate partner violence (IPV) is also known as domestic violence, spouse abuse, or woman abuse. An “intimate partner” is defined as a current or former partner, including a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend (Saltzman et al., 1999). After a relationship ends, many people continue to be at risk for violence from former partners. Intimate partners can be the opposite or the same sex as the victim (Burke et al., 1999; Moracco et al., 2007).

Each year in the United States, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes; men are the victims of about 2.9 million intimate partner violencerelated physical assaults (Tjaden et al., 2000). However, these numbers may underestimate the extent of the problem as certain populations who are more likely to report IPV (prisoners, those living in shelters, transient people, and the homeless) are less likely to be surveyed.

The number of cases of TBI associated with intimate partner violence is not known. However, as mentioned above, CDC estimates that at least 156,000 TBI-related deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits in the U.S. each year are related to assaults (Langlois, et al., 2004). Strangulation or blows to the head may occur in 50 to 90 percent of IPV physical assaults against women (Wolfe et al, 1997; Greenfield et al., 1998). Thus, the true number of violence-related TBIs may be much higher than the CDC estimate. Multiple TBIs, including concussions are frequently reported by incarcerated women with a history of IPV (Pamela Diamond, PhD, University of Texas-Houston, Personal Communication, October 2007).

In one study, 60 percent of the women with IPV-related TBI continued to exhibit TBI-related symptoms 3 months after the injury (Monahan and O’Leary, 1999). Women with TBI frequently exhibit reduced capacity to make informed, consistent choices about whether to leave or return to the perpetrating partner, and their ability to plan and to respond appropriately to safety, health, child care, and parenting issues may be significantly compromised (Monahan and O’Leary, 1999). This increases the likelihood that they will remain in a violent relationship and the risk of sustaining additional injuries, including TBI.

Many victims do not report IPV to police, friends, or family because they think others will not believe them and that the police cannot help (Tjaden et al., 2000).

This may be particularly true for persons with traumatic brain injury (Reichard et al., 2007) for several reasons. First, individuals with TBI are more likely to be dependent on a perpetrator for financial support and physical care. Second, communication problems associated with TBI may make it difficult for victims to report victimization. Third, the perpetrator may claim that the victim should not be taken seriously because of their TBI-related cognitive problems. Finally, victims may not be willing to admit that they have had a TBI because of the fear of negative consequences such as losing custody oftheir children.

Case example

Debra was born in in 1952. She spent 10 years in an abusive relationship with her female partner, and during that time sustained several possible concussions. In 2000, she was lying in bed asleep and was shot several times, including once in the head. She was rushed to the ER and remained in the hospital for 9 days for cranial hemorrhaging. (See sidebar “One Woman’s Story” for a more detailed account)

(Published with permission from Ms. Gray, obtained by the
Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services)

Violence as a Consequence of TBI


A victim is defined as a target of emotional abuse or threatened or actual physical or sexual violence (Saltzman, et al., 2002). Victimization can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological or emotional abuse, stalking, and neglect.

Persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence, and their position of vulnerability often makes it more difficult to leave a violent situation. The number of persons with TBI in the U.S. who are victimized each year is not known and existing information regarding the victimization of persons with disabilities has been gleaned from a small number of studies (Marge, 2003). Such studies have shown that persons with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to become a victim of violence, abuse, or neglect than persons without disabilities (Petersilia, 2001). One recent study found that men and women with activity limitations were more likely to experience physical, emotional, and financial abuse, and that women with activity limitations were more likely to experience sexual abuse (Cohen, et al., 2006). Another study found that women with disabilities were 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence than women without disabilities (Brownridge, 2006).

Research suggests that certain conditions increase the likelihood of violence, abuse or neglect. One study found that violence was more likely among women with a physical disability when they also had more than one disability, a hearing impairment, or were divorced/separated (Milberger, et al., 2003). Another study found that men and women with activity limitations were more likely to report intimate partner violence if they were single, younger, had lower income, and/or had poor health (Cohen, et al., 2006). (For more detailed information about victimization, see the sidebar).

Little is known about the experience of victimization among persons with TBI, however. A recent qualitative research report by Reichard et al. (2007) has begun to shed some light on the problem and provides a number of examples. Selected narratives collected as part of this study are presented below.

Case examples

Victimization of persons with TBI
Physical abuse

I guess because I had on a shirt he didn’t like. I remember it was something about clothes and he threatened to cut the shirt off my body, and I told him he wasn’t cutting the shirt off my body, that I’d go take it off, and then he was going to cut the shirt to shreds, and I told him no, he wasn’t. That I’d take the shirt off but he wasn’t cutting the shirt up, and something about the shirt. He didn’t like the shirt or something, and he had the scissors and he got mad, and I took the scissors away from him, and that’s the only way I’d take off the shirt if he gave me the scissors, and that’s when he pounded me in the head.

Physical and financial abuse

Saturday evening, this fellow [name], who I was going to marry, he tore…he gave me a black eye, he tore up my apartment and demanded a $300 check. [This was not the first time this happened]. He’d hit me and stuff like that. I’ve gone to work with a black eye.

Seeking protection

I went to the police to see what I could do. They told me the temporary restraining order wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. They told me basically it was all a joke. I could get it, but he could show up with a gun and blow me away. That if I was going to do anything, I needed to do it and disappear. I needed to go out of state. I needed to file the papers, go out of state, and then not show up until the day of the court date. That I needed to go ahead and get what I needed done, do it fast, and then leave the state of [state name]. I told them I didn’t have no money. I didn’t have…if I left the state of [state name], how was I going to live? Where was I going to live? How was I going to get there? Due to seizures, I couldn’t drive. I didn’t have no way of driving. What was the deal? And they said they couldn’t help me.

Sexual abuse

I was at a car dealership … getting the car serviced and everything. This elderly man walked in, big smile on, plopped down right next to me, started talking to me very friendly. I started feeling very comfortable with him. Felt like he was like a father figure, you know because my father died when I was…about 5 or 6 years old. Then he started. He put his arm out back behind me. It was a loveseat type thing, which I was feeling very comfortable with him because I was identifying with a father. He started asking questions and so I was talking with him about [the problems he said he was having with his wife and what he could do about them]. And with that he kept getting closer to me… and he moved his hand from the back of the sofa down to the seat and all of a sudden I became aware he was shoving his hand at my butt, up under it and had his thumb stroking my thigh on the outside… my hip area…he was still engaging me in the conversation so that was distracting me…The next thing I know he’s got his hand up my short leg, over into my pubic area, probing, massaging, and I’m looking at him. What are you doing? He said…oh, you’ve just given me the thrill of my life today. And I said remove your hand… I came home rattled…The first thing I did was pick up the phone and I called [name of state] and talked to my friend there and I told him what happened, and I was in hysterics. I mean I was sobbing. I was frantic. I was shaking as I was holding the phone. It’s like I don’t understand why do these things keep happening, you know, and we talked about it and that’s when I first got the insight. He talked to me. He was friendly. You know, he was gentle. He started off appropriate. He kept me distracted, and he was the perfect predator…I’ve been in a situation of no control, … and … distracted, not really able to anticipate where stuff is going. I’m just trying to deal with each moment, so I mean that’s a problem because that means I’m wide open for rape and anything else, and I’ve been fortunate so far no one’s raped me. They’ve molested me, but they have not raped me.

Sexual abuse by a medical professional

It was the second [gynecological exam] in my whole life… [The doctor] dismissed the nurse and he told me to change into a paper gown and he didn’t leave the room….Yeah. And he made me put the thing so it opened in the front…, and then he came over and he pulled the paper open at my breast and everything and he was just looking and his looks were bedroom looks…., and then he took his hands and he started fondling my breasts. After [talking to me about sex and masturbation and touching my private area in a sexual way] … he put [the speculum] in hot and he said I can sterilize you if you ever tell anybody and besides you’ve got a brain injury. They’re not going to believe you.

Violence as a consequence of TBI

Aggressive behavior

According to Silver et al (2005), aggressive behavior after TBI includes explosive behavior that can be set off by minimal provocation and occur without warning. Episodes range in severity from irritability to outbursts that result in damage to property or assaults on others.

Reports of the incidence of aggression vary widely. Studies of patients with TBI conducted in medical outpatient settings typically report low rates of aggressive behavior (Kreutzer et al, 1999). In contrast, persons in a TBI neurobehavioral program displayed an average of about 280 aggressive acts per day during a 14-day period (Alderman et al, 2002). Sexual aggression was reported in 6.5% of a sample of male patients receiving either inpatient or outpatient TBI rehabilitation; the most common offenses were “touching” offenses followed by exhibitionism and overt sexual aggression (Simpson et al., 1999) Increasing evidence suggests that TBI-related aggressive behavior is strongly associated with depression (Kreutzer et al,1996; Tateno et al, 2003; Baguley et al, 2006).

Case examples

Paul was a new 16 year-old driver when he ran his car off the road and both he and his girlfriend sustained TBIs. After a 2 month coma and years of recovery, his social skills have not caught up with his age of 24. He was taken by police to the emergency room when a group of guys beat him severely and took his wallet. Surprised and humiliated, he responded, ”I don’t understand. I just asked them ‘do you want some of this.’ I guess they thought I wanted to fight because they just started beating me up.” Now four years later, despite his best intentions, he loses new friends when he throws things and screams obscenities at them. “They are looking at me and talking too loud” he says. “I said I’m sorry, I go too far before I know it.”

(Source: Cindi Johnson, Side-by-Side Clubhouse, Atlanta, GA, January, 2007).

After sustaining a brain injury in Iraq, Steve was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. One of the effects of his brain injury is that he has a harder time keeping his emotions under control. He blurts out what he’s thinking or flashes his anger. Late one night driving his pickup truck, he and his wife, came to an intersection where he usually turned left. Now there was a ‘No left turn’ sign. Confused, he stopped and tried to figure out what to do. A policeman walked up. According to his wife “The cop, he shines the flashlight right in at Steve, and he’s screaming, ‘Can you not read, stupid?’ and he got irate. Steve said to his wife, ‘This guy just called me stupid.’ He let out the clutch on the truck and yelled at the cop. ‘I’ll show you stupid, because I’m not stupid. It just takes me longer to comprehend.’ ” He wanted to get out of the car then, but his wife told him “No, it’s not worth it.” She calmed him down and the couple drove on. In rehab, Steve is learning strategies to jog his memory and control his anger. He says “I bite my tongue so many times. I–they’ve taught me to really walk off, and it’s a hard thing for me to do, but I’m learning that.”

Adapted from National Public Radio report from November 29, 2005: php?storyId=5030571. Accessed 12/28/07

Reducing the toll of violence after TBI


Screening for possible TBI among persons who have experienced intimate partner violence is critical to ensuring that those with TBI-related problems are diagnosed and receive needed services and/or accommodations. Professionals working in IPV prevention can benefit from information and training aimed at helping them identify and manage persons with TBI. Potentially useful methods for screening, identifying and assisting such cases have been proposed by both the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Brain Injury Association of Virginia (See Interview with Maria Crowley, this issue, and sidebar of Intimate Partner [Domestic] Violence Resources). Additional research is needed to ensure that the screening methods for identifying TBI are both valid and reliable. The November-December 2007 issue of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, which was devoted to articles about screening and identification of TBI, includes information about promising new screening methods.

Similarly, screening for victimization among persons with TBI is also important. Physicians are especially well-placed to conduct such screening. However, recent studies of the screening practices of physicians, including obstetrician–gynecologists, indicate that most conduct screening for violence only when warning signs are observed (Horan et al., 1998; Rodriguez et al., 1999).

Unfortunately, violence can exist in the absence of warning signs in the patient’s behavior or medical history. Women who are victims of violence may not present with symptoms, especially those who experience psychological or emotional abuse. They may conceal what they are experiencing at home. Because of the increased vulnerability of women with disabilities, including those with TBI, it is important to study the utility of screening these patients for IPV.

One of the most widely used screening tools is the Abuse Assessment Screen (McFarlane et al, 1992). This tool is short and has been tested in clinical settings. This and other tools for assessing IPV can be found in the Centers for Disease Control’s publicationIntimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Victimization Assessment Instruments for Use in Healthcare Settings. [See Intimate Partner (Domestic) Violence Resources sidebar, page 16.]

Aggressive behavior

The need to improve the effectiveness of strategies to manage the anger, aggression, and disinhibition following TBI has been well established (Corrigan and Bach, 2005). The link between TBIrelated behavioral problems and violent victimization described in this article provides an additional reason why work in this area is vitally important. Improvements in behavioral management techniques might yield benefits beyond achieving reductions in problematic behaviors. This could include reduced risks for the forms of victimization that may accompany diminished coping abilities, impulse control problems, and increased irritability.


Violence as both a cause and a consequence of TBI is a serious problem. TBI professionals can play an important role in educating domestic violence workers, health care providers, and other professionals, including those in law enforcement, about ways to better identify and assist persons who experience violence. Additional research is needed to better quantify the extent of the problem and to ensure that screening methods for identifying a history of TBI are valid and reliable.

About the Authors

Jean A. Langlois, ScD, MPH is a senior epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She holds master’s and doctoral degrees in injury epidemiology and health policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. Dr. Langlois worked in pediatric traumatic brain injury rehabilitation at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and was a Senior Staff Fellow in epidemiology at the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health before joining the CDC. She has published numerousarticles and reports on traumatic brain injury, and is considered a national expert on the epidemiology of TBI. In 2006, she was the recipient of the Brain Injury Association of Ohio’s Awareness Award, and the North American Brain Injury Society’s Public Policy Award

Jeffrey E. Hall, Ph.D., M.S.P.H. is a behavioral scientist with CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention. He is a medical sociologist whose research has focused on etiologic aspects of youth violence, elder maltreatment, and violence against women.

Matt Breiding, Ph.D. is a behavioral scientist with CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention. He is a psychologist whose research has focused on the topics of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

Audrey A. Reichard MPH, OTR is an epidemiologist who currently conducts research on occupational injuries at the CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Division of Safety Research. She previously worked in the CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Injury Response. Prior to beginning a full-time research position, she practiced as an occupational therapist.

Ms. McDonnell is the Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia. She has a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from the Medical College of Virginia, a postgraduate Certificate in Health Care Management and Administration from Old Dominion University, and a Masters of Public Administration degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Anne has over 20 years of experience in brain injury rehabilitation across a continuum of hospital and community based settings, and has worked as a consultant for state agencies and private service providers. She serves on the advisory boards for the VCU and Ohio Valley Center Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems grants, and holds a clinical faculty position in the School of Occupational Therapy at VCU.

Marlena Wald, MLS, MPH is an epidemiologist at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. She has a strong interest in research on victimization of persons with TBI and is the developer CDC’s fact sheets on this topic and on TBI among prisoners.


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Brain Injury from Violence just isnt ONE PUNCH

The “One Punch Kills” campaign in Australia has been successful in some respect to address violence amongst men on men. What has not been addressed is just one aggressive act of violence can leave a brain injury resulting from domestic violence.

They say one in three women in Australia are hospitalised each week and diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury due to Domestic Violence. Yet the numbers are actually higher. I have met plenty of women and children  who are diagnosed with a brain injury after leaving a violent relationship. They are not part of these statistics. 

There is no real detailed research into Traumatic Brain Injury resulting from domestic violence. My own Traumatic Brain Injury was a result of Family Violence. I hid the diagnosis for five years because the stigma of such an injury.

Why? Well from other survivors of Domestic Violence, I learnt early on from their experiences that even discussing a brain injury resulting from domestic violence was frowned upon, and literally taboo.

Here as some of the survivors stories:

  1. Human Services suggests that such an injury could have an effect on being “capable mother” children were put into state care for three years. (2012)
  2. Victoria Police told one survivor that maybe “she asked for it” and that a man only gets that angry “when provoked”. The assault was investigated, (no medical records accessed) and no charges laid. (2014) She was unable to get Victims of Crime Compensation, because in Victoria if the person is not charged with an offence, you are cross examined by them at the Tribunal. She refused to be retraumatised by his abuse.
  3. Centrelink informed one mother that even though she had a Brain Injury (and that qualified her fro a disability pension) the injury was a result from her own behaviour. It took 18 months, three reviews at Centrelink, and then VCAT to be given a disability pension. (2015). Apparently if you acquire a traumatic brain injury from a car accident, this is deemed acceptable by Centrelink.
  4. Regional Hospital in Victoria informed a survivor that her blurred vision and headaches was probably from stress and refused to arrange a full diagnosis. Three weeks later after colapsing at home, she was flown to the Alfred Hospital and now has a plate in her head.
  5. Local doctors when presenting with symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury, informing survivors that there is up to a 6 month waiting list on Medicare to have testing done. (Yet if you have a slight accident and are hospitalised and complain about headaches and blurred vision you automatically are tested.) One survivor died from a blood clot 6 weeks after assault. (2014).
  6. Another survivor is still waiting to be tested. She spends most of her time with headaches, slight vomiting, ringing in ears, dizziness. It has been 16 weeks and she is still on waiting list for tests. (2015)
  7. One survivor was misdiagnosed with mental illness until she was tested for another issue that resulted in confirmation she had a Traumatic Brain Injury. Now with the correct diagnosis and care plan in place she has regained her life somewhat. (2014). 

So how many other survivors of domestic violence out there that have a Traumatic Brain Injury undiagnosed or untreated?

Its just not one punch that can kill.

One push (survivor had head slammed up against brick wall)

One instrument (survivor hit with cricket bat to head)

One moment (survivor fell down stairs trying to escape violence)

One fall (survivor protecting child from violence picked up child attempted to run fell on concrete path slammed head into garden bed edging lost hearing to left ear as well)

Traumatic Brain Injury and domestic violence are interlinked, both by stigma and misunderstanding.

Family Violence Financial abuse “Im still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving”

Financial abuse not only negatively impacts the financial security of women when they are in the abusive relationship but well after they have left the abusive relationship. This leaves many women and their children in poverty and vulnerable to homelessness.

“Although there is no exact measure, research indicates that financial abuse in intimate relationships is widespread and common. It is known that a majority of women (between 80 – 90 per cent) seeking support for domestic and family violence have experienced financial abuse (Potmus et al, 2013; Sharp 2008; McDonald 2012:12).”

Family violence not only negatively impacts women’s financial security when they are in the abusive relationship, the lack of financial security continues post-separation. Many abusive men continue to financially abuse their ex-partners and exert control by abusing the courts and other government institutions such as the Child Support Agency.

“On an individual level, domestic violence creates complex economic issues for women and their children and disrupts their lives over the short and long-term. Regardless of their prior economic circumstances, many women experience financial risk or poverty as a result of domestic violence. These difficulties hamper their recovery and capacity to regain control over their lives.

Domestic violence directly affects women’s financial security in key areas of life: debts, bills and banking, accommodation, legal issues, health, transport, migration, employment, social security and child support.”  

In WIRE’s 2014 research report Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse, WIRE spoke to 59 women in focus groups about their experience of financial abuse and 145 women participated in an on-line survey.

Our findings clearly show that women’s financial security is negatively impacted in the short and long-term as a result of financial abuse.

“I had about $32,000 saved up in cash. I was working and I was working a lot, I was working a lot of hours and was doing a number of jobs going at the same time. I had plenty of money, probably for the first time I was sort of peaking in what I was earning. And also because the relationship was so abusive, my capacity to work went down as well and my income actually dropped because I wasn’t able to juggle everything and my energy levels just weren’t there.

And when I left I was about $7000 in debt and it was a bit heartbreaking because it’s so hard to save that amount of money.”  

In addition financial abuse often continues even after the intimate relationship has ended.

Our findings included that for many women the financial abuse manifested itself in many ways post separation including:

• Non-payment of Child Support payments

• The perpetrator acting as a vexatious litigant causing their ex-partner to use any savings they have to fund legal costs

• Perpetrators withholding money to pressure their ex-partner into financial deals that disadvantage them in the short and long-term.

“Well my ex-husband is definitely, blatantly, obviously using the system to abuse me. Like I said I am about to go to court for the eighth time for child support. He is taking me to court. He has a [child support] debt; he won’t pay it. He is not going through the child support system because he has already appealed it and they have said no. So he is going through the legal system because he has the money and he is spending more on legal fees than the child support.

It is just a control thing and it is just about breaking me down and he is doing all sorts of things within the system to abuse me.”

The financial abuse that women experience is further compounded by the gender pay gap which amounts to women on average earning 18.2 per cent less than men. This financial abuse is exacerbated by women having to juggle work and family due to primary care responsibilities for dependent children, limiting their access to employment and in many cases to more highly paid career options.

Innovation in providing support to women who have experienced financial abuse WIRE has built on its 2007 research ‘Women’s Financial Literacy Report ’ in order to provide a gendered response to financial abuse in the context of family violence.

This approach is both preventative as well as restorative. In this research it was determined that women’s relationship with money and the societal expectations of women as poor financial managers had a significant impact in how women respond to money issues and their perception of themselves as a good financial manager.

omen repeatedly told us that their partner would ridicule their skills as a financial manager as a way of perpetrating financial abuse and using money to control them. Women often cited that it was their relationship with money and what they believed to be the cultural or community norm that made them more vulnerable to financial abuse.

WIRE’s work in this financial abuse space includes working with women and understanding their relationship with money and how perpetrators exploit stereotypes of women being poor money managers.

WIRE along with other organisations from 2011 to 2013 received funding from a variety of sources to provide workshops and financial information to women that identified as currently experiencing financial abuse.

Generally these programs had very poor reach, with few women participating. As a result of these programs not meeting expectations WIRE undertook its 2014 research, Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse to build knowledge and understanding of the nature and impact of financial abuse in the context of family violence, to identify the barriers that prevent women from accessing their financial entitlements and other information that would improve their financial security outcome. T

he research findings included identifying strategies to overcome these barriers. As a result of the findings from our research and through collaboration and information sharing with other organisations in the financial abuse space, WIRE is in the process of undertaking new innovative projects that take into account all new available information regarding how best to work with women who have experienced financial abuse.

WIRE’s innovation Reducing financial abuse needs to occur at multiple levels – at the preventive level as well as the recovery level. To this end WIRE is doing the following:


Providing information and support to women entering new intimate relationships on engaging their partner in constructive money conversations.

The project is a financial capability project rather than a financial abuse project.By working with women and providing a space for them to understand their relationship with money and build their confidence and skills to talk to their intimate partner about money issues, women have the opportunity to take action if they see the early signs of financial abuse.

The second phase of this project is yet to be funded and includes creating a website for women on having money conversations with their partner.

As a prevention strategy this project has several advantages:

o Women do not have to identify as experiencing family violence to participate.

o The project is aimed at women who are entering or have newly formed relationships and thus a relationship in which the norms are being established.

If financial abuse is indicated by the woman’s responses to assessment questions about her financial relationship with her partner, the website will inform her that what she is experiencing may be financial abuse and that financial abuse is a form of family violence, and provide information regarding where she can seek support. This once again reaches women who may not have sought assistance for financial abuse.

Reducing the impact of financial abuse: WIRE will in 2015 commence an innovative program called New Beginning: Steps to a more secure financial future.

This program aims to enable women who have experienced family violence to improve their short, medium and long-term financial security outcomes by decreasing their financial recovery time.

The project provides women throughout Victoria with financial capability support through oneon-one support and workshops. Like the Strong Beginnings- Financial Equals project this program will provide women with information to enable them to assess their relationship with money and understand the tactics perpetrators use to control women and children through money.

These workshops and support will be provided by staff who have a Definition of financial capability: Financial capability is the combination of attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life, within an enabling environment that includes, but is not limited to, access to appropriate financial services, understanding of financial capability and work within a strength-based, trauma-informed and gendered framework; thus enabling the support to be tailored to the needs of women that have experienced family violence.

• Training to the community services sector: WIRE is a recognised expert in the field of financial abuse and is also a registered training organisation with a long history of providing accredited and non-accredited training to the community sector.

To enable more community sector workers to recognise financial abuse and thus take appropriate action in concert with their clients, WIRE since 2011 has been delivering professional development training regarding financial abuse in the context of family violence.

Family violence and employment “[It} was a city of 10,000, so everyone knows everyone; we were in a high profile business so that definitely had a play. I mean it had a big impact on me being able to get work because my ex-husband retained the business and it was one of the largest businesses in town and he said to me, ‘Look I have blackened your name everywhere, you won’t be able to get employment because no one will be game enough to employ you because I will pull the business away from them and no one will be game enough to hire you’ and it was true because I applied for several jobs and I didn’t even get an interview so we moved cities … So I lost my career in that my qualifications weren’t transferrable and I didn’t realise that when we split and so I lost the business and my home and our farm and all the assets but I was lucky enough to retain enough to have a house.”

•••••• Any strategies developed to protect the financial security of women who have experienced family violence must enable women to acquire decent and secure employment. We have already established in this submission that women and their children who experience family violence are far more vulnerable to poverty, financial insecurity and homelessness.

The most effective way to counter poverty is meaningful and decently paid employment. “Gaining and maintaining paid work is pivotal in creating a secure financial future for victims of domestic violence and their families.”

However, participation in employment can be seriously undermined by ongoing abuse and its subsequent effects. Australian researchers, for example, found that some women had not been allowed to work while in a violent relationship and found it difficult to enter or re-enter the workforce post separation.

These findings are echoed in overseas studies, which highlight how domestic violence not only acts as a barrier to education, training, and employment but also can escalate when survivors seek or participate in such activities. In order to maintain control over their partners, abusers may interfere with women’s efforts to become self-sufficient.

Women affected by domestic violence are also more likely to have a disrupted work history and are more likely to occupy casual and part-time work than women with no experience of violence. In short, women escaping and experiencing domestic violence are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the labour market.

Some researchers argue that the dominant approaches to domestic violence in Australia have been crisis oriented and focused on providing accommodation, welfare assistance, and emergency support services to women and children without looking towards job search and training to facilitate financial security independent of social service agencies.”

National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey (2011) noted that two thirds of family violence survivors are in paid employment. This statistic highlights the importance of enabling women affected by family violence to continue their employment.

Apart from providing crucial financial security, employment often also provides support networks to women who are experiencing family violence. This strategy aimed at retaining women in employment is critical. The ACTU is presently running a case to insert Domestic Violence Clauses (including paid leave) into Modern Awards.

As of November 2013 over 1.2 million workers in Australia now have access to paid Family Violence leave. WIRE supports all employers incorporating the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clauses into their industrial Agreements and policy documents. Some women may need to give up their employment to escape their abuser; others may not have had an opportunity to work whilst in an abusive relationship.

Thus many women who have experienced family violence will require additional assistance finding employment. Assistance provided to women who have experienced family violence needs to incorporate job search expertise, a strengths based approach to working with women and additionally have a strong understanding of the impact of family violence on women and children.

WIRE runs weekly job coaching for women. Often women who have experienced family violence attend job coaching to get support and advice on how to find employment.

Women who have experienced family violence often present to job coaching with multiple barriers to overcome which includes but is not limited to:

For women that have had to change their identity as a safety measure, they are not able to demonstrate a work history or provide referee details or written references to prospective employers.

Many women in abusive relationships are prevented by their abusive partner from working and earning an independent income, and thus they do not have a recent work history.

Many abusive men isolate their partners in order to exert control.

Over time the woman’s network diminishes, leaving the woman with few networks to utilise to find employment.

Women that have accessed security and housing in a family violence refuge must give up their usual routine – this includes any employment they may have had prior to leaving the abusive relationship.

Women are placed in refuges away from their local community; for some women this means moving from the city to a regional centre or vice versa. Maintaining employment in these circumstances is exceedingly difficult.

Women in abusive relationships can have a poor work history as a result of their abusive partner using control tactics which prevent the woman from keeping her job.

Examples of these tactics include:

Taking away the woman’s access to transportation to work

Refusing at short notice to care for children

Stalking the woman at work so that she is unable to perform her work

Women often report being psychologically exhausted by the violence and intimidation to the extent that they had difficulty holding down a job.

Women have increased absenteeism from work as a result of psychological and physical injuries inflicted on them by an abusive partner. These unexplained absences from work are often interpreted by an employer as the woman not caring about their job and being unprofessional. As a result women may lose their jobs.

Women’s confidence is greatly affected by the controlling, disrespectful and undermining behaviour of their abusive partner. This reduced confidence also manifests itself when women are looking for work.

Recommendations for addressing financial abuse and increasing women’s financial security

• Women who have experienced financial abuse to have access to timely and extensive financial counselling and support, that involves exploring women’s relationship with money and the impact that social stereotypes, family and upbringing may have had on a woman’s confidence in financial decision making.

• Women who have experienced family violence having access to specialist employment programs that include but are not limited to intensive job search support and job matching programs.

 • That all employers including the State government make available in their industrial agreements and policy documents the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clause provisions. Increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services

Effective response: women accessing family violence support during their recovery phase The effects of family violence do not end when the abuse ends. The road to recovery can be a slow holistic process that encompasses emotional, physical and financial wellbeing.

“I wake up in the morning and I feel physically sick and I think, ‘Where do I start?’ I wake up every morning and I vomit in the shower.” ••••••• -describing having to cope with extreme poverty well after leaving the abusive relationship. -is unable to find work, struggles to find affordable accommodation and provide food for herself and her daughter.

Why doesn’t she just get over it? Unfortunately this is still a question asked by many in the community. The vast majority of family violence practitioners and services understand that the trauma women experience when subjected to family violence often leaves women with deep emotional, psychological, financial and physical scars.

Even so, many family violence services do not have the resources to provide these women with a service. Women that have not received assistance from family violence services at the point of leaving have increased difficulty accessing family violence specific services down the track.

This may be because their needs are viewed as being less critical than women that are at the point of leaving (one of the most dangerous times for women and children in abusive relationships), and most definitely due to the pull on resources to keep women and children that are deemed most in danger, safe.

Not all women will contact family violence services for assistance at the point of terminating an abusive relationship. Some will only seek assistance when particular flashpoints occur after the woman has left the abusive relationship; and others may seek assistance from the point of separation and as flashpoints occur post separation.

Examples of flashpoints include: 

Ex-partner begins to stalk physically or electronically

The woman faces a housing crisis

There is a recurrence of violence or the threat of violence from their ex-partner Ex-partner moves to a location close to the woman and her children

The woman becomes aware that the ex-partner is trying to locate her

There is an issue regarding child maintenance payments

Court hearings

The woman is feeling an emotional strain which is causing her difficulty with functioning at some level.

WIRE speaks to many women that have tried to access family violence services at these flashpoints. They often tell us that once the family violence service has conducted a safety screening, they are told that due to the number of women in crisis, their situation is not considered a priority.

For many women, the experience of being told that they are not a priority or their situation is not serious enough gives the message that they are on their own and they have failed to ‘just get on with life’.  Due to lack of resources and the high demand from women, family violence services are compelled to triage women requests for service.

We need to move to a system that is able to assist women not only at the point of crisis but throughout the recovery and rebuilding process.

Family violence services should:

utilize trauma-informed practice

have a strengths based approach

enable women to receive support for the long-term effects of family violence

take into account that some women may require long-term support, others short-term and/or episodic support

recognise that the experience of family violence makes women and their children more vulnerable to homelessness, financial insecurity, and continuing emotional distress; and that this vulnerability can exist for years after the woman has left the abusive relationship.

Proactively reaching women WIRE receives calls from women who have been told by police that they would be contacted by a family violence service, but this contact has not happened.

With the police attending 65,000 incidences of family violence last year WIRE is very aware that family violence providers throughout Victoria are overwhelmed by the increased numbers of L17s.

This is resulting in those services having to prioritise the L17s that they respond to first and the method by which they respond. For some women being told by the police that they will be contacted by a family violence service is their first experience of family violence support services and when that assistance does not materialise it is disappointing and discourages further contact with support services.

The introduction of L17s has been highly beneficial.

It has enabled family violence services to be proactive and contact women who would not have otherwise contacted a family violence service. This has often led to women and children leaving abusive relationships earlier with the assistance of specialist services.

Timely and proactive intervention by family violence services to women involved in family violence incidences attended to by police is a crucial element of Victoria’s family violence response and as such must be appropriately funded.

Recommendations for increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services:

That services that manage L17s are provided with additional funding so that they can act on the L17s within a reasonable time frame.

Women have access to family violence specific services and are able to engage with the family violence service delivery system on a short-term, long-term or episodic basis.

That family violence specific services are funded to support women who have experienced family violence related trauma and have ongoing issues as a result of the family violence they experienced, and this includes providing evidence-based family violence recovery programs and making support available to women.

Holding perpetrating men accountable for their actions In our community and in our institutions, the responsibility to manage family violence is often left to the women who are experiencing the violence.

It is the woman that holds the responsibility for ending the violence. This culture of blaming the victim needs to end. The culture of blaming the victim enables the perpetrator to have his behaviour excused and tolerated. It must be the individual perpetrating the violence that faces the consequences of their actions at every level of society. T

his includes at work, sporting clubs, churches, schools and in the justice system. All too often women must leave the family home to end the violence. This relocation often results in women losing their jobs and social networks, and removing their children from schools and friendship networks. The loss associated with having to relocate is a significant barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.

Women and children leaving an abusive relationship face a significant risk of homelessness. Women carry the financial burden of ending an abusive relationship. Women who have violent partners find their options are limited to either living with violence, or living in poverty and facing potential homelessness. The choice is not an enviable one.

The perpetrator is often very aware that their partner’s options are limited and uses this to further control the behaviour of their partner.

There are many ways to reinforce that perpetrating men are responsible for their violent and abusive behaviour, and that they will be held to account and experience negative consequences.

Recommendations to hold perpetrating men accountable for their actions:

That the legal system and family violence sector continue to reinforce the concept that the perpetrator should be made to leave the family home, and not the victim

That the perpetrator has financial responsibility for the child raising costs of their children including contributing to accommodation costs after the perpetrator has been removed from the family home

That rent concessions are available to women who need assistance paying rent for the family home after a perpetrator has left. This enables the woman and her children to remain in the family home.

That banks and financial institutions have trained staff to work with women who have experienced family violence, so that debts including mortgages can be renegotiated to assist the women to continue living in their family home.

Perpetrating males who do not have alternative accommodation are relocated to group dwellings where men’s behavioural change programs are compulsory.

All men that are charged with family violence related offences are mandated to attend family violence specific behavioural change programs.

Where appropriate, perpetrators have ankle bracelets to track their movements

All women who have experienced family violence have access to financial support so that they can make their house more secure, for example with CCTV cameras and new locks.

Women having access to workplace entitlements that will support them to continue their employment. This includes paid time to manage their family violence situation.

That if work equipment such as a work phone or car is used to commit an act of family violence even if it is not considered an act in which criminal charges can be laid that the perpetrator will be disciplined by the employer.

If the perpetrator and the victim have the same place of employment, the perpetrator must alter their work patterns to accommodate any Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs).

Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria) WIRE Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc.

That from kindergarten upwards within our education system, children are taught appropriate conflict resolution strategies and explicitly taught that family violence is not tolerated and the actions of the perpetrator are never justified.

“I am still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving.

Participant of WIRE’s Relationship Problems and Money

Women talk about financial abuse research 2014 Financial abuse is a form of family violence recognised by the Family Violence Protection Act (2008).

This was first published by WIRE as their submission to the Royal Commission of Family Violence 2015.

The Abuse of Technology in Domestic Violence and Stalking

The Abuse of Technology in Domestic Violence and Stalking. 

This article examines the research findings of the SmartSafe study conducted by the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV). With this study, we aimed to examine technology-facilitated stalking in the context of domestic violence in Victoria, Australia. Stalking is a prevalent crime in Australia, with one in every five women over the age of 15 reporting they have been stalked (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). 

Contrary to popular misconceptions, research shows that the majority of stalking is perpetrated not by strangers or acquaintances but by intimate partners or ex-partners (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Evidence demonstrates that men are the main perpetrators of intimate partner stalking, both in Australia and internationally (Kuehner, Gas, & Dressing, 2012; Logan & Walker, 2009; Strand & McEwan, 2011). Reviews of international research demonstrate that women are more likely to be stalked than men (Logan, 2010; Spitzberg & Culpach, 2007), and are more likely to experience fear due to stalking (Sheridan & Lyndon 2010). In this study, we focused upon an emerging trend in intimate partner stalking in the context of domestic violence: the use of technology to facilitate stalking and other 2 forms of abuse.

Research studies on technology-facilitated stalking in the context of domestic violence are limited (Dimond, Fiesler, & Bruckman, 2011; Hand, Chung, & Peters, 2009). Therefore, we conducted a scoping study to determine (a) whether technology-facilitated stalking is an issue for women experiencing domestic violence and (b) whether mobile technologies (such as smartphones) present further opportunities for the perpetration of stalking and domestic violence against women. To ground the study, we first review previous studies on intimate partner stalking in general and then explore the available empirical research on technology-facilitated intimate partner stalking.

What is Intimate Partner Stalking? Stalking encompasses a pattern of repeated, intrusive behaviors—such as following, harassing, and threatening—that cause fear in victims (Logan & Walker, 2009). In the context of domestic violence, stalking tends to be an abusive behavior that perpetrators employ to control the victim after the relationship has ended. 2 (Hand, Chung, & Peters, 2009; Logan, Leukefeld, & Walker, 2000). However, stalking behaviors often occur as part of the relationship before separation (Cox & Speziale, 2009; Melton, 2007). Stark (2007) argues that intimate partner stalking is a form of coercive control.

Coercive control is a theoretical framework that encompasses physical abuse that occurs in domestic violence, but which also includes tactics not traditionally viewed as serious forms of abuse. These tactics include strategies to control and intimidate, such as isolation, surveillance, threats of violence, micromanagement of daily activities (e.g., regulation of showering and eating) and shaming (Stark, 2007). The theory of coercive control also encompasses the effects on the victims of these tactics.

Stark (2012) believes these effects have more in common with the experiences of hostages and the victims of 3 kidnappings than of victims of conventional assaults. Stark (2012) acknowledges that although women can be abusive in intimate relationships, men are the main perpetrators of coercive control because it is a form of violence rooted in systemic inequality, which affords men a sex-based privilege. Stark (2012) views this sex-based privilege as the essence of coercive control, where male offenders “exploit persistent sexual inequalities in the economy and in how roles and responsibilities are designated in the home and community to establish a formal regime of domination/subordination behind which they can protect and extend their privilege[ ]” (p. 206).

Stalking by intimate partners is a risk factor for serious violence—including sexual violence and homicide—but it is often not taken seriously (Scott, Lloyd, & Gavin, 2010). An Australian study found that police and many community members perceive intimate partner stalking as less serious than stranger stalking (Scott et al., 2010). However, research suggests that those who stalk their partners are particularly persistent and dangerous (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998, p. 12). Intimate partner stalking can occur for many years, often continuing for longer periods than stranger or acquaintance stalking. A national U.S. survey found that cases involving stalking by intimate partners lasted 2.2 years on average, compared with 1.1 years for stalking by others (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998, p. 12). Intimate partner stalking is also distinct from non-partner stalking due to the use of a wider array, and more frequent, stalking tactics, a heightened risk of threats and violence as well as greater psychological distress for the victim (Logan & Walker, 2009).

Intimate partner stalking has been linked to an increased risk of homicide; one study found that 68% of women experienced stalking within the 12 months prior to an attempted or actual homicide (McFarlane, Campbell, & Watson, 2002, p. 64). The most 4 frequent types of intimate stalking behaviors preceding attempted or actual homicides include following or spying, making unwanted phone calls, and keeping the victim under surveillance (McFarlane et al., 2002).

Technology-Facilitated Stalking and Abuse in the Context of Domestic Violence The first organization to highlight the use of technology in domestic violence was the Safety Net Project, which started in 2002 in the United States (Fraser, Olsen, Lee, Southworth, & Tucker, 2010; Southworth, Dawson, Fraser, & Tucker, 2005). Both Fraser et al. (2010) and Southworth et al. (2005) emphasize that mobile technologies can be useful tools for victims, enhancing their safety and assisting in recovery from abuse. However, Fraser et al. (2010) argue that technology can provide perpetrators with more tools and greater scope to intimidate and control their victims.

The effect of repeated phone calls and text messages on a victim’s life should not be underestimated. Fraser et al. (2010) contend that harassing and unwanted calls and text messages create a pattern of stalking tactics that aims to control the victim. Some perpetrators text and phone repeatedly, creating dread and fear in the victim that the harassment will never end. Some women receive only one text or call daily or weekly, but this can be equally as terrifying in the context of their specific domestic-abuse history. Hand et al. (2009) discuss the potential misuse of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by perpetrators of domestic violence in Australia. Referring to Stark’s (2007) work on coercive control, the authors argue that ICTs can provide further opportunities for controlling women, enabling perpetrators to abuse women in new and more-extensive ways.

These include placing a woman under surveillance, which Hand et al. argue could erode her sense of “feeling safe” (p. 3) after leaving a violent relationship. 5 There is little published empirical research on the use of technology in intimate partner stalking. In a large U.S. study on stalking, 25% of stalking victims reported being stalked via technology, such as e-mail (Baum, Catalano, Rand, & Rose, 2009). Fraser et al. (2010) note that, in line with evolving technologies, this percentage is now likely to be higher and increasing.

Two studies of university students in the United States found that technology is commonly used to monitor, control, or harass an intimate partner (Burke, Wallen, Vail-Smith, & Knox, 2011; Melander, 2010). Burke et al. (2011) examined the use of technology to monitor and control intimate partners in a sample of 804 undergraduates at a U.S. university.

The study found that half of both female and male participants were either perpetrators or victims of technology-facilitated abuse. Of female college students, 25% self-reported that they monitored their partner’s behavior by checking e-mails compared with 6% of male students. Female students reported receiving repeated threatening, harassing, or insulting e-mails and/or instant messages, with 10% to 15% experiencing this behavior from their partner. Males were more likely than females to use hidden cameras and global positioning systems (GPS) to control and monitor their partner, with 3% of males using hidden cameras compared to .4% of females, and 5% of males using GPS and 1% of females (Burke et al, 2011, p. 1166).

Melander (2010) used focus groups to examine intimate partner cyber harassment among 39 college students in the United States. Melander (2010) found that students were using technology, such as mobile phones and social networking sites, to control intimate partners.

Controlling behaviors included monitoring a partner or ex-partner via technology, such as GPS tracking, or constantly texting and harassing the victim for his 6 or her location. Participants perceived constant texting, in general, as a form of control and intimidation. Melander emphasizes that because of technology, perpetrators were able to maintain control over their victims, even when they were in a different location.

Technology provided perpetrators with quick, easy methods to harass and abuse, and this behavior was often more public. As one participant wrote, “You can make it sting a lot more,” particularly when using social media to intimidate and embarrass a partner or expartner (Melander, 2010, p. 266).

There are limited studies into the use of technology to share, or threaten to share, sexually explicit messages or images (known as “sexting”) in the context of domestic violence. Sexting can be defined as “the creating, sharing, sending or posting of sexually explicit messages or images via the internet, mobile phones or other electronic devices by people, especially young people” (Law Reform Committee, 2013, p. 19).

An inquiry into sexting reported examples of the use of sexting in domestic violence (Law Reform Committee, 2013). Anecdotal evidence provided to the inquiry revealed that perpetrators are using mobile-phone images and videos of women, provided consensually or coercively, to threaten, harass and control victims of domestic violence (Law Reform Committee, 2013, p. 24). A qualitative study conducted by Ringrose, Gill, Livingstone & Harvey (2012) focused on sexting, in general, among young people in the United Kingdom.

Their research found that sexting is often coercive and linked with harassment, and sometimes violence, against young women. In a U.S. study into technology abuse among teenagers, more than 10% of the participants said that a partner had shared a private picture of them, 20% said they had been asked via technology (e.g., the Internet or a mobile phone) to 7 engage in unwanted sexual activity (Picard, 2007). Similarly, a large-scale study in the United States (Zweig, Dank, Lachman, & Yahner, 2013) found that teenagers in relationships were being sexually abused and coerced via technology. Girls reported being victims of technology abuse at a higher rate than boys, with 29% of girls reporting abuse and 23% of boys. This difference was increased when the reported abuse involved sexual behavior. Approximately 15% of girls reported sexualized technology abuse, compared with 7% of boys (Zweig et al., 2013).

In one of the only studies on the experiences of technology-facilitated abuse among victims of domestic violence, Dimond et al. (2011) interviewed 10 women at a domestic-violence shelter in the United States. The researchers found that perpetrators are using GPS as well as location-based features on Facebook to track women. The women also reported being threatened via text messages that were difficult to block.

The women spoke of the challenge in maintaining their safety when using social media such as Facebook, because when friends tagged3 them in photos, the privacy of their location could be compromised. Although the authors argue that more research is needed into the ways in which perpetrators use technology to control and abuse women, they emphasize that victims should have the right to safely access technology, which can enhance their connections with friends and family. THE SMARTSAFE STUDY The SmartSafe study was an initiative of the DVRCV, one of the first domestic-violence organizations in the world to have online resources for victims.

The DVRCV has continued to use technology to prevent domestic violence for more than 15 years. Our work has included websites focused on young people and healthy relationships, YouTube videos, blogs and online quizzes.

Our central aim with the SmartSafe study was to 8 examine how mobile technologies provide additional opportunities for the perpetration of stalking and domestic violence against women.4 Although we considered all technologyfacilitated stalking, we focused in particular on smartphones, which are mobile (or ‘cell’) phones with Internet access, GPS, and video capability.

Studies show that people are increasingly using mobile devices rather than computers to access the Internet, particularly for the purposes of social media (Dudley-Nicholson, 2013).

Given the limited research in the area of technology-facilitated stalking and domestic violence, we designed this study as an exploratory scoping project. Our aim with this research was to assist practice, provide awareness, and increase knowledge for workers in the domestic-violence sector, our goal ultimately being to improve outcomes for women experiencing violence. We used a multiple-methods approach, which included focus groups, two online surveys, and interviews.

In this article, we focus on the results from two online surveys; the first was a survey of workers in the domestic-violence sector (worker survey), the second a survey of women who had experienced intimate partner stalking (victim survey). We designed the survey questions in consultation with domestic-violence crisis workers.

The two surveys included closed and open questions, a form of multiplemethods research that captures quantitative and qualitative data (Erickson & Kaplan, 2000). Our purpose with the worker survey was to discover the practice experiences of workers in the domestic-violence sector in Victoria. The worker survey examined intimate partner stalking in general, technology-facilitated stalking, and workers’ experiences of the legal response to stalking. 9

Based on the results of the worker survey and consultations with domesticviolence refuge workers, we developed the survey for victims. The worker survey indicated that many women do not identify stalking behaviors as stalking. Therefore, our aim was to include women who may not have encountered domestic-violence services or who may have been unsure whether behaviors they had experienced could be defined as stalking.

Therefore, in the recruitment materials, we used the term unwanted contact rather than stalking, emphasizing that this unwanted contact resulted in women feeling fearful.6 Some of the survey questions were based on research studies on technology and abuse (Picard, 2007). Convenience sampling was utilized in the research. We advertised the victim survey on the DVRCV website, Facebook, Twitter, and, a local classified-advertising and community site. In addition, we displayed posters at universities and in health centers.

The survey for workers was conducted from August to October 2012, and the victims survey was open from October 2012 to December 2012. We used NVivo to code the answers to the open questions in the two surveys and used thematic analysis to categorize the findings (King & Horrocks, 2010; Saldaña, 2012). Applying the system of thematic analysis as outlined by King and Horrocks (2010, p. 152), we first coded the survey answers descriptively. Next, we applied interpretive coding to the findings, where meaning was interpreted according to the research question and theoretical framework of coercive control (Stark 2007).

Three interpretive themes emerged in relation to the ways in which perpetrators use technology in the context of domestic violence:

(1) to create a sense of omnipresence, 

2) to isolate, and

(3) to punish and humiliate.

These codes were tested for reliability and validity through consultation with workers and researchers in the field of domestic violence. To 10 substantiate the validity of the analysis development, we maintained an audit trail of the research processes. The final stage of thematic analysis is to define overarching themes (King & Horrocks, 2010, p. 154).

Given that this research was a small-scale scoping study, we identified only one overarching theme from the data. This theme—control and intimidation—is the outcome of the various tactics that are used by men, according to the research findings. Although the tools and technologies used by the men were diverse, their tactics were analogous in their impact on the lives of the victims.

The women were controlled and intimidated by the men’s behavior. Profile of Participants In total, 152 workers in the domestic-violence sector in Victoria participated in the worker survey. They worked in a variety of roles, including case management, crisis response, housing, and legal support. The average length of time working in the sector was 5.5 years.

In total, 46 women participated in the victim survey. The average age of the women was 35 years. The survey included self-identifying open questions about cultural background, sexuality, family, and disability. Of the participants in the victim survey, 92%  identified as Anglo-Australian, 91% as heterosexual, 9%  as bisexual, 9%  as having a disability, and 37%  as a parent with children.


To understand the ways in which technology-facilitated abuse is situated in the context of domestic violence, we included survey questions that would provide us an insight into the 11 lives of women experiencing technology-facilitated stalking. In the following section, we present a profile of a woman experiencing technology-facilitated stalking.

The worker survey asked about the types of technologies workers were aware of perpetrators using for the purpose of stalking women in the context of domestic violence. The results showed that the three most commonly used technologies are smartphones at 82% , mobile phones at 82%  and social media (such as Facebook) at 82% .

These results correspond with the results of other studies on intimate partner-stalking behavior, which have found that women are most likely to be stalked via their phone (McFarlane et al., 2002, p. 64).

However, the high percentage of women being stalked via social media indicates a shift in the methods that perpetrators are using to stalk women. The results of the worker survey indicated that women are being stalked via additional forms of technology, including e-mail at 52%  and GPS at 29% . The victim survey asked participants to select the specific ways in which mobile technologies had been used to stalk them.

Their responses show that text messaging is the most common form of technology-facilitated abuse used against women.

In a study of intimate partner cyber harassment among college students, Melander (2010) found that young women were receiving excessive numbers of text messages, which they experienced as a form of control.

Purchased a phone for her for the purpose of keeping track of her Gave a phone or other device to their children to create further opportunities to contact her against her wishes.

In the victim survey, participants were asked whether they had experienced other forms of domestic violence in that relationship. The survey findings show that women who experience technology-facilitated stalking are also likely to experience other forms of domestic violence within the same relationship. Eighty-two per cent  of participants had experienced emotional abuse, 58%  sexual abuse, 39%  physical violence, and 37% financial abuse.

These findings are consistent with other studies, which show a link between intimate partner stalking and other forms of domestic violence (Krebs, Breiding, Browne & Warner, 2011) and between intimate partner stalking and emotionally abusive or controlling behavior (Tjaden &Thoennes, 1998).

In addition, emerging research shows a link between stalking and sexual violence (Logan & Cole, 2011). Participants in the victim survey were asked if the unwanted contact had affected their mental health and wellbeing. Of the 39 who responded to this question, 84% (n = 33) said it had. Recent U.S. research focusing on the effect of intimate partner stalking on women’s psychological wellbeing found high levels of emotional distress and antidepressant use among women (Kuehner et al., 2012).

A large-scale population study 14 conducted in Australia found that stalking is one of the most common forms of violence against women and, as with other forms of gender-based violence, stalking affects women’s mental health (Rees et al., 2011). The victim survey included questions about the women’s help-seeking strategies. We were careful to phrase these questions to avoid appearing to attribute responsibility to the women.

The survey findings show that a woman experiencing technology-facilitated stalking is unlikely to seek help, with 56% (n = 26) of participants indicating they had not sought assistance. The main reason women gave for not seeking help was their embarrassment about the abuse, with 85% (n = 22) stating they were too embarrassed to seek assistance. This is in line with other studies, which show that many women feel shame about the violence they are experiencing (Fanslow & Robinson, 2004; Logan, Shannon, Cole, & Walker, 2006).

This kind of shame is common among victims and is often a significant barrier to seeking help (Rose et al., 2011). In addition, it is important that embarrassment be understood as part of the tactics used by stalkers, who often deliberately isolate and shame women (Fugate, Landis, Riordan, Naureckas & Engel, 2005). For the 44% (n = 20) who said they had sought help, 77% (n = 15) had spoken with their family or friends, and 44% (n = 9) had spoken with domestic-violence services.

This is consistent with research conducted by Logan, Shannon, et al. (2006) that found that most women who experience stalking and seek help do so from family and friends, with fewer seeking help from domestic-violence services, the police, or legal services.


The material in this section is drawn from the survey responses to questions related to technology-facilitated stalking.

The relevant question in the worker survey was, “Could 15 you provide examples that you have encountered in the course of your work of how technology has been used to stalk/harass/abuse women?” In the victim survey, a closed question asked participants about the ways in which a partner or ex-partner had used technology to contact them in a way that had made them fearful.

Participants were given the opportunity to provide more details about their experiences if they felt comfortable to do so. Using the statistical findings of the closed questions to guide us to the most significant findings, for example, the high number of women who said that social media was used by perpetrators, we then thematically analyzed the responses to these questions to provide more-comprehensive insights into the ways in which stalkers use technology in the context of domestic violence.

Omnipresence According to Stark (2012, p. 25), stalking “is the most dramatic form of surveillance used in coercive control … [and] falls on a continuum with a range of surveillance tactics whose aim is to convey the abuser’s omnipotence and omnipresence.” A major theme that emerged from the findings of the SmartSafe study is the way in which perpetrators use mobile technologies to create a sense of being ever-present in the victim’s life.

Fraser et al. (2010, p. 44) write that “one of the more terrifying tactics used by stalkers is to make the victim feel that she has no privacy, security, or safety, and that the stalker knows and sees everything.” The results from both surveys indicated that perpetrators do employ this tactic and that mobile technologies enable perpetrators to be omnipresent in ways not previously possible.

This tactic erodes the spatial boundaries of the relationship; although a woman may have physically separated from her partner, she is unable to completely escape his presence in her life (Dimond et al., 2011; Hand et al., 2008). 16 The results of the two surveys showed that the most common way perpetrators created a sense of omnipresence was via constantly texting and/or phoning their victims. Domestic-violence workers reported that constant text messaging and phoning are particularly harmful to victims, because these behaviors create the feeling that she cannot escape the perpetrator.

One worker wrote, “Texting is a big problem. The ease of access means that even if someone can remove themselves physically from an abusive situation, it is very hard for them to remove themselves psychologically.” The way in which technology enables this ease of access is highlighted by Hand et al. (2009) who argue that spatial boundaries of security for women leaving domestic violence have shifted due to the global reach of mobile technologies.

Workers specifically mentioned that perpetrators know women have their phones with them at all times and are abusing them with text messages 24 hours a day: The concern is that with mobile technology, stalking can occur 24 hours a day no matter where the person is.

For one of my clients with an intellectual disability, having messages left on her phone or even missed calls was distressing to her because it brought the situation into her mind repeatedly and she was upset whenever her phone rang. Victims, too, wrote of the effect of constant text messages and of the consequent feeling of being trapped: “My ex would text me over 50 times a day and would make me feel like I was constantly under surveillance. He stalked me for a year after I left him.”

Another victim wrote, “He would constantly text me to check up on me during our relationship. This behavior escalated when we broke up. I would get over 100 abusive texts a day—I never felt free of him.” 17 An additional key finding was the use of GPS mobile technology to engender this sense of omnipresence. Perpetrators usually achieve this by downloading mobile applications (“apps”) to women’s phone or hiding a GPS device in their vehicles.

A participant in the worker survey illustrated the numerous ways in which perpetrators use GPS: A past client was under a great array of electronic surveillance. Her ex-partner had installed a tracking device in her car and would text her and let her know that he was aware of her location.

She had the GPS disabled on her phone, but this persisted. Also, after engaging a person to repair the front gate, it was discovered that her ex-partner had installed covert cameras both in the home and at the front gate that he had linked to his computer. Evidently, in the above example, the perpetrator wanted the woman to know that she was under surveillance.

Stark (2012) asserts this is a key tactic men use to intimidate and instill fear. Some perpetrators were overt about their tracking, but some participants in the victim survey wrote of suspecting they were being covertly monitored: I suspect he may have installed software onto my iPhone enabling him to have access to my phone calls, text messages, Facebook, e-mails, etc.

He sometimes says things or behaves in ways that suggests he knows something via a suspicious means. Being under surveillance can make it difficult for women to leave the relationship safely.

One victim wrote, “My ex used to track me with GPS; I felt afraid to tell him to stop doing this. This made it so hard to leave him.” Although disenabling location tracking or removing GPS devices may appear simple solutions to this form of 18 surveillance, doing so can often be dangerous for women because it can alert the perpetrator to the possibility that she is leaving the relationship. According to Fraser et al. (2010, p. 55) disenabling location tracking can increase the risk of an escalation of violence as the abuser attempts to regain control over the victim.

Perpetrators use additional forms of technology to track women and generate the impression that they know and see everything. Workers and victims wrote of perpetrators using social media, specifically Facebook, to relentlessly monitor and abuse women.

Even when a woman blocks her partner or ex-partner from her Facebook account, he may continue to monitor her through the Facebook pages of shared friends, family, or even their children. 8 One worker wrote, “I have had two clients who have relocated and changed their names but [who] have still been found by [the perpetrator] stalking the client’s friends on Facebook.”

Facebook’s focus on creating friendship networks enables perpetrators to track women through friends and family, particularly when friends tag women in photos or at events. According to one worker: Women “check in” on Facebook so others can see where they are at any given time. People tag these women in photos or at events so that others can see where they are [and] what they are doing.

Stalkers can follow friends, family, and acquaintances, so that even if the women are not friends with them [the stalkers], they can still see what they are doing. Workers identified Facebook as a platform that perpetrators use to proxy stalk women. Proxy stalking refers to a perpetrator using other people to contact the victim (Melton, 2007).

One worker wrote, “Offender and his family members are using social 19 media to keep up to date on partner and children.” Participants in the victim survey noted that perpetrators were using other forms of proxy stalking; for example, several women mentioned receiving constant text messages from the perpetrator’s family and friends. This may heighten a woman’s feelings of isolation by conveying the impression that the perpetrator does not need to be present to control her; he can monitor her via other people and, in so doing, create the impression that no matter where she goes, she will not be safe from him. Melton (2007) argues that a woman may find proxy stalking more terrifying than other forms of stalking, because it involves numerous people following and tracking her.

Isolation Stark (2012) argues that perpetrators isolate a partner to instill dependence, to monopolize their time, and to prevent them from getting help. Perpetrators isolate victims from their support systems by abusing and harassing the victim’s family, friends, and coworkers; restricting the victim’s contact with others; and embarrassing the victim in front of family and friends (Stark, 2012).

This isolation often results in victims having little or no support systems (Arnold, 2009). Logan & Walker (2009, p. 259) state that stalking can create various forms of social isolation; for example, women may need to relocate or change their employment to avoid stalkers.

The authors also note that a stalker can sabotage, directly or indirectly, a victim’s relationships with others. The use of isolation to control and intimidate women emerged in the SmartSafe study. Perpetrators use technology to isolate women from their support systems, through either direct or indirect harassment of friends and family. Direct harassment includes means such as text messages, phone calls, and Facebook. Indirect harassment includes 20 women changing their phone numbers, closing their Facebook accounts, or relocating due to the constant abuse.

The surveyed workers wrote of the effect on victims’ lives of changing their phone numbers: “Women who change their phone numbers to prevent perpetrators contacting them disadvantage themselves to services because they become uncontactable, e.g. to be notified regarding housing offers, etc.” This is significant because women who are being harassed via their mobile phones are often advised to change their mobile phone number.

However, to do so can result in a significant increase in the social isolation many women experience during domestic violence (Fraser et al., 2010). One victim wrote: I tried to block his number, but I didn’t want to change my number, as I didn’t want him to impact me in that way. Eventually, I did have to change all my numbers, which was sad, but I couldn’t take it any longer. Victims also wrote of having no choice other than to relocate to escape the perpetrator: “He harassed my family to try to find me with constant phone calls, but I have moved states (losing contact with most of my supports) to be free of him.”

Another victim wrote, “My partner used to call my family to leave threats, ask questions, etc. He would sit outside my house [and my] work until I got him arrested. I have had to move states just to feel safe.”

One surveyed worker described the lengths a perpetrator went to in an attempt to maintain control over a victim and the way in which technology assisted this abuse: My client fled from another country to Australia due to domestic violence, but her ex-partner located her through Facebook and began sending threatening messages 21 to her in Australia.

He migrated to Australia to continue harassing, stalking, and abusing her. He gained access to her mobile phone in order to monitor her contact with services, friends, etc. This worker’s story clearly illustrates the possibilities mobile technologies offer perpetrators. The potential for global reach is evident, and the effect on the woman’s life was multi-faceted; not only could she not escape him (he was able to track her internationally) but also he was able to control and isolate her, monitoring her contacts and abusing her friends and family.

The way in which perpetrators use social media, such as Facebook, to publicly harass women and the effect this has on women’s social networks was emphasized by the surveyed workers. One wrote, “Facebook and Internet stalking and abuse have increased. Things are being posted online about women, such as rumors or allegations and they [are] unable to defend themselves.

They lose a lot of social supports through this process.” The intent appears to be to damage women’s relationships with others and to embarrass women, which Stark (2012) argues is a key tactic perpetrators use to isolate women and control them.

This can also be seen in a surveyed worker’s account of a perpetrator using Facebook to locate a victim and impersonate her: My client’s ex-partner has tracked her down after following her Facebook use. He assaulted her, stole her phone, and accessed her Facebook [account]. He has changed her passwords, and she is now not able to access her own account. He is contacting all her friends and supports, pretending to be her.

This has resulted in her becoming very isolated. He has allegedly sent sexual messages to male friends 22 in her account, resulting in the client feeling ashamed and powerless. The client has reported the incident, but police have not been able to find the respondent. As the worker notes, the powerlessness of the victim to stop the public harassment is not only isolating but also shaming.

The perpetrator appears intent on disconnecting the woman from her social supports. This example highlights the ease with which this can be achieved through social media. Punishment and Humiliation The third major theme that emerged from the research findings is the use of technology to punish and humiliate. Stark (2012, p. 25) writes that perpetrators often say or do things in a public setting to insult or embarrass victims, usually as a tactic to silence them. An intimate partner stalker often knows his victim’s greatest fears, concerns, and secrets, and uses this knowledge to punish, torment, and humiliate her (Logan, Walker, Cole, & Shannon, 2006, p. 26).

Perpetrators have long used this tactic, but mobile technologies enable them to use it with ease and immediacy—broadcasting humiliating content to friends, family, and the community (Fraser et al., 2010). Participants in both surveys reported the use of technology to share sexualized content as a tactic perpetrators use to humiliate women.

Participants provided numerous examples of non-consensual sexting. One victim wrote, “He must have set up cameras somewhere in the house, as he had naked photos of me that he threatened me with.”

Another woman was threatened with the release of images, which she was unsure actually existed: “Secretly filmed things (possibly) and threatened to send them.” As discussed, some of the women who participated in the victim survey were not only victims of stalking but also of other forms of domestic violence, such as sexual 23 abuse.

In the case of one woman, her partner recorded the sexual abuse and used the videos to threaten her: “Most of the abuse I experienced was of a sexual nature, and this abuse was often filmed on his phone; he would threaten that he would send these videos to my family.” Another victim was threatened with sexual violence via text messages: “Much of the texts were threatening, [e]specially regarding sexual things, which was particularly painful and shameful.”

Surveyed workers noted that some perpetrators take images or videos of their victim and use these as a means of intimidation. One worker wrote that perpetrators were “taking illicit photos and using them against women at difficult times in their relationships/or at the end of relationships.”

Another worker listed some examples she had observed in her practice: “Video cameras have been hidden in a bathroom or bedroom. Videos taken when unaware and put on YouTube. Recording sexual activities and then threatening to post or actually posting them online.” The research shows that perpetrators are using Facebook to humiliate women publicly, posting sexual images and videos where the women’s friends, family, and children can view them.

One worker wrote, “Social media sites provide an avenue for men to denigrate women via the viewing and sending on of pornography, which his partner and her friends can see.”

Another commented, “A video of the victim doing a seductive dance was shown to her children by her ex and used to degrade her to them via Facebook.” One surveyed worker explained that a victim’s ex-partner was using Facebook to humiliate her in front of her children and their friends: Women are having their Facebook page hacked into and nasty things written about and to them. One particular woman had her ex-partner saturate her page 24 with information about how he gave her an STI—this information was read by her teenage son’s friends, among other people.

Perpetrators also use Facebook to publicly shame victims and punish them for any perceived wrongdoings. A surveyed worker wrote, “Many situations I have encountered have involved men monitoring women’s status updates on Facebook and using this information to inflict injury on women or in their mind ‘punish’ them for their transgressions.”

Social networking sites can allow perpetrators to intimidate victims publicly, where shared friends and the community may support him and participate in the abuse: Social networking sites are being used quite a bit. Sometimes it will be a “status update” blaming his problems on her, or calling her names and accusing her of embarrassing shameful behavior. It seems that the truly hurtful aspect of this is the “comments” of support to him from family and friends that leave the victim feeling like she is being ganged up on by an entire community.

This is incredibly intimidating. Social media provides a public platform, affording the perpetrator an audience where he can torment the woman in front of her community of friends, extended family, and children.


The central aim of the SmartSafe study was to examine whether mobile technologies present additional opportunities for the perpetration of stalking and domestic violence 25 against women. The findings confirm that mobile technologies are used by perpetrators to stalk and harass women in the context of domestic violence. However, several limitations of this research must be noted. The sample sizes were small, particularly the sample of victims. The sample used for the research was nonrepresentative and non-random and the recruitment method may have resulted in selection bias.

In addition, a large majority of the victims identified as Anglo-Australian and, as such, this sample was not culturally representative. In consultations, domesticviolence refuge workers revealed that women from non-English speaking backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to technology-facilitated stalking.

However, this group did not participate in the research. Another limitation is that workers, while important sources of information, may not recall events accurately. This study was based on two small, localized samples of domestic-violence workers and victims. There is increasingly widespread use of mobile technologies, particularly in developing nations (International Telecommunication Union, 2012).This trend, coupled with evidence that one third of women across the globe experience domestic violence, indicates that the findings from the SmartSafe study are not unique (World Health Organization, 2013).

Mobile Technologies: 24 Hour Access Through text messages, phone calls, GPS tracking, and social media, perpetrators use mobile technologies to stalk women, creating a sense of omnipresence and eroding women’s feelings of safety after separation. Perpetrators know that women have their phones with them day and night, and they use this knowledge to harass and abuse the women from a distance—easily, instantaneously, and repetitively.

The sending of 26 constant text messages may seem a trivial act, but the effect on women’s lives of receiving such messages is significant. In this study, victim participants wrote of feeling that they could never be free of their ex-partner, that he could reach her at any time, anywhere.

Omnipresence as a controlling tactic is common in coercive control. Technology provides not only more opportunities to use this tactic but also a larger range of methods, some of which facilitate abuse.

Ringrose et al. (2012) argue that technology is not neutral and the evidence gathered in the SmartSafe study shows that certain features of technology aid abusive and controlling behavior. Examples include the ease with which a perpetrator can use the GPS feature on his smartphone to track his partner or ex-partner without her knowledge; or use Facebook to monitor her, her friends, and her family; or repeatedly send abusive text messages, which are difficult to block.

Perpetrators Use Technology to Isolate Women from Their Support Systems Technology-facilitated stalking has wide-ranging implications for victims; women often have to change phone numbers, close Facebook accounts, and relocate to another state or country.

Changing a phone number or closing a Facebook account may seem minor inconveniences, but when situated in a pattern of coercive control, they are further consequences of the tactics perpetrators employ to isolate and intimidate women. Isolation from family and friends and a lack of social supports after a traumatic experience are linked with higher levels of psychological distress (Logan & Walker, 2009, p. 259). Isolation also contributes to depression and suicidal behavior in victims (World Health Organization, 2013).

When planning safety strategies for women, it is important to be mindful of the possible consequences of social isolation and to work with 27 women to ensure that their safety needs are balanced carefully with the potential for further isolation.

Perpetrators Use Mobile Technologies to Punish and Humiliate Women, Often in Sexualized Ways Intimate partner stalkers often use their knowledge of the women to shame and humiliate them. With mobile technologies, perpetrators can broadcast embarrassing and demeaning content to friends, family, and the community—easily and publicly.

By threatening to release the material, intimate partner stalkers control and intimidate women, an extremely fear-inducing situation for their victims. Social-media platforms, such as Facebook, provide perpetrators with public platforms to threaten and abuse their victims, sometimes with family members and friends participating in the harassment. The sexualized nature of technology-facilitated stalking can be considered a form of sexting.

Sexting is usually placed in the context of the “sexualization of culture,” described as the saturation of sexual imagery and messages in society, particularly those sourced from pornography (Ringrose et al., 2012). Concerns about sexualization center on the effects on young people. Although sexting is largely understood to occur among young people, the average age of the women who participated in the SmartSafe study was 35.

The findings of this study suggest that non-consensual sexting should be considered as a form of coercive control and be placed in the larger context of men’s violence against women. Mobile technologies can be useful for women experiencing violence, connecting them with assistance and enabling contact with their support networks.

However, this research shows that these technologies also provide more opportunities for perpetrators to 28 control, stalk, and abuse women in the context of domestic violence.

If women are to use mobile technologies safely, technology-facilitated stalking needs to be treated as a serious offence, and effective practice, policy and legal responses must be developed to address the use of technology as a tactic for abuse. The DVRCV are continuing advocacy in the area of technology-facilitated abuse through the training of domestic-violence workers and legal professionals, lobbying the communication industry, contributing to legal reforms, and developing technology safety resources for victims. 

Published by Delanie Woodlock, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria Woodlock, D (2015)Furtherreferences and notations regarding this paper can be found on their website.

Shine a light on ‘patchwork’ family violence legal system, community legal peak tells royal commission

we need a system that unifies resources for Family Violence. No Legal Asssistance at Family Court due to Superannuation seen as an asset makes survivors become in debt ( av $163,000) to pay legal fees.

Community Law Blog

Updated Thursday 6 August 2015

Tuesday 4 August – Embargoed until 12.00am Wednesday 5 August 2015

Victoria’s family violence legal system offers a ‘patchwork response’ that is sometimes dangerously threadbare through poorly funded legal help, inconsistent specialisation and insufficient risk management, the Royal Commission into Family Violence will hear this Wednesday (5 August) in evidence to be presented by the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

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Illnesses Linked To Childhood Trauma of domestic violence including obesity

A recent study linked obesity in children to domestic violence. Now, evidence indicates that childhood trauma can spur physical disease later on, when an abused child reaches adulthood.  In Alaska, thestate is working to reduce adverse childhood experiences to lessen the latent impacts of trauma, and to help reduce the burden on social services programs.

In late Februray of this year, the  conference room at a downtown Anchorage convention hall buzzed with chatter, in anticipation of keynote speaker, Linda Chamberlain. And Chamberlain has a strong message.

“Our early emotional experiences do become part of the architecture, the foundation of our brains. Our brains are incredibly plastic, during childhood, but don’t forget as I talk about this.. until the day you die, your brain is plastic,”  she told the audience.

The event was  a symposium hosted by the state Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Dr. Chamberlain told the audience that adverse childhood experiences, such as witnessing drug use and domestic violence, can stunt a child’s neurological development.

“The younger the child, the more vulnerable the brain is. The thing is, that you will go into a shelter, a domestic violence shelter, and I will see babies with PTSD. I know it right away. They’re avoiding eye contact, they are frozen, inhibited.”

The good news, she says, is that, with effort, negative brain wiring can be changed. Chamberlain bases her comments on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, or ACEs, which was conducted through the Centers For Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente during the late 1990s. Researchers found strong links between childhood traumas and long – term health and economic outcomes.   Patrick Scidmore is a planner with the Alaska Mental Health Board.

“This is true of people who have ever been diagnosed with depression, people who have asthma, obesity. The negative outcomes are just more likely in the group with high ACES scores.”

Scidmore, is and a member of the state Advisory Board on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.  His expertise is reading the data, and translating that to more tangible information.

“For example, for current smoking, we estimate from our Alaska data, 32 percent of the people who are current smokers would not be smokers if we could eliminate all adverse childhood experiences. And that translates into about $185 million dollars of savings to the state. Not necessarily state government, but across the public and private sector.”]

Scidmore says data gathered by the Alaska Division of Public Health during 2013 shows how childhood trauma contributes to chronic disease: for example, thirty percent of asthma sufferers in the state have links to ACES, and almost half  of  COPD patients have high ACES scores.

Since it is more cost effective in human terms to prevent childhood trauma, than to pay for the damage later on, social service providers are seeking ways in which to do that. Communities in several locations in Alaska are working on becoming “Trauma Informed”.  Elizabeth Ripley is CEO of the Matanuska Susitna Health Foundation.

“Since the ACEs study was released, the brain science has caught up to the science behind the ACEs study, to show that literally, trauma changes the very physiology of the brain. But the good news that Linda Chamberlain shares is that we can heal the brain, but we have to be intentional about it.”

Ripley says Mat Su has eight personnel trained in how to inform the public – in schools,law enforcement, and in businesses — on efforts to reframe how we deal with childhood trauma. Especially in school, where children who act out are often misunderstood.

“We’ve tended to ask ‘what ‘s wrong with you?’ And this changes the framework to ‘what happened to you?”

Ripley says a cohort of Alaskans have worked with the original authors of the ACEs study to train 25 people from around the state to help by providing information about the prevalence and impacts of child trauma

“The information about the fact that people can heal, and that we can build resilience and help people heal from the trauma and have brighter futures, is really incredibly revelatory to most people.”

She says creating resilience is the key, and that just informing the public and private sectors that touch children is a huge part of the effort. Mat Su joins Homer, and a half dozen Alaska communities now working to become “trauma informed.”

Witnessing Domestic Violence causes greater Asthma Incidence in Children

No home is perfect, but dysfunction in the home is now revealed to be especially dangerous for children at risk for asthma. A new study shows that children exposed to just one adverse childhood experience (ACE) had a 28 percent increased chance of developing asthma than those with no ACEs.

The study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), used data from the National Survey of Children’s Health. The survey drew from interviews with parents of more than 92,000 children aged 0 to 17 years to explore the relationship between ACEs, such as witnessing domestic violence, and the development of asthma.

“Of all the children in the sample, 31 percent were exposed to at least one ACE – the most common one being living with a parent or guardian who got divorced or separated,” said lead study author Robyn D. Wing, MD. “What surprised us was that among the children who had been exposed to 5 or more ACEs, 25 percent of parents or guardians reported that their child had an asthma diagnosis – compared with only 12 percent for those with zero ACE exposures. The data showed that the more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) a child is exposed to, the greater the probability he or she will develop asthma.”

In addition to domestic violence, parents were asked if the child lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; if they lived with anyone who was mentally ill, severely depressed or suicidal; if they lived with anyone who served time in jail or prison; if a parent or guardian was divorced or separated; or if a parent or guardian had died. Of the study population, 68 percent had 0 ACEs, 17 percent had 1 ACE, 3.8 percent had 3 ACEs and 0.93 percent had 5 or more ACEs. The study also asked about smoke exposure and whether the parents felt safe in their neighborhood.

“We know that young children are susceptible to numerous adverse factors that they may be exposed to in the home environment – including cigarette smoking, indoor triggers, and even, as this study shows, dysfunctional families and associated domestic violence” said allergist James Sublett, MD, ACAAI president. “It is even more important that these high risk children are identified and cared for by experts in the management of asthma. Board Certified Allergist/Immunologists have special training in optimizing the care of children with asthma.”

Many people aren’t aware that allergists are experts in treating asthma, and can help both children and adults manage symptoms. For more information about treatment of asthma, and to locate an allergist in your area, visit

The ACAAI is a professional medical organization of more than 6,000 allergists-immunologists and allied health professionals, headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill. The College fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research. ACAAI allergists are board-certified physicians trained to diagnose allergies and asthma, administer immunotherapy, and provide patients with the best treatment outcomes. For more information and to find relief, visit

Children with PTSD from trauma are being misdiagnosed with ADHD

I have seen this so many times when a child with Trauma is diagnosed with ADHD and medicated when they have PTSD. Better understanding of childrens reaction to Trauma, and types of treatment available needs to be researched and implemented.

Hyperactivity or Something Deeper? Childhood Trauma Misdiagnosed as ADHD

ADHD or PTSD?The fact that one in every 11 school-age children in the United States is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has warranted plenty of attention. Much research has focused on the efficacy of behavioral therapy or medication as well as a list of symptoms — hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention — used to identify ADHD.

According to the New York Times, the United States has one of the highest ADHD rates in the world, and nearly two-thirds of diagnosed children are treated with medication. This increase may indicate that borderline cases are now identified and treated, bringing help to patients in need.  However, doctors concerned with the spike in attention deficit disorder rates argue that the clinical criteria for diagnosis have blurred the line between normal and abnormal behavior — and question whether the well-known symptoms of ADHD can mask deeper issues in children.

Are some childhood ADHD symptoms actually a response to trauma?

The Atlantic reports that while completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Nicole Brown observed that a high number of her low-income pediatric patients had ADHD diagnoses. However, “Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control.”

Dr. Brown’s questions about the phenomenon led her to believe that rather than suffering from clinical neurological issues, some children were manifesting symptoms of another issue: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She hypothesized that trauma-induced hypervigilance and dissociation were easy to mistake for inattention, a common attention-deficit symptom. Likewise, children with overburdened stress responses were likely to behave impulsively.

Four or more ‘adverse childhood events’ made children three times as likely to be on ADHD medication

Her research results, pulled from a survey on the health and well-being of 65,000 children in the United States, indicated that children with an ADHD diagnosis also experienced high levels of poverty, divorce, violence and substance abuse among family members. According to the survey, a history of four or more “adverse childhood events” meant a child was three times more likely to be taking ADHD medication.

In response to the data from Dr. Brown’s study, the American Academy of Pediatrics is attempting to help clinicians identify and assess trauma in potential ADHD patients by revising their diagnostic guidelines. Such diagnoses should be made thoughtfully, particularly because the standard medication treatment for ADHD tends to be stimulant medication. This treatment could potentially further trigger anxiety and fight-or-flight reactions in PTSD patients, making symptoms worse, not better.

Differentiating between symptoms of ADHD and PTSD is complicated

Although Dr. Brown’s research showed a significant correlation between childhood trauma and the rate of medication treatment for attention deficit disorder, it’s important to note that establishing the correlative or causative relationship between trauma, symptoms, and disease is extraordinarily difficult. Still, the potential connection remains clear.

Unfortunately, the realities of the medical system make differentiating between symptoms of ADHD and childhood trauma difficult. With short appointment times and a heavy reliance on the parental disclosure of trauma, medical professionals may be unable to easily and quickly discern disease from dis-ease.

Does having an attention deficit disorder put children at greater risk for trauma?

While Brown’s work seeks to discern attention deficit from PTSD, other researchers note the increased likelihood of trauma in the life and background of an ADHD patient. Many physicians acknowledge that there is little direct causal connection between post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical attention deficit disorders, but Dr. Ellen Littman’s research attempts to clarify their interrelationship, noting a high possibility that the characteristics of the disease make trauma both more likely and more impactful in those with ADHD. This certainly complicates the issue of diagnosis.

Ultimately, diagnosis is a complicated assessment process, no step of which should be taken lightly. As the AAP releases new guidelines, clinicians will become more likely to identify what have come to be known as the classical symptoms of ADHD as potential symptoms of a variety of independent — or potentially interplaying — clinical issues. With clear adversity and trauma assessments, physicians can then establish  a diagnosis which can ensure that children receive appropriate treatment with the least amount of side effects.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha 

I have seen this so many times when a child with Trauma is diagnosed with ADHD and medicated when they have PTSD. Better understanding of childrens reaction to Trauma, and types of treatment available needs to be researched and implemented.